Home > The Plant Man Article Archive > These trees have it made in the shade! 09-02-04

These trees have it made in the shade! 09-02-04

I'm sorry to say that I can't do much about that frosty cold beverage, but maybe I can give you some ideas about adding some shade to your landscape as the fall planting season approaches.

Of course, there are reasons for planting shade trees that go beyond keeping the sun off your back while you work outside. In a previous Plant Man column, I looked at some official estimates of the money you can save by planting shade trees to lower your household electricity costs.

Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a household's energy consumption for heating and cooling, according to computer models created by the U.S. Department of Energy. They estimate that the proper placement of only three trees would save an average household between $100 and $250 in energy costs annually. You can read that entire column (along with some useful links) by going to my web site www.landsteward.org and clicking on "The Plant Man" heading. Scroll down to the column titled "Smart landscaping can lower your summer energy bills."

In addition to the money and energy you can save, attractive shade trees can make even a relatively new home look more "established.." They also add to your home's "curb appeal" should you decide to sell sometime in the future.

But not all of us want to wait several decades to enjoy our shady oasis.

Here are some ideas for relatively fast-growing shade trees that you could plant this fall and be enjoying in just a few short seasons.

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) The Sycamore is one of the fastest growing of the larger shade trees, but be aware of the fact that when mature it has a massive trunk and a wide-spread canopy, so think carefully about where you would position these big boys! I like the mottled look of the bark on a mature sycamore as it begins to flake off in irregular pieces. It has moderate water requirements, and a moderate tolerance for salt and alkali soils.

Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) Wildlife enthusiasts have a soft spot for this tree because it produces acorns in only 4 to 6 years, and a variety of critters will soon be chomping on them (the acorns that is, not the wildlife enthusiasts). The Sawtooth has moderate water requirements and has a moderate tolerance to salt and alkali soils. At maturity, it'll top out between 30 and 50 feet tall.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) The Bald Cypress is often described as "stately" and it really does seem to display the quiet dignity that comes from good breeding and gentlemanly manners! Unlike the previous two trees I mentioned, the Bald Cypress forms a lofty, conical shape and displays rather attractive reddish brown fibrous bark. Again, moderate water requirements and tolerance for salt and alkali soils, this tree reaches heights of 50 to 75 feet.

River Birch (Betula nigra) As with other members of the birch family, the bark is what makes this tree so distinctive. It has a light reddish brown cinnamon bark that peels and flakes once it matures, and like all the trees mentioned here it's a fast grower and a very pleasant shade tree. Expect it to be between 50 and 75 feet at maturity.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) We couldn't talk about shade trees without including this traditional favorite! Reaching heights of 30 to 50 feet, this tree puts out attractive blooms in the spring and breathtaking scarlet color in the fall. Red Maples have low water requirements and are moderately tolerant of salt and alkali soils.

I hope that's given you some "shady" ideas. It's not just humans who prefer the shade: some plants do, too. If your landscape is already shaded from direct sunlight, there are a number of plants that do very well in those conditions, and I'll suggest some right here in a future column. Meanwhile, if you have any questions or comments, please send me an e-mail.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org

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