UNL Extension – helping you turn knowledge into "know how"

Choosing Trees for Shade

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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If you catch yourself saying, "I wish we had more shade around the house," now's the time to plan some. Take stock of the growing conditions in the proposed planting site. Also take time to figure out what traits you want in your tree.

For instance, how large a tree do you want? Some trees never grow beyond 25 feet; others may reach 80 to 100 feet. Too large a tree may tower over your home; too small a tree will likewise be out of proportion.

Shape is another consideration. Some trees are tall and narrow; others are round or oval and spread their branches wide. You need to match up shape and size with the space available for the tree to grow in.

Susceptibility to storm damage, susceptibility to pests, the presence of flowers or fruits, leaf color, and even the texture and color of bark can enter into you decision.

If you want a trouble-free tree, you want to avoid trees such as willow and silver maple, which are prone to damage from wind and ice storms, and European white birch, which usually falls victim to bronze birch borers. Certain trees that might otherwise be welcome in the landscape are generally avoided because of their fruit. Mulberries, for instance, and the hulls of black walnuts stain everything they touch.

The soil, moisture and available sunlight also need to be taken into account. Though many plants are tolerant of a range of soil types, most prefer a well drained site. Others do best on a sandy soil, and few prefer constantly moist soil. Some trees, such as dogwoods, are forest understory plants and so do best in the shade and shelter of larger trees. Others, especially some evergreens, need shelter from prevailing winds and bright sunlight in winter to prevent damage to foliage caused by moisture loss. Still other plants do best when they are grown in full sun.

Winter hardiness is a critical factor. Plants native to milder climates may simply not survive a typical midwestern winter. Others may survive in a carefully chosen, protected site or in an unusually mild winter, but not in a location exposed to wind and normal winter weather.

Plants grow much better and have fewer problems with insects and diseases when they're planted in sites that meet their specific needs. Finding out what conditions prevail in the proposed planting site and selecting plants that will thrive there increases your chance of success.

This resource was added August 2008 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement


University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

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