We have several customers who live in sandy soil areas, such as Hastings, and Vermillion and Castle Rock Townships, who have had little luck growing shade trees on lawns and along streets. The tree that our staff shows them in our tree lot is the Northern Pin Oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis) also known as Jack Oak or Hill Oak, a native tree that grows well on dry sandy and acidic soils.
The Northern Pin Oak is a medium to large tree often 65 feet tall and 50 feet wide, moderately fast growing, and hardy in USDA zones 3 and 4. It makes an excellent shade tree with a straight trunk that extends into the crown. Its numerous slender branches, long, horizontal or ascending above, shorter and drooping below, form a broadly pyramidal head. The branches bear many short, upright, and pinlike twigs. The leaves are 4 to 6 inches long, deeply-cut with five to seven bristle-tipped lobes, and are thin, firm, dark green, and glossy. They turn a dark red in autumn and sometimes remain on the trees during winter. The tree blooms in May when the leaves are about one-third grown.
Bailey Nurseries in Newport, Minnesota, has developed a distinct improvement over the species named First Editions Majestic Skies Northern Pin Oak. The new cultivar has straighter branching and is more evenly sized. The foliage is more substantial and darker green. Majestic Skies Northern Pin Oak has an excellent garnet red fall color.