Choosing a Shade Tree for your Yard
Who is this Diary advice for?
It’s for property owners in USA who want to care for their trees on their land. Mature trees can add around 10% to the value of your property say the USDA Forest Service BUT only if they are kept in good condition, say Moneysense. A little care and attention for your trees now will help your trees look beautiful. Your efforts will also pay handsomely in terms of your property’s appraised value over time as your trees grow and flourish.
If you have any questions about any of the advice offered here, please seek the advice of your local arborist. Call Tree Top Pros and talk to an expert in your city. See the Locations menu tab to find them in your city (currently in Florida).
Continuing the tree planting theme from August
Our Diary for August talked about the considerable cooling benefits of shade trees. Arbor Day Foundation confirms between 10% and 40% of your summer cooling bills could be slashed with a shade tree or two. We suggested using the sun’s position in early August to determine the best position to plant a shade tree in your yard. Alternatively, we recommended two shade trees to the South of your property and one to the West for shade and cooling benefits.
As we are now approaching one of two ideal ‘tree planting windows’ in the year, it’s a good opportunity to think about which shade tree is best for your yard.
Depending where you are in USA, the weather is beginning to cool and the ground becomes more moist with the return of rains. Generally speaking mid-September to late October gives us 6 good weeks to plant trees because the hot days of summer are no more and yet the ground is still warm. These are ideal conditions for tree root growth. Planting a tree in these weeks will give your young tree a chance to establish itself and give it a great head start over those planted in the Spring of next year.
Follow these 10 steps to choosing the right shade tree:
1. Choosing the right spot to plant your shade tree
You should have already done this. Read our August Tree care Diary for guidance. We can refine the exact planting location later – we’ll tell you how. In anticipation of planting, map out where utility lines, underground and over-ground power cables lie on your property. Keep your tree well away from these lines.
This guide shows how far away your shade tree must be from your building to ensure its roots do not invade and damage your home’s foundations:
|Height of Tree at Maturity|
(take from downloaded files in section 3. below)
|Minimum Tree Planting Distance from Your Building Wall||Minimum Tree Planting Distance from Your Building Corner|
|Short Tree (i.e. less than 25 ft)||10 ft||8 ft|
|Average Tree (i.e. 25 to 40 ft)||15 ft||12 ft|
|Tall Tree (i.e. 40 ft plus)||20 ft||15 ft|
2. What is your hardiness zone?
This is a very important factor when choosing any tree to grow in your location. A hardiness zone is a specific geographical area which reflects a range of climate conditions relevant to your tree’s survival and growth needs. The map uses average annual lowest temperatures in wintertime. These are then divided into 10 degree Fahrenheit zones.
Thankfully, USDA Agricultural Research Service has made it super easy to find your hardiness zone. Simply punch in your zip code into the box in the top left hand corner of their interactive map page here:
The answer will then appear underneath the ZIP code box. This will be the zone that applies to your precise zip code. Make a note of this growing zone because it will help you choose the right shade tree for your yard.
3. Go Native! Choose a native tree for your area.
Why? Because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that residential outdoor water use across the United States amounts to approximately 9 billion gallons of water every single day. The vast majority of this is for domestic landscape irrigation.
That’s an enormous amount of water. This might be sustainable were it not for the fact that 40 out of 50 States are predicting water shortages in the next 10 years. So with your tree having a potential lifespan of 100 years or more, it makes sense to account for future conditions when water won’t be so plentiful. You surely don’t want that leafy water-hungry tree you’re planning to plant now costing you a fortune in water in the years ahead.
So we believe that choosing native trees will help you here in the long run. We recommend prioritizing the planting of tree species which are both native to USA and also your State and location. A native tree suitable for your hardiness zone will already be acclimatized to your local growing conditions and is likely to need less watering than after the initial year or two.
With this in mind we have selected a list of 25 beautiful native shade trees from which you can begin to make your choice. The list of 25 also includes 10 just for Florida as this is where most of our offices and customers are based currently. The lists are created in MS Excel so you can sort according to tree height at maturity or at 3 years or by hardiness zone etc. Download the file if you wish from the links beneath the video.
Our top 10 shade trees for Florida are all beautiful trees that we’ve showcased in a short video:
The first FREE download includes all 25 shade tree candidates for USA. It includes many of the shade trees recommended by the Arbor Day Foundation together with some of our own preferences based on growth rate, strength of wood and wind tolerance factors etc.: Download Link Top 25 USA Shade Trees
The second FREE download relates to just those shade trees suitable for Florida: Download Link Top 10 Florida shade trees
4. Expand the list of candidates for your county or city
Help is at hand if you want a larger list of candidate trees. Some environmentally conscious county administrations will have recommended a list of native or protected tree species on their websites. They do this to reduce the number of invasive tree species that do not complement the local environment or have proved to be a nuisance locally. These county lists are excellent for additional ideas.
To find these lists for your location, simply type into your internet search engine:
(your county name)+approved+tree+list e.g. Hillsborough County+approved+tree+list
(your county name)+recommended+tree+list e.g. Hillsborough County+recommended+tree+list
For example, HIllsborough County in Florida lists some 20 species of shade trees suitable for planting in this particular county. Five of these already feature on our own list for Florida. So a search in this case will liberate 15 additional shade tree options for you.
Add in the relevant information about your expanded selection of shade trees into one of our Excel tables you have downloaded, especially the tree’s height at maturity and hardiness zone.
5. Review your expanded list of fast-growing, native shade trees.
First of all, dismiss those trees which fall outside your own hardiness zone (determined from Step 2. (above). Then research each of the remaining candidates for strength of its wood, growth rate, tree height and breadth of canopy size when mature and lastly for its appearance. Both function and form will be important decision-making factors. After all, you will be living with your chosen tree probably for the duration of your stay in your current home.
6. Soil Compatibility
Ensure your soil type is compatible with your preferred choice – use a soil testing kit from your local hardware store to check on levels of nutrients and whether your yard is compromised of sandy, alkaline, acid, clay type soil etc. This will also help you choose the correct tree fertilizer when planting your tree.
7. Compile your shade tree shortlist
From your research and by process of elimination, compile your own shortlist of 2 to 3 tree species that you find attractive and that suits your hardiness zone, planting space and soil type.
8. Explore availability
Take your shortlist to your nearest tree nursery and check the availability of your preferred shade tree seedlings or saplings. Check their condition and modify your final choice accordingly. Purchase with the right fertilizer, organic matter and planting tools (see checklist in point 10. below).
9. Map out utility lines and drains
In anticipation for planting your young tree, map out where utility lines lie e.g. where drains, underground and over-ground power cables, gas pipes, water pipes and telephone/data cables lie in your yard. We obviously need to avoid these when planting your new tree.
10. Planting tools checklist
Check you have the following available prior to tree planting:
Now simply await our next Tree Care Diary for planting advice. This will guide you on how to plant your carefully chosen shade tree seedling or sapling. We’ll publish it early so you can catch the last two weeks of September part of this Fall’s tree planting window.
Diary ‘Health Warning’: The accuracy of this calendar and timings shared within it cannot be guaranteed. States in the USA are at different latitudes, longitudes and have varying elevations. This makes the general advice we give hard to fit all states the same. Compounding these differences are the typical tree species sets between states. Furthermore, each state has its own weather patterns and levels of rainfall. All the calendar can do is broadly summarize best practice care for your trees. We therefore suggest that you consult your local arborist for more specific insights and advice relevant for your particular location.