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

April 15, 1999

When planting shade trees, what kind is best? Maple, birch, oak…the list goes on and on. Shade trees are a major investment, so be sure to choose a tree that is a good fit for the planting site. Here are some options, but this is not an all-inclusive list.

Mention shade tree, and many think of maples, which includes several species. For example, Norway maple, Acer platanoides, tolerates urban conditions quite well, and its dense canopy casts 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 and other urban stress.

Common Hackberry, Celtis occidentalis, tolerates a variety of soils, including alkaline soils, and is a very adaptable tree. Tilia cordata, littleleaf linden, also tolerates urban conditions and is another good choice for a shade tree. Likewise, ashes are adaptable trees. White ash, Fraxinus americana, tolerates poor soil drainage & grows fairly fast. Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) is also adaptable and fast growing but twigs may be somewhat messy.

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.

Birches are popular, but be cautious. 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 to borer but when under extreme stress may still be attacked by borers. An alternative to consider for both wet and dry soils is river birch, Betula nigra. This species does not have white bark, although the cultivar 'Heritage' has very light colored bark

These are among the choices for shade trees, and there are many more. Remember to be diverse in planting; don't plant all of one species. Also research how big the tree will get to assure it's the right choice for the landscape.


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