Choosing plants for your garden is a balancing act. On one side it is wise to make the backbone of your garden from reliable, adaptable, and well-known plants that will grow without trouble. We can depend on them to do whatever it is they do –have brilliant fall color, produce beautiful flowers, or grow into graceful or dramatic shapes, in almost any garden. They all have interesting features are that have led us to choose, from the 250,000 plants on the planet, this handful, that commonly grow around our homes, and in our gardens. Wherever in this enormous country you live, there will be popular local plants, that grow almost anywhere, stay healthy, and need no special care – or even no care at all – to perform well. And there is the problem.
The very usefulness of these plants makes them ordinary and common, so your garden will look much like all the other ones around you, with no particular ‘stand-out’ features that will make your garden unique and instantly identifiable. Much as we like the classic plants of our zone, we also want to grow something different and special, that we can feel is ‘ours’. When it comes to shade trees, that is exactly what you will find in our ‘Other Shade Trees’ section.
Because there are so many different trees on our planet, the popular, widely-grown ones are the result of history and chance as much as they are of a careful selection. Wherever you live, there will be a host of plants that are rarely seen, and rarely available from local retailers, but which are nonetheless just as easy to grow as those trees you see everywhere.
You don’t have to back away from something different, thinking it will need special care you don’t understand, or lots of attention to make it thrive. No, we have done that work for you. At the Tree Center we carefully screen all our stock choices to make sure we offer plants that are simultaneously unique, unusual species or varieties, but also easy to grow, reliable plants that need nothing special from you to give something very special back.
So here we offer you a group of interesting options for shade trees, that will bring a unique and different look to your garden, but not need special attention to thrive. Because this is our section for something different, the stock here is constantly changing. Unique items come, and quickly go, with the high demand for specialty items, and something else replaces them. If you don’t find what you want – or find us out of stock of something we mention here, then come back soon, because we are sure to have something special just arriving, ready to bring that special something into your garden.
Why Choose Other Shade Trees?
– Grow something different and unique – Find a tree with the right combination of features for you – Compliment the more common plants in your garden – See unusual plants growing right at home – Choose the perfect plant for your location and zone
Growing Shade Trees in Your Garden
Like the better-known shade trees, these special plants grow tall and throw cooling shade over your garden, making it a pleasant refuge in summer from the heat, and creating ever-changing patterns of light and dark across your lawns and terraces. Although it is traditional to plant a shade tree right in the middle of your lawn, that may not be the best place if you want shade at certain times of the day, and there are as well many other places in a typical garden that these trees can be grown, such as in the corners of your property, as screens, lining a driveway, or mixed with other trees in a woodland garden.
When choosing that spot for a shade tree, remember it is going to be there for a long time, and it is going to grow. Take careful note of its final height, and even more so of its width, and allow for that in planting. For example, if a tree has a mature spread of 30 feet, do not plant it closer than 15 feet from a building, or you will be constantly trimming it, a task that can be demanding, expensive, and destroy the natural form of your beautiful tree.
Similarly, don’t plant it closer to other trees than a distance found by adding their spreads together and dividing by two. If you want to enjoy a tree that naturally has branches close to the ground, do not plant too close to a driveway either, or in time you will need to remove lower branches for access, possibly spoiling the appearance of the tree.
As well, if you have a smaller lawn, and want the shade to be on the lawn, and not on beds or your driveway, allow for the fact that your tree’s shadow will always be to the north side of the tree, and in the afternoon and early evening, to the north-west. Place your tree somewhat to the south-east of where you want the shade, and it will fall in exactly the right spot.
Special Shade Trees
Autumn Gold Ginkgo Tree
Gingko biloba ‘Autumn Gold’
2–3 ft. per year
Dramatic golden-yellow fall color
2–3 ft. per year
Perfect tree for a damp location
Mimosa Tree or
Persian Silk Tree
1-3 feet per year
Amazing pink summer blooms like candy floss
Rhus Tiger Eye Sumac
Rhus typina ‘Bailtiger’
1-2 feet per year
Dramatic fern-like golden foliage all season
Weeping Giant Sequoia
Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’
1 ft. per year
Outstanding and unique vertical weeping form.
Larger Deciduous Shade Trees
Everyone knows common shade trees like maple or oak, and these are wonderful trees to grow. They are not the only choices when you want that classic large rounded shade tree, and there are many fascinating and original choices you can grow. Here are some from our constantly-changing selection.
Autumn Gold Ginkgo Tree
Plants come and go on the planet, with the constant pressure of evolution, but some are around much longer than others. These ‘living fossils’ have survived millions of years, and they are often very easy to grow, yet unique in many ways. The Autumn Gold Ginkgo is such a tree. Although grown in China and Japan for many centuries, usually near temples, this tree has not been found growing wild, and it is believed that all wild populations became extinct perhaps thousands of years ago.
Fossils of this tree date back 270 million years, and it was long believed in the West to be extinct. The German botanist Engelbert Kaempfer brought seeds to Europe from Japan in the early 18th century, and the tree was first grown in America by the end of that same century. The tree has unique botanical features that place it between conifers and evergreens, and its very beautiful leaves have given it the alternative name of Maidenhair Tree, because they look like large versions of the tiny leaves of the maidenhair fern.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its great age, this tree is one of the toughest shade trees around. It is hardy down to minus 30, has no pests or diseases, grows in poor soil in urban settings, and yet it is stunningly beautiful, especially in fall. At that special season, the leaves turn a dramatic uniform golden-yellow color, glowing in the fall sunshine like a beacon. The spring and summer leaves are the perfect bright green, and in winter the spreading branches and gnarled trunk bring great character to your garden. This magnificent tree might not be part of any other tree group, but it certainly belongs in the garden of every tree lover.
The Dawn Redwood is another living fossil, and in fact although not rare anymore, it was only discovered in China in 1946. It was only known before that from 50 million-year-old fossils, and it had once grown all across America. It grows into a tall tree, perhaps 50 feet tall, and it is fast-growing, adding up to 2 feet a year to its height.
It is also spreading, soon developing a tall, conical form, with low branches for many years. At first glance the foliage might be taken for a yew tree, and its soft needle-leaves grow in two rows on either side of the stems. Although a conifer, and an ancient relative of pines and spruce, it loses it leaves in winter, so it does not throw the deep winter shade of other evergreen trees. This is a big asset if privacy is not a high priority, and a lawn can be grown beneath this tree, while it gives cooling shade in summer, while letting the warming spring sun through too.
As well, this tree has a special tolerance for damp soil, so if you have a low-lying area, or you border a pond or stream, this tree will love to bring shade there. It thrives in ordinary soil as well, so whatever your garden is like, this unique tree will grow for you.
The Thornless Honeylocust is a lovely deciduous shade tree that can grow 3 feet a year, so if you want a shade tree in a hurry, this is a great choice. It has small leaves in open, fern-like clusters, casting only light shade, and making it easy to grow other plants beneath it.
If you want a shade tree you can grow flowers and other plants around, this is the perfect choice. It has soft green leaves from spring to summer, and in fall it turns beautiful golden tones. If you hate raking fall leaves, then this tree is also for you. Because the leaves are small, they drop among your other plants and disappear. Just blow them off the lawn into your beds, and they are gone!
American Elm Tree
The iconic American Elm used to grace every big and small town. These beautiful trees lined every street, spreading cooling shade, and bringing beauty. Sadly, almost all were killed in the 1950s and 60s by disease, but now, thanks to careful plant breeding, this tree is coming back, with disease-resistant forms becoming more and more available.
At the Tree Center we are able to obtain some of the very best from time to time, so when we have stock, these fantastic trees – which can grow up to 5 feet a year – make the perfect classic shade-tree choice.
Autumn Purple Ash
Fall color is a special feature of many shade trees, and Ash trees, which make great fast-growing shade trees hardy almost everywhere, are notable for their purple fall foliage. The Autumn Purple Ash is a selected form that has the most amazing shades of purple and mahogany leaves, for weeks during the fall season. Seen against the golds and oranges of other fall trees, this spectacular tree is a real stand-out that deserves a place in every garden.
Smaller Shade Trees
With more and more of us living in smaller gardens, those classic full-sized shade trees can just grow too large in time, and ultimately involve us in expensive trimming, or even removal. This is why it is so important to choose the ‘right tree for the right place’ and plant something beautiful but in scale with the space available.
Sensitive to this issue, at the Tree Center we make sure we have a suitable selection of smaller trees for the smaller garden. Here are some from our constantly-changing stock. Some smaller trees are also remarkable for their spectacular flowers, and you will find them a little further down, under that category.
Tiger Eyes Sumac
For the ultimate miniature shade tree, grow a Tiger Eyes Sumac. Growing just 6 feet tall, this tree has one or two central trunks and a broad, spreading crown of long leaves in a delicious shade of golden yellow all spring and summer, not just in fall.
Planted behind a bench or chair, you can sit under this tree on a hot day, sipping a cool drink and relaxing. If you have raised beds, then that additional height will give you a tree tall enough to walk under. In fact, if you have just a courtyard, this tree can be grown in a container, and become a ‘portable shade-tree’, that you can move around to exactly where you want it.
Besides this use, the Tiger Eyes Sumac is a fantastic medium-sized shrub for every garden. With its special umbrella form, and a spreading crown on short trunks, it makes a great background to smaller shrubs and flowering plants, bringing color all season long.
Flowering Shade Trees
Most shade trees are known for their foliage, and often for fall color, but their flowers are usually small and insignificant. Usually, but not always. Some bring flowers too, adding a colorful seasonal element to our gardens, and becoming something we wait for each year in eager anticipation. For a smaller garden, where you can only grow so many plants, having a flowering shade tree gives you double benefits, while saving space – a smart choice to make.
This tree, also known as the Persian Silk Tree, has remarkable and dramatic flowers that are surely unique. All summer the tree is covered with large clusters that look like they belong on the head of some exotic tropical bird. Combining white and bright cotton-candy pink, these rounded clusters look like the narrowest feathers, or something made of silk by a skilled craftsperson.
The tree itself grows to just 20 feet tall, or perhaps in time a few feet taller, and it has a slender trunk and an umbrella-like crown, making it the perfect shade-tree for a smaller garden. It will grow across a wide area of the country, from zone 6 to zone 10, and it is very drought resistant and tough. For a tree that brings you shade and wonderful flowers, small enough even for a smaller garden, this tree just cannot be beaten.
Golden Rain Tree
This tree is the perfect small to medium-sized shade tree, growing no more than 30 feet tall. Every tree is unique, with a twisted trunk and rounded crown of large leaves divided into many leaflets. In summer, the Golden Rain Tree is covered with sprays of golden flowers that can be 18 inches long, and by fall these have turned into remarkable clusters of pink-toned inflated ‘lanterns’ that even when they finally fall are wonderful to see in your garden.
Royal Empress Tree
Bring royalty into your garden – well, it will feel like that when you grow this tree, because it has dramatic lavender-pink flowers all over its bare branches in spring. After that the Royal Empress will leaf-out into a beautiful tree that grows perhaps 40 feet or more in height, spreading widely too, and throwing wonderful shade all across your lawn.
Rare and Unique Shade Trees
Weeping Giant Sequoia
If you want to sit in the shade of perhaps the world’s most extraordinary tree, called by some “the Dr. Seuss tree“, then this is the tree for you. More like a family pet than a tree, each Weeping Giant Sequoia is unique, adopting its own form as it sees fit, stimulated by the exact conditions in your garden, and how you maintain it.
This tree usually has one tall central trunk that can reach 30 to 45 feet in height, often leaning over at an angle. From that trunk branches many feet long cascade down, creating a unique upright but weeping form like no other tree. Just take a look at our pictures of this tree and you will see what we mean, because this tree will turn heads and stop traffic too!
Hardy outdoors only in the warmest parts of the country, but able to be grown anywhere in a large planter if you have indoor room in winter, the Rainbow Eucalyptus is often described as one of the top 10 unique plants on the planet. A tall evergreen tree, reaching over 60 feet tall in time, it has slender, hanging leaves that cast a light shade.
Its unique feature is the peeling bark, which as it sheds reveals a constantly changing pattern in all the colors of the rainbow – green, blue, grey, purple and shades of red too. For a truly unique shade tree, this rare tree, only available from time to time, is a show-stopper. If we are out of stock, come back again, as our stock is constantly being renewed.