The Top 5 Reasons You Should Plant Mexican White Oak

Mexican white oak (Quercus polymorpha) is such an incredible tree that it’s even become a favorite of the vaunted University of Texas at Austin.

In fact, the facilities services of the university recommend its landscape planners pay particular attention to this “university favorite” when it comes to selecting species for the 434-acre urban campus.

Never heard of Mexican white oak or its aliases, Monterrey oak and netleaf white oak? Don’t feel bad.

It’s only recently become a go-to tree for gardeners in the South, and its distribution — and popularity — is slowly spreading.

This species naturally ranges from Guatemala all the way north through Mexico and to one small stand discovered in southwest Texas in 1992.

It is adapted to U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 7-10.

As can be attested to by any Longhorn who’s studied for a final exam in the exceptional shade provided by the tree’s expansive boughs, there are ample reasons to love this species, even if you don’t bleed burnt orange.

Let’s run through the top 5 reasons this burly beauty is a no-brainer for landscapes that will accommodate it.

1. Speedy Growth, Long Life

Fast-growing trees tend to be “trash trees” — plants that for any number of reasons aren’t particularly desirable to have in your landscape.

Learn why Monterrey Oaks are among the best landscape tress for Zones 7-10:
Photo by Ralph Barrera

Mexican white oak is an exception to that rule.

This tall treasure grows to 40 feet — and it gets there quickly. With a growth rate of as much as 4 feet per year, a newly planted sapling will tower majestically over your home well before you pay off your mortgage.

Growth rate and ultimate height, of course, are dependent on growing conditions. Thin soil and extreme drought may limit the tree’s ability to achieve maximum height, says Skip Richter, a county extension agent with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service.

The trunk can grow to be two feet in diameter, though as a sapling, the tree is lanky and gangly before it fills out, according to Richter. “Sort of like a teenager,” he adds.

And your teenage sapling is quite likely to mature well into grandparenthood, as the Monterrey oak’s average lifespan is about 100 years.

When mature, the tree has a broad and rounded crown, and provides excellent cooling properties for your home.

2. Almost Evergreen

The leaves of this oak tree are four to five inches long with smooth or serrated edges of varying degrees.

In fact, the “polymorpha” part of this plant’s scientific name refers to the fact that different specimens can have different leaf shapes.

Learn all about adding Monterrey Oak trees to your landscape:
Photo by Gretchen Heber

We’ve noticed that tiny seedlings’ leaves are more serrated and tend to smooth out as the tree matures.

This giant squirrel playground holds onto its leaves until late winter or early spring when it defoliates, followed by a rapid re-leafing period.

In lieu of a showy flower, the tree’s small, young leaves display an attractive red-peach color before turning bright green and then maturing into thick, deep green leaves with a leathery texture.

All in all, a Monterrey is leafless for just 2 to 8 weeks, depending on the climate in which it is planted.

In Austin, they begin to re-leaf before we’ve even finished raking up the fallen leaves.

3. Well-Adapted

While especially happy in dry environments with some rainfall, this tree is found in a number of varying ecosystems, including river banks, mountain forests, and desert-like areas.

Monterrey Oak bark is rough and multi-layered |
Photo by Gretchen Heber

This hardy species, as many Texas gardeners can attest, is extremely drought-tolerant. Even in July and August — when temperatures regularly hit triple digits — we don’t give them any supplemental water.

Mexican white oak prefers neutral to alkaline soil pH, and can adapt to many soil types including sandy loam and well-drained clay soils.

4. Resistant to Pests and Diseases

Monterrey oak is typically a very healthy tree.

Many types of oaks are susceptible to oak wilt – a highly contagious fungal disease that is often fatal. Members of the subgenus Erythrobalanus are particularly at risk of succumbing to this disease.

You may want to propagate a Mexican White Oak tree from an acorn:
Photo by Gretchen Heber

Thorough and conclusive research has not yet been done to determine how susceptible Mexican white oak is to this disease, according to Texas A&M professor of plant pathology and microbiology Dr. David Appel.

According to Dr. Appel, oak wilt has indeed been confirmed in these trees occasionally over the past 30 years.

However, according to the well-regarded specialist in tree disease biology, epidemiology, and control, “I am willing to assume, based on host biology, that Monterrey oaks are still more resistant and a better alternative than any of the red oaks when planting in a high-risk area for oak wilt infections.”

The trees may also be plagued on occasion by powdery mildew, but they are generally able to overcome that problem on their own, without human intervention.

Some Texas gardeners have seen spring oak worms snacking on the foliage, but the damage is minimal and usually doesn’t require breaking out the diatomaceous earth.

5. Minimal Care Required

Because Mexican white oaks are fast-growing, you’ll want to regularly prune the lower limbs to raise the canopy.

Other than that, these oaks don’t need much pruning or thinning — they aren’t plagued by deadwood the way live oak trees can be.

Assuming they are planted in proper soil and receive occasional rain, these green giants require no additional care.

Hooked? Here’s the Caveat

Now that we’ve got you fully captivated by this tree and you’re heading out the door, keys in hand, to drive to the nearest garden center, we must ask you to pause.

Monterrey Oak trees grow fast and they grow tall |
Photo by Ralph Barrera

Pat yourself on the back. You are now among the relatively few in the U.S. who have even heard of this species.

While hugely popular at UT and throughout Texas and a few other southern states, adoption of this tree, as with many “new” species, is slow.

Commercial gardeners are trying to meet demand, but, sadly, many garden centers do not yet carry this tree.

However, though you may not be able to find Monterrey oaks locally, you can find them online.

A square image of a Mexican white oak tree growing in the garden.

Mexican White Oak

You can find plants in 2.25-gallon containers available via Home Depot.

Or, you could always plan a road trip to Texas. We love visitors!

Another option is to look for a seed-swap website. Mature trees produce bushels of 1-inch acorns that any Monterrey oak owner would be thrilled to get rid of.

Sharpen Your Shovel

If this tree sounds like a dream come true, it really is. Fast-growing, semi-evergreen, adaptable, disease-resistant, low maintenance… can you argue with that?

If you like tall, fast-growing trees, plant Mexican White Oak |
Photo by Gretchen Heber

How about adding one of these fast-growing giants to your landscape soon?

Had you heard of this tree species? Does it sound like something that would be a worthy addition to your landscape? Tell us why or why not in the comments section below.

Hook ‘em!

Photos by Gretchen Heber and Ralph Barrera, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.

Photo of author
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.
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Ann (@guest_804)
6 years ago

Would this tree do well in central Wisconsin?

Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  Ann
6 years ago

Hi Ann! Thanks for your question. It looks like you’re probably located in USDA Hardiness Zone 4. Unfortunately, this tree does best in zones 7-10 and isn’t recommended for areas with harsh winters.

If you’re looking for a fast-growing tree to add to your landscape, you might like to try river birch, paper birch, tulip poplar, bald cypress, American sycamore, quaking aspen, or eastern white pine. Stay tuned for an informative post on these lovely shade trees (and more!) coming soon to Gardener’s Path.

carmen mathis
carmen mathis (@guest_11444)
Reply to  Allison Sidhu
3 years ago

Did the harsh winter in Texas kill them?

Maxine Burns
Maxine Burns (@guest_11816)
Reply to  carmen mathis
3 years ago

I live in Austin, TX. I lost my Monterrey Oak (planted in October, 2017) due to the freeze we had in February, 2021.
This was an unusual winter for this area. Normally, if we have freezing temperatures it is usually only for a single night…maybe two nights. But that is it. This freeze lasted several days. I will replace this tree with a more hardly type that can endure any possible freezes that we may have in the future.

Bee (@guest_12531)
Reply to  carmen mathis
3 years ago

I planted two new saplings (8-feet tall and spindly) in Dallas back in September. I was worried but they both came back with new leaves this Spring and seem to be doing fine.

Aimee (@guest_19994)
Reply to  Bee
1 year ago

Anyone willing to sell me some acorns or saplings? I’ve been searching for two years.
Thank you!

Clare Groom
Clare Groom(@clareg)
Reply to  Aimee
1 year ago

Hi Aimee, you can find Mexican white oak in two-gallon containers available from Home Depot.

Guy (@guest_22200)
Reply to  Aimee
1 year ago

I got mine from TreeFolks at no cost. Get on their waiting list now and you’ll probably have one by spring planting time.

William Marshall
William Marshall (@guest_1303)
6 years ago

I live in deep south Texas and this soil is just pure sand. What are my chances of this tree growing here?

Kurt Miller
Kurt Miller (@guest_2408)
5 years ago

I have planted three oaks … As I am in Austin, I was told they are fast growers! Two years and the trees may have grown 6in? I water regularly, the live oaks that were planted the same time have grown 2-3 feet! They are healthy, leaves are nice and green, but just will not grow……. ideas?

Chris (@guest_2455)
Reply to  Kurt Miller
5 years ago

I live in a new development and we have many of these – some grow indeed 2-3 feet a year after just a few years. Others, barely any growth. It is strange and I have to assume it is either lack of deep watering or rock soil that it hasn’t penetrated yet.

carmen mathis
carmen mathis (@guest_11443)
Reply to  Kurt Miller
3 years ago

What happened to them during this harsh winter in Texas?

Rory (@guest_11665)
Reply to  carmen mathis
3 years ago

We two 4-year old trees (planted in Feb 2017) in the Coastal Bend of South Texas. Did not have a chance to cover them before our 2021 hard freeze in FEB. We trimmed trees about 3 weeks before the freeze. Our Monterey Oaks have recovered nicely. This actually seems to be the spring where they have put on the most leaf growth.

John Brace
John Brace (@guest_3657)
5 years ago

Hey Gretchen,

I’m a certified Arborist in California and I’m looking to purchase a Mexican White Oak (seedlings) or actually a tree to plant in Pasadena, CA. Any recommendations on how to get this tree or seedlings would be much appreciated.

Thank you, John Brace

Last edited 3 years ago by Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu
Allison Sidhu(@allison-sidhu)
Reply to  John Brace
5 years ago

Thanks for your message, John. It looks like the supplier that we recommended no longer has these seeds available- we’ll do some research. In the meantime, we have been able to locate some suppliers with acorns available on Amazon, but we’d like to find a reputable supplier for live plants as well. Stay tuned for an update!

Lynn (@guest_3813)
5 years ago

We’ve had a Mexican Oak in our back yard for about 15 years. The tree is now about 35 feet in height and continues to grow very well. We’ve not seen too many of these in our Houston neighborhood, but we do have some nurseries who carry them. The tree limbs are really neat with lots of grooves and texture. The blue jays seem to enjoy nesting in ours and the squirrels hang out there as well.

Terri (@guest_3928)
5 years ago

Just bought one this weekend and can’t wait to get it planted!! I’m in San Antonio and I’m hoping it does well here too!

Joan (@guest_3975)
Reply to  Terri
5 years ago

Terri – where did you purchase your tree? I live outside of Houston and can’t find a nursery that sells them.

Jared Wylie
Jared Wylie (@guest_5271)
Reply to  Joan
4 years ago

US Trees of Texas in Willis (north of Houston) carries them

Mona (@guest_5451)
Reply to  Joan
4 years ago

I also live in San Antonio and have a beautiful Monterrey Oak that we planted about 8 years ago. It has grown so fast. We bought our tree from Milberger Nursery in San Antonio. I was there a few weeks ago and they have some. Tree was about 10 foot tall when we bought it and now towers over my 2 story house.

Reply to  Joan
2 years ago

Hi, I just bought a beatiful one in Verdant Tree Farm Houston, Barker Cypress and Clay.

Carrol (@guest_18780)
Reply to  Joan
1 year ago

Hi I just purchased and planted a 12-15 ft Monterey oak. It seems to be found well so far. I got it at Milbergers nursery on 1604 and they had quite a selection. Mine was $150 but they had other ones there for $299 if you want to start big.

Douglas Malsbury
Douglas Malsbury (@guest_5452)
Reply to  Terri
4 years ago

I planted 3 Monterrey Oaks in my yard in San Antonio, TX about 3 years ago. in 10 gal. buckets from the local nursery. We have had a little snow, but all 3 are doing well. The oldest has a trunk about 4″ and produced around 50+ acorns which I am trying to germinate in a damp towel roll. I am starting to get roots break out of the acorn after two weeks today already! The others have not produced any acorns yet. Patience!

Elizabeth (@guest_3973)
5 years ago

Will this tree work in the Texas Panhandle in a windswept edge of the canyons in caliche soil? If so, where can we find them for planting?

Jennifer Ard
Jennifer Ard (@guest_4038)
5 years ago

We have a Monterrey Oak that we planted 5 years ago here in central Austin, and it has grown from a sapling to a almost 30 feet. We have conservatively pruned and it is really happy and healthy… however, I see that a lower limb really needs to be trimmed and it is the largest lower limb of the tree … about half the diameter of the trunk. If this isn’t taken off, it will not be used as we wanted, being able to stand and place patio furniture under as it is a great shade tree. So, my question… Read more »

Saunders Yvonne
Saunders Yvonne (@guest_4073)
5 years ago

I live in San Antonio and have this tree. It dropped all of its leaves this winter and hasn’t leafed out yet but there are numerous buds. Should I be concerned?

Alicia (@guest_4402)
5 years ago

Will this tree interfere with a home’s foundation? we have a small yard.