Choosing The Perfect Shade Tree

Lillian SteinBy Lillian SteinNov 6, 20170

Whether you want to shade your home or fashion a cool oasis outdoors, trees are a wonderful option. They create shade, beauty and privacy while adding to the atmosphere of your yard.

But there are a lot of things to consider when you’re choosing a shade tree. Where will you put it? You’ll get the best shade to cool your home by planting on the west or south side, but patios and decks may require planting on the north or east. What kind should you choose? Deciduous trees provide shade during summer and allow sunshine in the winter, but evergreen trees or bushes will limit the amount of leaf litter in autumn.

Even once you’ve decided the general area for your shade tree, you’ll have to settle on the tree that’s right for you. And there are still more factors consider: the amount of space you have to give the tree, the common pests and problems of your area, the trees water and nutrient needs. The wrong shade tree can be more problem then panacea.

Tree Placement

Tree Placement

Shade trees are meant to provide shade, of course. This can lower your energy bill by reducing the sunshine – and thus heat – that your house absorbs in the warm summer months.

However, the placement of your tree plays a large part in serving this function. In the northern hemisphere, sunlight is at its most intense on the west and south sides of a home, so planting your shade tree there will give you the most shade and the largest reduction in your heating bills.

However, not all homes are laid out in ways that make that possible, and sometimes you need shade in a particular area, such as over a patio or pool, or even over a specific area of your garden. When that’s the case, consider the area’s position, the tree’s purpose and the time of day that it gets the most sunlight.

Is it glaring in the morning, but nicely lit in the evening? Are you trying to create shade for some of the more delicate plants of your garden, or shade so that you don’t sunburn when you go out for a swim? In these cases, the needs of the plant, or the timing of your swims will play a role in where you place your shade tree, and thinking them out ahead of time will save you trouble down the road.

Deciduous Or Evergreen?

Deciduous Or Evergreen?

This is a more complex issue than many may think. Deciduous trees – those which lose their leaves in fall – can be more efficient for your heating and cooling bills because, once they’ve lost their leaves in fall and winter, they allow sunshine to get to the walls of your house, warming it and saving you on heating bills in the cooler months.

However, they also make more work for you. Sometimes deciduous trees drop leaves even in warmer months, and even if they don’t, come fall someone has to clean up all those leaves. Planting an evergreen can be a solution to your leaf litter problem – although be sure of the plant you choose, as some evergreens also shed their needles or leaves – but they also shade your house year-round, which won’t help with your heating bill.

Planting each type of tree wisely can help you strike a balance between hours of leaf removal and no help with the heating bill. In addition, there are some areas of your yard that can benefit a lot from a non-shedding evergreen, such as a pool. No one likes to fish leaf litter from their pool, and a non-shedding evergreen can be a great solution there.

Water And Power Lines

Water And Power Lines

It’s important to contact your utility company to find out where your water and utility lines run before you even choose your tree. Some trees have more aggressive or expansive roots systems than others, and planting too close to your home can lead to roots invading your plumbing or foundation.

Both of which can be very expensive to repair. Don’t plan to plant any trees within 25 feet of your foundation and be sure to ask at your local nursery to find out which trees will best suit your needs.

In addition, take note of any power lines running above the planting area you’ve chosen. You’ll need to pick a tree with a mature height significantly below the height of the power lines. If you choose too tall a tree you’ll have to keep it pruned away from the lines, and choosing too small a tree will leave your home only partially shaded.

Available Space

Available Space

A small side yard in an urban setting is no place for a sugar maple, which can reach a height of 75 feet with a canopy spread of up to 50 feet. Not only would you be shading half the neighborhood, but you’d need to prune the poor thing constantly.

For smaller spaces, choose shorter trees with a canopy spread of equal or less than the width of your chosen space. The expected canopy spread is just an estimate of how far out the tree’s branches will grow. While not all trees will stick within that defined space, choosing wisely will at least lessen the amount of pruning you’ll have to do.

Watering Requirements

It’s no surprise that different trees like different environments. Some prefer the silt soils and high moisture of the wetland and some would rather have dry, well-drained soil. Planting a wetland tree in the desert is going to lead to constant watering, nutrient deficiencies, and weakness to pests, fungi or disease.

However, this holds true in less extreme environments as well. Trees are adapted to certain conditions, and when they don’t get what they need to go about their processes, they can become ripe targets for any number of problems, pests and diseases, some of which can be very tricky and expensive to remedy.

Trees that are native to your area will have adapted to the amounts of moisture your area naturally receives. It won’t get rid of the need to water entirely, but it will cut it down.

Choosing Resistant Trees

Choosing Resistant Trees

Some trees are more resistant to the local pests than others. Native trees will, of course, have the best resistance, but even among local trees there may be variations. Some cultivars will be stronger than others, and some will be resistant to particular problems. Find out what the local problems are, whether it’s a fungus, an insect or a deficiency in the soil.

It’s also a good idea to ask your neighbors if their trees or plants have had any particular problems, as it will give you an idea of the types of problems your own plants are likely to face. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be able to choose a shade tree resistant to the most likely bugaboos.


So, while there are several factors to consider, choosing the right shade tree can enrich your yard, lower your heating and cooling bills, and add to your enjoyment of your space.

Getting your tree in the right place, and choosing the right tree for the job, can be a challenge, but knowing your local climate and your yard will help you meet it. Take a little time to research your options and you’ll have a much easier task, and you might just find the perfect shade tree.

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