You’re probably here because you’re interested in adding some shade trees to your property but are not sure about where to start. Rightfully so, because there is a lot to know on this subject. This guide will not only help you choose the best trees for shade but also where you should plant them.
Knowing the different types of trees, how long it could take for a tree to grow, and the structure of the tree are things we will look at. In the long run, shade trees offer a large number of benefits including privacy, comfortable shade, lower power bills, and increased property value.
First, it’s important to know how shade works.
How Shade Trees Work
Let’s go back to grade school astronomy class for a second. In Southern California, the sun is always in the southern part of the sky. This causes shadows to always cast to the north.
To put this in terms relevant to your backyard, if a shade tree is planted on the north side of your patio, the tree will not cast any shade onto it. However, if you plant the shade tree on the south side of your patio, most of the tree’s shade will be casted onto it.
If you’re looking to shade your house, you should always plant a shade tree on the southern side of it. This will ensure all of the shade is casted northwards onto the home.
How The Seasons Affect Shade Trees
As the year goes on, the shade produced by the trees will differ because the sun lies in different parts of the sky.
During the summer time, the sun is higher up in the sky.
When the season changes to winter, the sun moves into the lower part of the sky.
If you live in Southern California where the winters are cold but milder than most, you should consider planting a deciduous tree on the southern side of your home. In the summer, the tree will have all of its leaves and keep the home cool with shade. Then, once winter comes, the tree will have lost all of its leaves and allow the sun to naturally warm the home. Both will allow you to decrease your energy bill costs.
Now that we understand how the sun influences shade, let’s breakdown the different types of trees.
Deciduous vs. Evergreen
Is it important that your shade trees keep their leaves throughout the year?
Deciduous and evergreen form the two dominant classes. While deciduous trees lose their leaves during the winter, evergreen trees keep them year round. If you live in Southern California where the winters tend to be mild, you might be indifferent in choosing between a deciduous or evergreen tree.
If you live where the winter is colder, you might want to plant an evergreen tree so as to conserve heat. By blocking the cold wind, evergreen trees can reduce heating costs anywhere from 10 to 25%. Knowing this will help you decide which trees you should plant later on, depending on your purposes for planting shade trees.
Low-Branch Structure vs. High-Branch Structure
Are you looking for a wide amount of shade?
The shape of the tree also should be considered when planting a shade tree. Some trees have a large, umbrella-like shape that produces enough shade for a wider area. Usually these trees have a low-to-the-ground branch structure. This means that the shade will adjust accordingly with the direction of the sun, as we will get into in more detail below. These types of trees are excellent if you are looking to give a patio some shade in lieu of a patio umbrella.
While these trees are low to the ground and produce a wide area of shade, other trees might grow larger but feature branches high up off of the ground. When trees have branches farther from the ground than an umbrella-like tree, they end up producing shade directionally down from the tree. This means that the shade is independent from the sun’s direction. Both tree shapes offer benefits as shade trees, it just depends on the needs of the homeowner.
Fast Growing vs. Slow Growing
How fast do you need your tree to grow?
When it comes to trees, instant gratification does not exactly apply. If you hate waiting, you can check out our tips on hacking your plant growth while your neighbors wait like everyone else. You will face a true test of patience as you wait for your tree to grow, but the good news is there are varying levels of growth speed across different trees. While some trees won’t reach maturity for 20 years, other trees reach maturity in just a few years.
Usually, the trees that take around 20 years to grow provide the best shade possible. Conversely, the trees that take a few years to grow will provide decent shade but sometimes be aggressive on nearby terrain. Sometimes these shade trees can actually lift up patios because they grow so fast. However, a wide number of options for shade trees exist, so let’s look at some of the best types to choose from.
So, what are the best types of shade trees to plant?
The Best Shade Trees For Your Home
After completing thousands of landscape design projects, we’ve narrowed down the seven best shade trees for Southern California:
The mulberry tree is a deciduous tree that grows large. You can expect it to grow relatively fast and it requires full sun exposure. They originated in the Middle East, northern Africa, India, and southern Europe. The fruit that mulberry trees produce are very popular in these regions. Around the 17th century, they were imported to Britain. Today, these trees are found just about everywhere.
Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia)
Native to Africa and Europe, oak trees are a slow growing and evergreen. They grow to be large in height and offer dense foliage. Usually, oak trees require full sun exposure and low-to-medium water. This means that they are great drought resistant trees.
They feature an attractive looking bark and you’ll find birds and butterflies hanging out near them. Oaks make excellent shade trees if you are willing to wait for them to mature.
Jacaranda are beautiful semi-evergreen trees that reach a medium height over their lifetime. They grow faster than oak trees but not as fast as a mulberry tree. Jacarandas not only thrive in desert conditions like in Southern California but also produce the beautiful flowers. Known for their blue-lavender flowers, Jacaranda make excellent shade trees.
Ash trees, of the Fraxinus species, are in the olive and lilac family. They grow fast and are deciduous. About 40 to 60 species of the Ash tree grow to be medium to large. They feature opposite branching, meaning their branches grow symmetrically from each other. Ash trees also have unique bark. As they get older, they tend to form a diamond-shaped pattern on the bark. These beautiful trees produce seeds known as “key” or “helicopter seeds” due to the way they spin as they fall from the tree.
Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia)
The Chinese Elm tree, native to Asia, is a semi-evergreen tree and grows fast. They grow very large, reaching a mature height of 40–60 feet with a spread of 50–70 feet. You can expect this tree to reach about 30 feet within five years. Chinese Elms require a medium amount of water and full sun exposure.
Chinese Elms make great shade trees if you do not want to wait too long for your trees to mature. They will brighten up your yard with their light green leaves and the bird and butterflies that they attract. Their wide-spreading, arching branches are an elegant way to produce natural shade.
Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)
The majestic Camphor tree is native to China and Japan. It is a slow growing evergreen tree that will eventually reach a height of 50–60 feet. It features a strong trunk with heavy limbs that branch out.
Camphor is an aromatic tree with fragrant yellow flowers that bloom in the springtime and produces black fruits.
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
The deciduous Sycamore tree is native to eastern United States. You can expect this tree to grow faster than others do, making it a good option for shade trees that you want sooner than later. Sycamores feature white patches of bark and contorted branches.
Sycamores grow to be very large in size with heavy trunks and wide leaves. They need full sun exposure and a moderate amount of water to grow.
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