Choose the best trees for shade to create a cool garden oasis, enrich the environment, and help future-proof your property against climate change.
It’s important to include areas of shade and full sun in your backyard. Not only does the right balance make for a more pleasant place to relax, but it allows for a greater diversity of plants and creates a better habitat for wildlife.
With changing climates, fast-growing trees also play an important role in providing shade for homes quickly, helping to reduce overheating. Yet, conversely they can minimize the impact of adverse weather conditions such as flooding. You can also underplant these trees with the best shade plants to bring interest and color to all parts of the garden
‘It’s not just what’s above ground with a tree that’s important – it’s what’s happening below ground,’ says Rebecca Bradley, founding principal at Florida-based Cādence (opens in new tab) landscape architecture practice.
‘Trees are not just providing shade for the heat, they’re also absorbing water – helping get water back down into the ground and not running off into our waterways.’
However, planting trees for shade is not a quick solution. ‘Growing the best trees for shade is a long-term goal – I often call them trees for posterity,’ says Blythe Yost, CEO of online landscape design practice Tilly (opens in new tab).
‘It will take many years for shade trees to reach their full potential, but it is important for us to include them in our garden for the shade they provide today and the potential shade they will offer to others in years to come.’
The best trees for shade
‘In the garden – especially in yards where space is at a premium – trees that serve more than one function are terrific choices, especially when it comes to garden shade ideas,’ says Kip McConnell, director of Southern Living Plant Collection (opens in new tab).
'A well-chosen shade tree can also serve an important role in dividing gardens, creating outdoor rooms. For this purpose, look for varieties with dense foliage and vertical growth habits to get both shade and screening.’
The good news is that the best trees for shade are also some of the best trees for privacy, allowing you to screen your garden to create a peaceful, secluded environment.
‘Seek out varieties that not only cast shade, but also provide spring flowers or bright fall colors,' adds McConnell. 'This maximizes the tree’s visual impact in your space and provides multi-season interest.'
However, when choosing the best trees for backyard shade, Bradley stresses the importance of choosing species that will thrive in your local environment.
‘Trees that are grown in the nursery may not actually be the right choice for your area, so plant native trees and try to create a design that helps build eco systems,' she says. 'Ask yourself, what is it that nature needs?’
Check the USDA plant hardiness zone map (opens in new tab) to see whether a tree is likely to thrive in your area.
1. Oak trees
The mighty oak is one of the best trees for shade, and treasured by gardeners around the world.
‘Hands down, my favorite tree for shade is an oak,’ says Yost. ‘Although this is an extremely broad genus, there are shade-providing varieties that grow in most regions.
'As an East Coast and Midwest landscape architect, my personal favorite is the white oak – Quercus alba – due to its graceful habit, delicately lobed leaves, and uniformly shaggy bark.’ It's a versatile tree suitable for zones 3-9.
Meanwhile, the live oak tree – Quercus virginiana – is a beloved tree in southern and central states, thriving in zones 7-10.
‘The live oak can grow in a lot of different scenarios. It's large with a huge root structure, so needs space to grow, but it’s a wonderful shade tree for your garden space,' says Bradley. 'It's also a really hardy tree that and can weather big storms.'
The downside of most oak trees is that they are slow growing and will take many years to become established.
However, a faster-growing alternative is the northern red oak – Quercus rubra – which is suitable for zones 3-8.
‘It grows at a rate of 2ft per year and develops a dense round crown that provides great shade,’ says Codey Stout, head operations manager at Tree Triage (opens in new tab). 'It can tolerate drought, pollution, and compacted soil.
‘It also offers beautiful colors in the fall, from russet to bright red, and produces acorns that birds and animals love.’
A versatile tree that can grow in zones 4-9, the tuliptree – Liriodendron tulipifera– is named for its delightful tulip-shaped flowers, which bloom in the spring.
John Rogan, professor of geography at Clark University (opens in new tab), favors the tuliptree as a shade provider due to its fast growth rate. ‘It can grow 2ft per year, reaching up to 90ft when established, with a canopy width as broad as 30-40ft.
'It also lives for a long time, has a very attractive leaf shape, and the single-stem trunks produce straight and tall mature trees.'
In his work, Rogan has led studies into the impact trees have on land surface temperature, and believes they hold the key to reducing our home cooling costs in summer by as much as 20 per cent.
‘Shade trees are best planted on the west side of a house, where they can shade the property during the heat of the early afternoon,’ he says.
3. American mahogany
American mahogany – Swietenia mahagoni – is native to South Florida, where it is a popular shade tree, as well as islands in the Caribbean. It will grow successfully in zones 10 and 11, so follow the philosophy of right tree, right place.
‘Swietenia mahagoni is such a great shade tree for a tropical climate,’ says Bradley. ‘It is not invasive, and it is faster growing than many trees.’
This sturdy hardwood tree copes well with stormy weather and possesses fragrant clusters of flowers in the spring and summer. Its ultimate mature height is around 100ft.
4. Weeping willow
Few trees are as evocative of lazy summer days than the weeping willow – Salix babylonica – which provides a protective branch canopy that’s perfect for picnicking beneath.
They are also fast growing, at a rate of 3-4ft per year, offering a quick route to shade and privacy. The trees thrive in zones 6-8.
Sadly, weeping willows are not suitable for smaller yards, as their roots can cause damage to underground pipework. But if you have a large garden and can position them 50ft away from utilities, then they will make a charming addition.
They are also short lived compared to many slower-growing trees, lasting for only a few decades. The experts at Bower & Branch (opens in new tab) suggest planting a row of weeping willows in front of a row of slower-growing, but longer lived trees such as oak.
‘When the oaks are big enough to do the job, the willows can be removed when they become old and no longer appealing in your landscape.’
Weeping willows love water, so if you have a natural pond, then position a tree next to it to complete the romantic scene.
5. Sugar maple
The sugar maple – Acer saccharum – is a popular tree for providing shade due to its dense canopy, and it is also one of the best trees for autumn color.
‘A slower-growing Acer species with a growth rate of around a foot per year, the sugar maple tree can reach heights near 100ft at maturity, and has a large canopy,’ says Tammy Sons, owner of Tennessee Nursery (opens in new tab). ‘I just love its vibrant fall foliage of golden hues.’
Sugar maples are hardy in zones 3-8 and grow best in well-drained, acidic to slightly alkaline soil.
6. Red maple
Another standout fall tree, the red maple – or Acer rubrum – is a moderately fast-growing species with a growth rate of 1-2ft per year.
‘Its canopy reaches 30-45ft wide and it has a mature height near 60ft,’ says Sons. ‘The red maple tree also offers one of fall's favorite colors of foliage in deep red hues.’
‘For something different, try Acer rubrum 'Red Sunset' or 'Brandywine' – they are red maples but they don't have red foliage,’ adds Gian Moore, partner at Mellowpine (opens in new tab).
The red maple grows in zones 3-9 and is tolerant of most soil types.
7. Dawn redwood
The dawn redwood – Metasequoia glyptostroboides – is one of the best trees for shade in a hurry, growing in height by more than 2ft each year.
It’s also a tree with a fascinating history, as prior to the mid 20th century it was considered extinct, and revealed through fossils to have existed alongside dinosaurs.
Luckily, the dawn redwood was rediscovered growing in China, and now, though not commonplace, grows in many countries around the world.
You can grow the dawn redwood in zones 5-8, and the great news is that it’s low-maintenance, requiring no pruning and with minimal susceptibility to problems or disease.
‘There are some interesting cultivars available of this deciduous conifer, such as 'Goldrush' which has yellow-green foliage,’ says Moore.
8. Gumbo limbo
A South Florida native, the gumbo limbo – Bersera simaruba – is a fast-growing shade tree that will thrive in zones 10 and 11.
‘It has a beautiful peeling trunk, so it’s often called the ‘tourist tree’ due to its sunburnt appearance, revealing a lighter color underneath the peel on the trunk,’ says Bradley.
‘It is an amazingly resilient tree that stands up to our hurricanes, so we often use it as a shade tree in our landscapes.
‘It also roots very easily. I planted a seedling in my front yard and within 8-9 years it was a fully established shade tree.’
9. Eastern redbud
‘For a fast-growing shade tree, it's hard to beat the redbud – Cercis canadensis – with its beautiful pink flowers,’ says Lindsey Hyland, founder of Urban Organic Yield (opens in new tab). ‘I love to watch them bloom in spring and early summer, and their fall colors are stunning.’
The Eastern redbud grows to a height of 20–30ft, with a gloriously wide canopy spreading to 25–35ft when mature.
It grows in zones 4-9, and is seen widely throughout eastern states. Redbuds are tolerant of most soil types.
10. Green ash
The green, or red, ash – Fraxinus pennsylvanica – is a fantastically versatile shade tree, growing in zones 2-9 at a fast rate of more than 2ft per year, and providing a generous canopy to shelter beneath.
In the fall the leaves of green ash tree turn a glorious bright yellow, and it produces red-purple flowers in the spring.
‘The ash is a good deciduous shade tree that grows well in a variety of climates,’ says Hyland.
Though it can cope with most soil conditions, the green ash tree is increasingly susceptible to attack by the emerald ash borer, so check reports in your area.
11. American sweetgum
Providing stunning fall color, in shades of yellow through purple, the American sweetgum – Liquidambar styraciflua – is also a fantastic shade-giving tree with a good canopy size.
‘Aside from its very attractive foliage in the fall, it’s moderately fast growing, at a rate of 1-2ft a year,’ says Rogan. ‘It lives for a long time and can grow as tall as 70ft.’
The American sweetgum will thrive in zones 5-9, but it does not like pollution and needs plenty of root space.
There are a number of different pine tree species that will create shade in your garden.
‘Pines provide terrific shade but take up lots of room, so you need to give them plenty of space. Alternatively, plant them closer than they prefer to other trees that need more space than they do – like oaks or maples,’ says Hyland.
Fast-growing pine trees are best for quick shade in large yards – try the loblolly pine (zones 6-9) or the eastern white pine (zones 3-8).
13. London planetree
A hybrid of the Oriental planetree and the American sycamore, the London planetree – Platanus x acerifolia – is valued for its beautiful sycamore-like leaves and winter catkins.
Historically it was revered for its ability to withstand the pollution of England’s capital, which makes it a fantastic shade tree for urban settings in zones 5-9.
‘The London planetree is a very hardy tree featuring attractive bark with a broad canopy that grows up to a width of 60ft,’ says Rogan.
‘It can grow at a rate of 1-2ft per year, with a mature height of up to 100ft, and can live for a very long time – even hundreds of years.'
14. Catalpa tree
Catalpa speciosa is a stunning native tree that has heart-shaped leaves and a generous canopy. In the summer, it produces white, orchid-like flowers.
‘The catalpa reaches heights of near 50 ft at maturity and is hardy in zones 3-8,’ says Sons. ‘This tree is so unique because the catalpa worms it produces in the summer months are highly sought after for fish bait. For this reason, it's often called "The Fisherman's Tree".'
What is the cleanest shade tree?
Some of the cleanest shade trees are maples. Though they shed their leaves in the fall, after turning stunning shades of red and gold, they do not drop flowers, seeds or fruits. This makes them easy to clean up after.
What is the fastest-growing shade tree?
The fastest-growing shade trees grow at a rate of around 2ft per year. This group includes the northern red oak, tuliptree, and dawn redwood.
However, speed isn't everything when it comes to providing shade. 'Usually you want a shade tree to be a strong tree – and those trees don’t always grow fast,' says Bradley.
'That’s why we need to protect established trees. When they are removed from our environment, and we lose our tree canopy, it can never immediately be replaced.'
Of the 11 listed here, the one that grows the fastest is the weeping willow — it adds about 10 feet to its height each year, topping out at 40 feet. Next in line are the nuttall oak at 4 feet per year, the dawn redwood at 3.5 feet per year, and the tulip poplar at 3 feet per year.What is the best flowering tree for shade? ›
- Portuguese Laurel. ...
- Flowering dogwood. ...
- American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) ...
- 4. Japanese Maple (acer) ...
- Allegheny serviceberry. ...
- Irish Yew (Taxus baccata fastigiata) ...
- Eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) ...
- Katsura Tree (cercidiphyllum japonicum)
The Empress Splendor (botanical name Paulownia fortunei and P. elongata) is the one of the fastest-growing trees in the world. A hardwood, it can grow 10-20 feet in its first year and reaches maturity within 10 years.What shade trees live the longest? ›
Bristlecone Pines (Pinus Longaeva), Yew trees, and Ginkgo Biloba trees appear to be the longest lived on record. They are commonly found in climates that are subject to change drastically.What is a good shade tree with non invasive roots? ›
There are a few main trees able to both tolerate shade and have non-aggressive roots. Some prime examples include Florida maple trees, Pawpaws, English holly, miniature fruit trees, and Chinese pistache trees. These trees generally have shallow roots that don't cause issues underground.Can trees grow in full shade? ›
Few trees require shade to thrive, however, some will adapt to these conditions rather well. The deeper the shade, the more difficult it will be for any tree to develop properly. In deep shade, many of the flowering trees will not set flowers or fruit as will similar plants given more sunlight.What plants thrive in total shade? ›
- Heuchera (Coral Bells)
- Lamium Maculatum (Dead Nettle)
- Tiarella cordifolia (Foamflower)
- Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
- Digitalis (Foxglove)
- Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass)
- Primula (Primrose)
- American Elm (Ulmus americana) ...
- Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus moorei) ...
- Argan (Argania spinosa) ...
- Aspen Tree (Populus) ...
- Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) ...
- Bamboo (Poaceae) ...
- Baobab (Adansonia) ...
- Beech (Fagus)
Weeping Willow, Lombardy Poplar and Silver Birch are among the UK's fastest-growing trees.What is a pretty fast growing tree? ›
Leyland cypress (Cupressus × leylandii) is a bright green conifer widely used for privacy screens because it's such a fast grower. This upwardly mobile tree can grow 3 to 4 feet per year when it's young, eventually topping out at 60 to 70 feet with a 15- to 25-foot spread.
By mulching trees and giving them supplemental water when needed, you will be giving them a big advantage, creating healthier trees that grow faster.What tree grows 4 feet per year? ›
Green Giant Arborvitae (Thuja 'Green Giant')
'Green Giant' is an arborvitae cultivar with a fast growth rate, gaining up to four feet per year. This needled evergreen tree can mature at around 40 to 60 feet tall and 12 to 18 feet wide. It's often used as a privacy hedge.
Thuja Green Giant is the number one choice in Fast-Growing privacy trees. At a rapid growth rate of 3 to 5 feet per year, that is no surprise. For tropical climates, zone 9 and zone 10, Leyland Cypress, Italian Cypress, and Wax Myrtle are the best choices for Fast-Growing privacy.What tree has the least invasive roots? ›
- Japanese Maple.
- Crape Myrtle.
- Eastern Redbud.
- Cornus Mas.
- Kousa Dogwood.
- Japanese Tree Lilac.
- Dwarf Korean Lilac.
However, one species in particular outlives them all. The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) has been deemed the oldest tree in existence, reaching an age of over 5,000 years old. The bristlecone pine's success in living a long life can be attributed to the harsh conditions it lives in.How tall should a shade tree be? ›
Trees with a mature height between 25 to 40 feet make up the medium-sized group and a relatively few shade trees are considered small; maturing to less than 30 feet tall. Tree Forms: Fall Color: Red, orange, yellow and purple are all colors that add beauty in the fall.What is a shade tolerant tree? ›
Shade-tolerant species are species that are able to thrive in the shade, and in the presence of natural competition by other plants. Shade-intolerant species require full sunlight and little or no competition. Intermediate shade-tolerant trees fall somewhere in between the two.What time of year should I plant a tree? ›
Early spring, just as the ground thaws, is the best time plant. Fall can be too late, because trees won't be able to survive the freezing temperatures that can damage roots and stop moisture from reaching the tree.What are shade giving trees? ›
A shade tree is a large tree whose main role is to provide shade and also it can give shelter for people and also protecting them from the sun's harmful UV rays and sunburns. So, some shade trees may be grown specifically for the comfort of the population due to their convenient shelter.Which trees have the least invasive roots UK? ›
Trees that are least likely to cause problems to houses are apple, plum, pear, hawthorn, rowan and birch. Pyrus calleyrana 'Chanticleer' is a good tree to plant near houses as its roots won't damage foundations. In Abbey Street, Faversham, Kent.
These include willow trees, poplars, cottonwoods, aspens, silver maples, Norway maples, and American elm trees, among others. Smaller trees with shallow roots, however, pose little risk to your home. Japanese maple trees, for instance, are safe to plant relatively close to your house.Do Acers like shade? ›
Purple and red leaved trees require a decent amount of sunlight to develop their rich, dark complexion, whilst green-leaved Acers tolerate full sun but do best with light shade at the hottest part of the day.What is considered full shade? ›
Full shade is defined as less than four hours of direct sun per day. Notice we didn't say zero hours of direct sun—that would be dense shade which is the darkest of all light levels where few plants can survive. Full shade loving plants enjoy a few hours of sun each day, preferably in the morning.What trees use the least water? ›
Evergreen trees—like cedars, oaks, and pines—are typically deep-rooted and can tolerate little to no water. Cypress trees are also part of the evergreen family, and these are often used as windbreakers to block noise and wind from damaging houses and yards.What is the easiest tree to take care of? ›
- 1. Japanese Maple. These are an excellent choice because they are both beautiful and functional. ...
- Green Giant Arborvitae. Chances are you've seen this tree out and about before as it is very popular in residential and commercial properties. ...
- Crape Myrtle. ...
- Redbud. ...
- Yaupon Holly.
What is the most beautiful evergreen tree? Magnolia grandiflora is the most beautiful evergreen tree. Erupting in a profusion of blooms in the spring adding beauty and scent, these trees are at their best at the start of spring, heralding the warmer days ahead.What tree keeps its leaves all year round? ›
Evergreen trees, like firs and junipers, keep their needles all year round. Many of these trees grow needles or scale-like leaves. Because they don't lose their needles in the fall, they stay green, thus the name evergreen. Deciduous trees, like maples, oaks, and beech trees, operate in the opposite way.What is the most versatile tree? ›
Oaks, pines, and fruit trees do not have as many diverse uses as the chestnut. No tree species in history has offered such a wide range of uses or importance.Which tree is best infront of house? ›
Magnolia, crape myrtle and pink flowering dogwood are some of the best trees to plant in your front yard. 'Look for trees that do not create a mess or create planting beds around them so the mess is masked by the surrounding plants,' suggests certified arborist and garden expert Melinda Myers (opens in new tab).What is the prettiest tree UK? ›
Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
Rowan is a wildlife magnet and one of the prettiest native trees for every season. Rowan has silvery-brown bark and fern-like leaves which turn a lovely burnt red in autumn. In spring you'll find clusters of creamy-white flowers followed by vibrant, orange-red berries in autumn.
What is the easiest flowering tree to grow? Tulip trees are one of the easiest flowering trees to grow. Once you know a few things about how to grow a tree, it is relatively straightforward. Tulip trees thrive in acidic soil, prefer to be grown in full sun and are fairly resistant to pests and disease.Which is the fastest-growing tree in UK? ›
Weeping Willow, Lombardy Poplar and Silver Birch are among the UK's fastest-growing trees.Whats a fast growing tree for privacy? ›
What are the fastest-growing trees for privacy? Hybrid poplar tops the list. It can grow upwards of five feet per year. The Leyland cypress, green giant arborvitae, and silver maple are all close seconds because they add about two feet to their height each year.Which plant hold the record for growing the fastest? ›
The tiny aquatic plant Wolffia, also known as duckweed, is the fastest-growing plant known.What is the fastest-growing evergreen tree for privacy? ›
Thuja Green Giant is the number one choice in Fast-Growing privacy trees. At a rapid growth rate of 3 to 5 feet per year, that is no surprise. For tropical climates, zone 9 and zone 10, Leyland Cypress, Italian Cypress, and Wax Myrtle are the best choices for Fast-Growing privacy.What is the most popular tree in the UK? ›
English oak (Quercus robur)
The oak is an English icon.
Eucalyptus are among the fastest-growing tree species. Even a 30 cm root sapling of this tree species planted in spring could reach head height by the following summer.What is the best tree for blocking view? ›
If you're looking for a massive plant to block out a massive view, white pine is it. Long-needled and soft, white pines survive winters down to -40 degrees F. They max out at 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Stately trees that are tolerant of city pollution, white pines are quick growing and bear elongated cones.Which is the world fastest-growing plant can grow up to 35 inch per day? ›
Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet, with some species can reach full maturity in just 90 days, and most taking just a couple of years. One bamboo species can grow a massive 35 inches per day (or 1.5 inches per hour).What plant grows really fast and tall? ›
One of the fastest-growing evergreen trees is Leyland cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii), which grows as much as 3 feet per year when young, reaching 20 to 30 feet tall in 10 years. Drought-tolerant once established, Leyland cypress grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9.
SOWN in early May with a conventional drill, hemp is ready to cut by mid-August with virtually no work in between.What can I plant for immediate privacy? ›
- Clematis. Vines make great screens. ...
- Climbing Roses. Train climbing roses over fences, walls, pergolas and gazebos. ...
- Cherry Laurel. Cherry laurel is an evergreen shrub or small tree native to the southeastern United States. ...
- Ivy. ...
- Boxwood. ...
- Privet. ...
- Japanese Holly. ...
Green Giant Arborvitae
This is an exceptional landscape tree for use as a screen, hedge or single specimen. It is also resistant to wind once established and can withstand heavy ice or snow, making it a good choice for a natural windbreak.