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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  • 1 of 12

    Ginkgo

    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
    Zones:
    4-9
    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'

  • 2 of 12

    Oak

    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.

    Bur oak
    Botanical name:
    Quercus macrocarpa
    Size:
    70-80 feet tall, 80 feet wide
    Zones:
    3-8
    Why grow it:
    Bur oak is long-lived and thrives even in very cold climates.

    Live oak
    Botanical name:
    Quercus virginiana
    Size:
    40-80 feet tall, 80 feet wide
    Zones:
    7-10
    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
    Zones:
    3-8
    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.

    Pin oak
    Botanical name:
    Quercus palustris
    Size:
    60-70 feet tall, 25-45 feet wide
    Zones:
    4-8
    Why grow it:
    Pin oak grows fast while keeping a pyramidal shape.

    Sawtooth oak
    Botanical name:
    Quercus acutissima
    Size:
    40-60 feet tall and wide
    Zones:
    5-9
    Why grow it:
    One of the fastest-growing shade trees, sawtooth oak’s fall color is clear yellow to golden brown.

    Scarlet oak
    Botanical name:
    Quercus coccinea
    Size:
    60-80 feet tall, 40-50 feet wide
    Zones:
    4-9
    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
    Zones:
    4-8
    Why grow it:
    Swamp white oak tolerates both drought and wet conditions and displays orange-gold to yellow fall color.

    White oak
    Botanical name:
    Quercus alba
    Size:
    50-80 feet tall and wide
    Zones:
    3-9
    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.

  • 3 of 12

    Hornbeam

    Tough, low-maintenance shade trees that grow nearly anywhere, hornbeams sport textured leaves that turn yellow to red, then persist through winter.

    American hornbeam
    Botanical name:
    Carpinus caroliniana
    Size:
    20-40 feet tall, 30-40 feet wide
    Zones:
    3-9
    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.

    European hornbeam
    Botanical name:
    Carpinus betulus
    Size:
    40-60 feet tall and wide
    Zones:
    4-8
    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.

  • 4 of 12

    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
    Zones:
    3-8
    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. 

  • 5 of 12

    Linden

    Slow-growing and stately, lindens come in a wide variety of types.

    American linden
    Other common names:
    American basswood
    Botanical name:
    Tilia americana
    Size:
    60-80 feet tall, 30-60 feet wide
    Zones:
    3-8
    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

    Littleleaf linden
    Botanical name:
    Tilia cordata
    Size:
    60-70 feet tall, 30-40 feet wide
    Zones:
    3-7
    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').

    Mongolian linden
    Botanical name:
    Tilia mongolica
    Size:
    20-30 feet tall, 15-25 feet wide
    Zones:
    3-5
    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.

    Silver linden
    Botanical name:
    Tilia tomentosa
    Size:
    50-70 feet tall, 25-40 feet wide
    Zones:
    4-7
    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'

  • 6 of 12

    Maple

    Maples are everyone's favorites for fall color. Try one of these top varieties:

    Freeman maple
    Botanical name:
    Acer x freemanii
    Size:
    40-60 feet tall, 20-40 feet wide
    Zones:
    5-8
    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')

    Miyabe maple
    Botanical name:
    Acer miyabei
    Size:
    40-45 feet tall, 20-25 feet wide
    Zones:
    4-8
    Why grow it:
    Miyabe maple is insect- and disease-resistant with golden fall foliage.
    Useful cultivar:
    State Street (Acer miyabei 'Morton')

    Red maple
    Botanical name:
    Acer rubrum
    Size:
    40-60 feet tall, 40 feet wide
    Zones:
    3-9
    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').

    Sugar maple
    Botanical name:
    Acer saccharum
    Size:
    60-75 feet tall, 45 feet wide
    Zones:
    3-7
    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')

  • 7 of 12

    Tulip Tree

    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
    Zones:
    4-9
    Why grow it:
    stunning golden fall color
    Useful cultivar:
    'Little Volunteer', 30-35 feet tall

  • 8 of 12

    Tupelo

    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
    Zones:
    4-9
    Why grow it:
    Dark green leaves turn bright scarlet in fall; fall fruits attract migrating songbirds.

  • 9 of 12

    Zelkova

    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
    Zones:
    5-8
    Why grow it:
    Zelkova has a beautiful yellow to reddish fall color.
    Useful cultivars:
    'Green Vase'; 'Halka'; 'Musachino'; and 'Village Green'

  • 10 of 12

    Elm

    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
    Size: 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'.

    Lacebark elm
    Botanical name:
    Ulmus parvifolia
    Size:
    40-60 feet tall and wide
    Zones:
    5-9
    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.

  • 11 of 12

    How to Pick a Tree to Plant

    Learn how to select the best tree for your yard.

  • Next Slideshow Our Favorite Small Trees

    Our Favorite Small Trees

    Small trees can pack a big punch into your landscape. Here are some of our editors' favorite varieties.
    Begin Slideshow »
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