University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Choose Shade Trees Wisely

January 25, 2001

Shade trees are major investments in the home landscape, so selections need to be sound ones. With so many choices, which ones are best? Since the tree is expected to remain in the landscape indefinitely, take the time to research the right trees for the specific landscape site.

In addition to appearance, important selection criteria include hardiness, growth requirements, mature height and width, pest or disease problems, and maintenance needs. Trees need to fit the landscape plan. If planting several trees, be diverse in planting rather than planting only one species. Choose trees by Latin or Botanical names. Here are few examples of shade trees to consider, but this is by no means an all-inclusive list.

Maples certainly are a popular group of shade trees. Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is an adaptable tree with a dense canopy casting deep shade. Many cultivars feature maroon or purple foliage all season, and are often called red maple by mistake. Red maples (Acer rubrum) are green in the summer and turn red in fall, tolerate poor drainage, but may have problems on alkaline soil. A third popular maple species, sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are slower growing and may have problems with deicing salt & other urban stress.

Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) tolerates a variety of soils, including alkaline soils, and is a very adaptable tree, as is Littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata). Likewise, ashes are adaptable trees. White ash, (Fraxinus americana) and Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) are adaptable and grow fairly fast.

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis) is another popular shade tree, with several cultivars available. These trees feature more of a filtered shade.

Of the oaks, Quercus rubra, Red Oak, is fast growing, easy to transplant, and tolerates urban conditions. White oak is slower and more difficult to transplant. Pin oak is very susceptible to chlorosis on high pH soils.

Although popular, paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is very susceptible to bronze birch borer, which kills many every year. Japanese white birch (Betula platyphylla), especially the cultivar 'Whitespire', is more resistant but under extreme stress may still be attacked by borers. An alternative to consider for both wet and dry soils is river birch, Betula nigra. Although not white, the cultivar 'Heritage' has very light colored bark.


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