Expert Tree and Shrub selection advice

Now that summer is waning and fall planting season is here, Oklahoma State University Extension Specialist, Mike Schnelle, has advice for homeownersabout which trees and shrubs could be good choices for our area.

“Wait through this winter before you decide to remove a leafless tree in your yard and replace it,” Schnelle said. “The drought has put many trees into early dormancy. They may still be alive and could leaf out next spring.”

The unusual weather of the past two summers has taken its toll on some of the most rugged native plants and Schnelle acknowledged that native shrubs and trees had to be watered this year to keep them looking their best.

“The best trees under the worst stress can be vulnerable to insects and diseases,” said Schnelle. “But, with that said, there are several plants to recommend that require no chemical insecticides or pesticides.”

One superior small tree is the Oklahoma Redbud (Cercis canadensis), a grafted tree with lavender spring flowers. Another small tree, Prairie Fire Crabapple (Malus x Prairie Fire), is drought tolerant, though should be watered during extreme summers.

Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) is an Oklahoma native that can grow into a 90-foot tall shade tree with yellow fall leaves.

Shantung Maple (Acer truncatum) is a 15-25 foot tall selection from Asia that has proven itself in OK. The orange, red and purple fall colors make it worth watering in the summer.

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioica) is another native that has yellow fall color.

“Kentucky Coffee Tree can be slow to mature” said Schnelle. “It can look the same for 5 years and then in year 6 begin its growth into a 30 foot tall tree.”

Native Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) grows to 50-feet tall and wide.  Even well-rooted specimens had to be watered this year.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) is native to Southeast Oklahoma. Although it does not have to be located at water’s edge to be healthy, it will need water in drought years.


Schnelle said that it is time to stop fertilizing trees and shrubs for the year.

“It is important to be sure that trees and shrubs go into the winter well watered and mulched,” Schnelle said. “The choice of organic mulch or inorganic mulch does not matter. Just be sure that the mulch is well away from the tree trunk and is no more than 3-inches deep.”

Schnelle also recommended some landscape shrubs that require little care other than water.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana) is a native with spring flowers and rose-pink berries that attract songbirds in the fall. 5 feet tall and wide

Oak Leaf Hydrangea is a native understory, part-shade shrub with spring flowers, fall leaf color, and no known pests.

Native possomhaw (Ilex decidua or deciduous holly) is an 8 ft. tall and wide native shrub. Female plants have red, orange, or yellow fruit in the fall and winter if there is a male plant nearby for pollination.

Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) has white spring flowers and, depending on the variety, can have red, purple or black late summer fruit. Aronia shrubs mature at 6 feet tall and wide.

Japanese Kerria (Kerria Japonica) is an Oklahoma Proven plant that has yellow flowers all summer.

Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) starts blooming in Dec. It can be pruned or left to grow 7-feet tall.

Try these additional resources for more information -

·         Fact Sheet NREM-5036 Deciduous Trees for Oklahoma

·         HLA 6439 Selecting Shrubs for the Landscape

·         Low Water Use Plants (trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, annuals)

·         Under-Utilized OK Native Plants

·         Oklahoma Proven Plants brochure


Fall is still the best time to plant trees and shrubs.




What strikes me the most is that you are one of the fewest to mention the weather when talking about how our crops have changed over the years. I knew it wasn't just me, the global warming has taken affect in areas that could doom us if we can't even grow tomatoes.

-Tony Salmeron

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