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Small Shade Trees

Question:

I live in zone 7A and would like some advice for selecting a shade tree. The house faces west so we would like to plant a tree to help block the hot sun. Our yard is small, so we don't want something that will grow extremely large. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer:

With a little planning you can successfully grow a shade providing tree in just about any sized yard. It's all about selecting the right tree for your situation. To get the right fit there are some questions to consider.

  1. How much space do you have? Research the mature size of the tree. Small, ornamental trees need to be planted at least 10 feet from your house; medium trees 15 - 20 feet and large trees require 20 or more feet. Don't forget about the root system, which can spread to 3 times the diameter of the tree's canopy.
  2. What are your growing conditions like? Is the location in sun or shade? What type of soil do you have? Is the area soggy or well drained? Your tree will grow and thrive if make sure the site matches the tree's optimum growing conditions.
  3. Do you like to rake leaves? Shade trees are typically deciduous, which means someone is going to need to rake the leaves when they drop in fall. If this is an issue, consider a screen of large growing evergreens instead. Osmanthus, arbovitae, hollies, Leyland cypress and photinias are a few to consider.
  4. Do you have utility lines across your yard? If the answer is yes, make sure to site the tree where it won't grow up into the utility lines.
  5. How large is your house? Make sure the tree you select will be in scale with your house. A small, ornamental tree will be dwarfed by a two story house.

Once you have answered these basic questions you can start the fun of looking at all the trees that are just right for your garden. Here are a few to get you started.

Medium Trees
Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) – Grows to 40 – 60 feet, pest free, slow growing, brilliant fall foliage, grows well in poorly drained soil, not so happy in hot, dry locations, hardy in zones 5 – 9.

American Linden (Tilia americana) – Grows to 30 – 60 feet, pest and disease free, holds up well in storms, rapid grower, fragrant flowers that attract bees in spring, grows well in hot, dry locations, needs good drainage, hardy in zones 3 – 8.

Small Trees
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) – Depending on the cultivar grows from 18-inches – 40 feet, pest free, susceptible to powdery mildew, rapid grower, beautiful late summer flowers, outstanding fall foliage, grows best in full sun, hardy in zones 7 – 9.

Chinese Dogwood (Cornus kousa chinensis) – Grows to 16 – 18 feet, pest and disease free, slow to moderate grower, blooms later than Cornus florida, large red fall fruit, prefers dappled to partial shade, hardy in zones 5 – 8.

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) – Grows to 20 feet with a 20 foot spread, moderate grower, many cultivar choices for foliage color and texture, prefers partial shade to light shade, hardy in zones 5 – 8.

Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus cerasifera) – Grows to 20 – 25 feet, moderate grower, spring blooms and burgundy foliage, small fruits in late summer, best color when planted in full sun, hardy in zones 4 – 9.

Trident Maple (Acer buergeranum) – Grows to 30 feet, pest and disease free, rapid grower, good fall foliage, interesting bark, grows well in hot, dry locations, needs good drainage, hardy in zones 5 – 9.