CHOOSING SHADE TREES
The search for the perfect Shade Tree is more involved than just a trip to the greenhouse to choose the prettiest plant. Choosing shade trees should first include some research to make sure the tiny seedling tree you purchase won’t turn out to be a very expensive mistake.
Home ownership has a peculiar effect on many of us. Even the most logical personality types can get a little nuts when the opportunity to “create” presents itself. Driving down the street, you often see the effects of this condition:
- A row of maple trees planted about 12 feet apart and 5 feet from a public sidewalk
- A shade tree planted near the corner of a house as though the thing could cause no more trouble than a shrub
- OR a tree planted directly under an electrical power line
Twenty five years later:
- Each maple tree is 35 feet tall by 35 feet wide, their limbs have grown together so pruning is impossible, and the surface roots have pushed up and broken the sidewalk. One wind storm and they’ll go down together like dominoes
- The shade tree by the house has pushed its limbs straight through the second story windows and the roots have penetrated the basement wall
- AND the other tree has been given a “flattop” haircut to get it out of the electrical wires which ruins its shape.
RESEARCH CAREFULLY BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR SHADE TREE
One of the hardest things to do well is to pick out a Shade Tree for your yard. You sometimes don’t know if you’ll be truly happy with it till its ten or fifteen years old. The ash tree next to my driveway needs to be replaced soon due to old age, rot, and the impending arrival of a certain type of borer that likes to dine on them.
When choosing a tree, take your time and study the new variety carefully. It is less hassle to do your homework first than to deal with the regrets later. There is no one perfect tree.
THE SHADE TREE CHECK-LIST
Things to consider before you buy something this big are:
- Height at maturity
- Width at maturity (Better known as “spread”)
- Shape of the top growth (Vase shape; oval shape, pyramidal shape; erratic branch growth, etc.)
- What hardiness zones will it thrive in? (If a catalog says Zone 5, it might mean it will tolerate winters to only 5 degrees below zero. Other Zone 5 trees might make it to 35 degrees below zero. Pay more attention to the degree of temperature tolerance than to the zone number.)
- Speed of growth (One or two feet per year; ten feet in fifteen years, etc.)
- Brittleness of the wood (A tree that will split readily in a high wind or under the weight of snow and ice can ruin the shape of the tree and possibly damage your home. As a result, picking up sticks and branches every time the wind blows is very tedious.)
- Short-lived or long-lived (Brittle trees are often short-lived. Fast growing trees are often brittle and short-lived. Consequently, removing a full sized tree is not inexpensive.)
- Drought tolerance (Somewhat, moderately, or extremely drought tolerant)
- Shallow or deep roots (Deep rooted shade trees are often more drought tolerant. Shallow rooted trees need more moisture and can have surface roots that are hard to mow over and around.)
- Does it have invasive roots that might fill your yard with seedlings or suckers that burrow under the foundation of your house?
- Does it form unsightly aerial roots? (These sometimes occur very high up in the tree and are hard to remove.)
- Is it picky about soil pH? (Sooner or later you’ll get tired of having to baby something this large.)
- What bugs and diseases is it prone to, and how can they be dealt with?
- Will the blooms attract a hoard of vicious bumblebees?
- Does it have hard nuts or seed pods that make dangerous projectiles when mowing the lawn?
- Are the branches thorny? (Thorns are sometimes hard to see.)
- Is the bark ugly? (Like alligator skin or elephant skin)
- Does the tree come in both male and female types? (Weigh out the pros and cons since they might differ greatly.)
- Do the leaves, blossoms, seeds, or fruits have a foul smell?
- Similarly, are allergies a problem?
- Is it hard to transplant?
- Can the tree serve more than one purpose such as beauty, shade, food and drink (tea, syrup, fritters, jelly, salad greens, cooking greens, soup), fuel, and if possible, medicine?
COMPANION PLANTING WITH SHADE TREES
Companion Planting is a subject that usually discusses vegetables, but is of equal importance when choosing a shade tree for your yard. “Where to plant the tree” is a decision that needs to be made before ordering your tree. If the new tree interferes with the other plants or trees in the area, you need to know this now, not later.
Fruit bearing plants and trees do not appreciate being anywhere near a walnut tree. And anything in the cabbage family, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, and turnips also don’t get along with walnuts.
Blackberries can thrive with oak trees, which is a fact that originally surprised me until I saw them growing together. I would caution you on growing most things near an oak since it will grow to enormous proportions. The shade from the top growth and the distance the underground roots will spread can spell big problems for a vegetable garden.
Conifers should be kept at a great distance from fruit trees and raspberries.
Linden trees grow well near lilac bushes and asters. This tree is a real magnet for bees and hornets due to the fragrance and nectar of the blossoms. The trees are truly gorgeous, but mowing around them when they are blooming isn’t much fun with buzzing insects soaring around like drones.
Always allow plenty of space between your shade trees and vegetables and fruits of all kinds. Herbs can be somewhat tougher, since many of them will seed off and plant themselves in odd places on your property.
MAKING YOUR DECISION
Finally, Decision Making is often a Process of Elimination.
Make a List of the things you don’t want in your Shade Tree, such as foul smell, thorny branches, and trees that grow too large for the space you have available.
Prioritize the characteristics that are important to you such as speed of growth, disease resistance, and Fall color.
Consider Compromises: If a tree has thorny branches yet has a breathtaking display of Spring flowers and Fall foliage, you might decide you can live with the thorns after all.
HAPPY PLANTING! Susan