The Best Shade Trees for Your Yard
Shade trees can beautify your yard, reduce energy costs, and improve air and water quality. Many of these large trees offer seasonal benefits, such as flowers or a change of leaf color. Choose a shade tree best suited to your climate and site (consider a native species), plant it properly, and watch it grow into a valued member of your landscape.
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Extremely pest-resistant, ginkgo is the oldest tree on earth, unchanged for an estimated 200 million years. Buy only trees labeled as male; females produce messy, stinky fruit.
Botanical name: Ginkgo biloba
Size: 50-80 feet tall, variable width
Why grow it: Fan-shape leaves turn yellow in fall and drop all at once.
Useful cultivars: 'Autumn Gold'; 'Magyar'; Presidential Gold (Ginkgo biloba 'The President'); Emperor (Ginkgo biloba 'Woodstock'); and 'Princeton Sentry'
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Congress declared the oak America’s national tree in 2004. These majestic shade trees include more than 60 species native to the United States, so you can find an oak to suit any region of the country.
Botanical name: Quercus macrocarpa
Size: 70-80 feet tall, 80 feet wide
Why grow it: Bur oak is long-lived and thrives even in very cold climates.
Botanical name: Quercus virginiana
Size: 40-80 feet tall, 80 feet wide
Why grow it: Southern icons, these shade trees grow quickly when young. Spanish moss accumulates on their massive branches.
Northern red oak
Botanical name: Quercus rubra
Size: 60-75 feet tall and wide
Why grow it: Northern red oak makes a good street tree. This Midwest native tolerates pollution and compacted soil, and displays gorgeous red fall color.
Botanical name: Quercus palustris
Size: 60-70 feet tall, 25-45 feet wide
Why grow it: Pin oak grows fast while keeping a pyramidal shape.
Botanical name: Quercus acutissima
Size: 40-60 feet tall and wide
Why grow it: One of the fastest-growing shade trees, sawtooth oak’s fall color is clear yellow to golden brown.
Botanical name: Quercus coccinea
Size: 60-80 feet tall, 40-50 feet wide
Why grow it: Tolerates many soil types, and as its name suggests, displays dark red fall color.
Swamp white oak
Botanical name: Quercus bicolor
Size: 50-60 feet tall and wide
Why grow it: Swamp white oak tolerates both drought and wet conditions and displays orange-gold to yellow fall color.
Botanical name: Quercus alba
Size: 50-80 feet tall and wide
Why grow it: White oak’s beautiful rounded form turns to a red fall color. This versatile shade tree works well for cold or warm climates.
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Tough, low-maintenance shade trees that grow nearly anywhere, hornbeams sport textured leaves that turn yellow to red, then persist through winter.
Botanical name: Carpinus caroliniana
Size: 20-40 feet tall, 30-40 feet wide
Why grow it: This shorter shade tree has beautiful ridged bark that's most noticeable in winter. It is more heat-tolerant than European hornbeam.
Botanical name: Carpinus betulus
Size: 40-60 feet tall and wide
Why grow it: If you've got a large space, group several of these large shade trees to create a windbreak or tall hedge. Textured green leaves turn yellow-orange in fall.
Useful cultivar: 'Fastigiata', a columnar variety that's 35-45 feet tall, 25-35 feet wide.
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Kentucky Coffee Tree
A tough shade tree that’s resistant to insects and diseases, Kentucky coffee tree was named for the long pods holding seeds produced by female trees. Those seeds were ground and used as a coffee substitute by early settlers.
Botanical name: Gymnocladus dioicus
Size: 60-75 feet tall, 40-50 feet wide
Why grow it: Yellow-to-brown fall foliage adds a pop of color to your landscape.
Tip: Avoid female trees, which produce long, leathery pods.
Useful cultivars: ‘Espresso’; Prairie Titan (Gymnocladus dioicus ‘J. C. McDaniel’). Both are male selections.
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Slow-growing and stately, lindens come in a wide variety of types.
Other common names: American basswood
Botanical name: Tilia americana
Size: 60-80 feet tall, 30-60 feet wide
Why grow it: The heart-shape leaves provide dense shade, while the tiny yellow flowers produce small fruits that birds like. It produces a pale yellow fall color.
Useful cultivars: American Sentry (Tilia americana 'Mck Sentry'); 'Boulevard'; Legend (Tilia americana 'DTR 123'); 'Lincoln'; 'Redmond'; and Tilia americana var. heterophylla, known as white basswood or beetree linden
Botanical name: Tilia cordata
Size: 60-70 feet tall, 30-40 feet wide
Why grow it: Fragrant yellow spring flowers and shiny green leaves turn yellow in fall -- but beware of attacks by Japanese beetles.
Useful cultivars: 'Chancellor'; Corinthian (Tilia cordata 'Corzam'); 'Glenleven'; 'Greenspire'; 'June Bride'; Norlin (Tilia cordata 'Ronald'); Shamrock (Tilia cordata 'Baileyi').
Botanical name: Tilia mongolica
Size: 20-30 feet tall, 15-25 feet wide
Why grow it: Mongolian linden is a smaller, unusual species that displays attractive peeling bark with a yellow fall color.
Useful cultivar: 'Harvest Gold', a hybrid of Mongolian and littleleaf linden that's larger and has good yellow fall color.
Botanical name: Tilia tomentosa
Size: 50-70 feet tall, 25-40 feet wide
Why grow it: This shade tree grows rounded green leaves with silvery undersides and seems to have better resistance to Japanese beetles than other lindens.
Useful cultivars: Green Mountain (Tilia tomentosa 'PNI 6051'): Satin Shadow (Tilia tomentosa 'Sashazam'); and 'Sterling'
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Maples are everyone's favorites for fall color. Try one of these top varieties:
Botanical name: Acer x freemanii
Size: 40-60 feet tall, 20-40 feet wide
Why grow it: This hybrid offers the strength of a red maple and the fast growth rate of a silver maple, while producing brilliant red-orange fall color.
Useful cultivars: Autumn Blaze (Acer x freemanii 'Jeffersred'); Marmo (Acer x freemanii 'Marmo')
Botanical name: Acer miyabei
Size: 40-45 feet tall, 20-25 feet wide
Why grow it: Miyabe maple is insect- and disease-resistant with golden fall foliage.
Useful cultivar: State Street (Acer miyabei 'Morton')
Botanical name: Acer rubrum
Size: 40-60 feet tall, 40 feet wide
Why grow it: Red maple grows in every region, is deer-resistant, and offers brilliant deep red or yellow fall color.
Useful cultivars: 'Autumn Flame'; 'Bowhall'; Redpointe (Acer rubrum 'Frank Jr.'); and Red Sunset (Acer rubrum 'Franksred').
Botanical name: Acer saccharum
Size: 60-75 feet tall, 45 feet wide
Why grow it: Sugar maple displays gorgeous fall colors of yellow, orange, and red.
Useful cultivars: Crescendo (Acer saccharum 'Morton'); Fall Fiesta (Acer saccharum 'Bailsta'); and Green Mountain (Acer saccharum 'Green Mountain')
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One of the largest trees in North America, the tulip tree is named for cup-shape orange, yellow, and green flowers that appear in late spring.
Botanical name: Liriodendron tulipifera
Size: 70-90 feet tall, 35-50 feet wide
Why grow it: stunning golden fall color
Useful cultivar: 'Little Volunteer', 30-35 feet tall
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Count on superb red fall color, plus shades of yellow, orange, and purple, when you plant a tupelo.
Other common names: Black gum, sour gum, black tupelo, pepperidge
Botanical name: Nyssa sylvatica
Size: 30-50 feet tall, 20-30 feet wide
Why grow it: Dark green leaves turn bright scarlet in fall; fall fruits attract migrating songbirds.
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These Japanese shade trees are related to elms, but are resistant to Dutch elm disease.
Botanical name: Zelkova serrata
Size: 50-80 feet tall, 50-75 feet wide
Why grow it: Zelkova has a beautiful yellow to reddish fall color.
Useful cultivars: 'Green Vase'; 'Halka'; 'Musachino'; and 'Village Green'
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Dutch elm disease decimated an estimated 77 million of these gracious shade trees in North America from 1930 to the late 1980s. Luckily, new disease-resistant varieties mean it's time to start planting them again.
Elm hybrids and cultivars
Botanical name: Varied
Zones: Depends on variety, usually Zones 4-9
Why grow them: These beautiful shade trees rely on the best qualities of their parents and show resistance to Dutch elm disease as well as elm leaf beetle.
Useful cultivars: 'Accolade' (Ulmus davidiana var. japonica 'Morton'); Commendation (Ulmus 'Morton Stalwart'); Danada Charm (Ulmus 'Morton Red Tip'); Emerald Sunshine (Ulmus davidiana var japonica 'JFS-Bieberich'); 'Frontier' (Ulmus 'Frontier'); 'Homestead'; 'New Horizon'; 'Patriot'; 'Pioneer'; Prospector (Ulmus davidiana var japonica 'Prospector'); 'Regal'; Triumph (Ulmus 'Morton Glossy'); and 'Vanguard' (Ulmus 'Morton Plainsman'). New varieties of American elms (Ulmus americana) include: 'American Liberty'; 'Delaware'; 'Independence'; 'New Harmony'; 'Princeton'; and 'Valley Forge'.
Botanical name: Ulmus parvifolia
Size: 40-60 feet tall and wide
Why grow it: Lacebark, or Chinese, elms offer unusual mottled bark, small leaves, and good resistance to both Dutch elm disease and elm leaf beetle.
How to Pick a Tree to Plant
Learn how to select the best tree for your yard.