Tree Questions

Are Bur Oak Trees Messy?

Our neighborhood is lined with dozens of mature bur oak trees and I couldn’t be happier about that. With that being said, they do tend to create a bit of a mess.

Are bur oak trees messy? Bur oak trees have acorns with a larger cup than most white oaks. As the acorns are a prized resource for many animals such as squirrels, the broken shells and cups are typically scattered all over underneath a bur oak tree.

Now that we’ve got the quick and easy answer out of the way, let’s get into the finer details of what you can expect from your bur oak tree.

What Kind of Mess Do Bur Oak Trees Produce?

Before I get into the details about exactly what kind of mess you can expect from a bur oak tree, I do have to say that these are pretty awesome trees. A great addition to the suburban landscape, the mighty bur oak tree is great enough to be forgiven for the casual and occasional mess.

You Should Expect Some Kind of Mess From Late Summer Through Late Fall

Here’s a general timeline of what kind of mess you can expect from your bur oak tree: it’s normal to expect some debris on the ground from late summer through late fall.

Once you start getting into the end of summer in August, you’ll likely start seeing the bad acorns being ejected from the tree. These don’t create that much of a mess, but you definitely will take notice as they are often larger and containing several leaves attached. Sometime around early September, you can expect to have the mast of acorns dropping from your bur oak.

The dropping of the acorns shouldn’t last more than a week or so, but you can expect a mature bur oak tree to produce buckets and buckets of acorns.

You might start to notice leaves dropping from your tree as early as a month after the mast dropped, but that depends on your specific tree. Most bur oak trees won’t start dropping their leaves until a little later, usually around mid-to-late October.

Obviously, this depends on where you live and how low nighttime temperatures have been in that year.

Squirrels Will Create Most of the Mess

Here’s where we get to the real culprit in all this: the squirrels are really to blame for the messy results from the acorns of a bur oak tree. Acorns themselves are simple enough to clean up, but the reality is that your squirrels will chew up the shells and the cups, and they’ll be all over for weeks.

There’s just no way around it; these guys are some sloppy eaters.

Now, most acorns do end up creating a real mess, but what makes bur oak acorns real special is just how large the cup is (aka the hat of the acorn). It’s just decently larger than most other white oak trees around.

Expect Leaves to Start Dropping Within a Month or so of Acorn Crop

After the acorns have dropped and the squirrels are done making a giant mess out of everything, you get a brief reprieve before the leaves start to fall. Most trees will hold onto their leaves well into October, but you may get a few trees losing their leaves around late September.

I noticed this started happening once nighttime temperatures started getting down into the 40s at night, but your experience may vary. With that being said, the leaves of a bur oak tree make for relatively easy cleanup, as they are large enough to be raked up quickly.

Location Does Matter When Considering the Mess

When I talk about the mess created by a bur oak tree, I think the only time that it’s can tend to look unsightly is when you have a bur oak tree over a sidewalk or driveway. Any area that gets a decent amount of foot traffic and is made of concrete will create a great environment for pedestrians to finish the squirrel’s half-done job.

While lawns can look a little messy after the acorns drop, all of the debris and shells seem to blend in pretty quickly afterward. Now I would probably avoid going barefoot while walking on a lawn that recently had a litter of acorn shells and husks spread all over it, but this won’t be a big deal for most.

Of all the houses in our neighborhood that had bur oak trees, even the most neatly manicured lawns still had a decent mess on the sidewalk. There’s just no fighting it; these mature trees drop a ton of material on the ground.

What Kind of Mess Should You Expect From a Newly Planted Tree?

So you may be thinking that that’s great when we’re talking about mature bur oak trees, but what about the homeowner looking to plant a young tree? According to the USDA PLANTS database, the earliest that you could expect a bur oak tree to start producing acorns is 5 years from germination.

Most trees won’t start producing acorns that early on, and frankly, it’ll be many decades before any tree produces the large volume needed to make such a mess.

You’ll have many decades to enjoy your new bur oak tree, and you can more or less consider it a problem for the next family.

An Awesome Tree for the Suburbs Regardless of Mess

For everything that I’ve said about the mess that these trees create, I do have to profess great admiration for them. We have bur oak trees throughout our neighborhood, and they are a tremendous addition if only for their beauty.

Some of the trees in our neighborhood must be at least 100 years old, and they have some absolutely massive trunks that are so big that the sidewalks are poured to accommodate the trees. These trees also have a quite interesting habit as the secondary branches are rather stout and don’t stray far from the main branch.

All in all, they’re an awesome addition to the neighborhood, and they’re one of my favorite trees to be on the lookout for when we go on walks. One of the reasons they thrive so much in this setting is that they have a decent tolerance for the pollution associated with suburban areas.

A wide variety of animals also enjoys the acorns, the most famous squirrels that our dog always seems to find tucked around the other side of a bur oak tree.

Concluding Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and picked up a thing or two along the way. I’ve really come to appreciate these trees over the years, and I hope others share that feeling.

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By Drew Meulemans

I've long admired forests and devote much energy to learning about them and exploring. I enjoy sharing what I learn and wish to inspire others to do the same.