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Shade Trees

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Shade Trees

What could be better than sitting below a big tree on a sunny day, with friends? Gentle wind rustles the foliage. The tree shades you and shelters you. Hot outside, cool under the branches. The wine is very good. Mmmmm.

shade tree
shade tree
shade tree

So, do you want a shade tree and if so what do you really want it for?

To cool down a paved area where you like to sit and entertain? To take some of the summer sun off a particularly hot window? To produce an area of shade to allow you to plant shade loving plants? To cover the drive area or simply add a bit of depth and interest to your garden planting?

All good reasons to plant something shady. Your decision making can be as complicated as you like but my advice is to keep it simple. Plant something you like; but bear in mind the following words of wisdom. It’s likely that you won’t want shade during the winter months. If that is the case, chose a deciduous tree, - one that loses its leaves.

Flowers are always nice. So is autumn leaf colour, but if you are planting for shade these need not be top priority. A nice shape with spreading branches is more important.

I’ve often found that human factors, not horticultural niceties decide a tree’s fate.  'Tidiness' is often a big issue.

Albizzia julibrizzin - 'The Tree of Happiness' or 'Silk Tree' - is the perfect candidate for a shade tree but frequently referred to as, a 'very messy tree'.

shade tree
shade tree

Yes, it does drop its leaves and it does drop some old twigs and it does drop its flowers. But on the other hand it has a beautiful open and architectural habit, producing light shade in a parasol shape. It has wonderful fluffy flowers and - wait for it - in the evening it partially closes up its leaves to allow more light through for you!!!  The great pity is that it is only medium hardy.

But hey! - all trees will have some degree of ‘untidiness’, that’s the price you pay.

Tree roots and their potential effect on foundations, paved areas and pools, rightly cause concern. As a rule of thumb, tree roots will spread at least as far as the outer extent of the leaf canopy. The problem is that we often want our shade to extend over paving and near to buildings.

My solutions are:

For formal areas, where you want trees to play a part, consider a surface that is flexible. Grass is great but usually tricky under shade, wood decking solves the problem and a surface of stone chippings can be delightful, (just picture  he French playing boules under the shade of the plane trees,) When you want shade near buildings; plant 2 or 3 trees progressively away, not just 1 right up close. Plan to cut out the nearest ones in the future if need be, leaving the furthest, by then mature tree, to take over the shade role. Alternatively dig in ‘Root barriers’- resin or plastic sheets that direct roots downwards.

Spend a little time learning about planting and pruning before you embark on either. The internet is great for this. If you don’t want to learn then get in a professional. In my experience the biggest single cause of tree failure is incorrect planting and that’s just throwing money away.

Most people don’t prune trees soon enough. Early formative pruning will direct the tree on its way and be a small job. Most trees are left to their own devices for far too long by which stage they are a tangle of unruly branches

From the arborist’s point of view that’s fine, it a good job. But all too often the tree ends being horribly hacked about with a pair of loppers.

Nothing looks worse than a badly pruned tree.

Finally remember trees need watering and feeding too - especially when young.

When selecting trees, there will always be horses for courses. Site, climate and personal taste all have a bearing. .Look round a specialist tree nursery and seek good advice. Then, go away and think about it before you buy.

 I could easily list 100 good shade trees and none of them might be the best for your site.  So instead, here are five ‘shade’ trees I would like in my garden:

Quercus afare - (Algerian Oak)  Acer japonicum - (Full Moon Maple)   Gleditsia tricanthos ‘Shademaster’ (Locust) Salix babylonica (Weeping Willow), And, in my country estate! A Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus lebanii) already 100 years old