If you haven’t enjoyed being under a shade tree during our extremely hot weather, it’s probably because you don’t have one.
As a matter of fact, if you take a good look around at newer homes, many on smaller lots, shade trees tend to be one of the rarest species of trees in the landscape.
Considering the many attributes of these trees, we’re really missing a welcome addition to our homes, especially now in this hot summer.
The most common misconception about shade trees is that they grow very quickly, drop tons of leaves to be raked up each fall, and have root systems which demolish septic tanks and fields.
Added to these alleged problems are concerns about insects, disease and pruning.
If these are the reasons that folks are not planting shade trees, it is unfortunate because, for the most part, they are unfounded fears.
Shade trees can also be planted for reasons other than shade.
When selecting a tree for a landscape, always look for two or three ways in which it can enhance your overall landscaping theme.
Colour is one of the most important factors, and whether it be foliage colour during the growing season or a spectacular fall performance, you’ll have to admit they do brighten up the yard.
For summer colour, consider the disease-resistant ‘Prairie Fire’ flowering crab apple, the many new tree forms of magnolias, the rich colour of the narrow ‘Red Obelisk’ or ‘Dawyck Gold’ beech or the chartreuse ‘Sunburst’ locust tree.
Fall colour specimens are too numerous to mention, but one of my favourites is the Acer rubrum family which begin their red glow in late August.
Looking for a little more colour in your yard? Dogwoods are a fantastic option, and the C. kousa types.
Form is another important consideration. Tall, stark buildings or farm and commercial buildings too often spoil our vistas. Large pyramidal, round or columnar trees can soften and screen such structures and allow them to become more visually attractive.
Let’s talk about the cooling effect of a shade tree. One average-sized shade tree has a cooling effect equivalent to four household air-conditioners running 12 hours a day. The net result is that your house could be 10-13°C cooler during our summer hot spells. Think about that one as you lay awake at night, tossing and turning in a 30°C room.
Another big bonus is that the cooling effect of a shade tree doesn’t arrive in the form of a hydro bill at the end of each month.
If you haven’t been convinced yet that shade trees are a good investment, let’s add a few more factors.
They’ll keep your yard cleaner by collecting the dust particles on their leaves which could otherwise blow into your home, they sequester carbon and produce oxygen, they provide homes for birds and they act as a sound barrier to absorb a good deal of the noise from local traffic.
Shade trees also provide a great source of entertainment for kids, whether it be branches for swings, a location for tree houses or just plain climbing.
Finally, they provide a nice retreat on a sweltering afternoon.
And yes, there are some fallen leaves to rake up in the fall, but raking and bagging leaves burns an estimated 350-450 calories an hour. Considering this chore takes place in comfort food season, you might just earn yourself a second piece of pie. Leaving some foliage on the ground is beneficial for small critters too, so you don’t need to worry about having a perfectly manicured yard.
Now, if you’re still not convinced about huge shade trees, consider a slow-growing species or some of the new compact columnar varieties such as the beautifully fall coloured Acer rubrums like ‘Armstrong’ and ‘Bowhall.’
If it’s leaves you’re worried about, some oak varieties keep their leaves all fall and winter (you still have to rake, just in spring instead of fall!). If insects are concerning you, gingkos, liquidambars and liriodendrons are all free of pests. Many shade trees have very fibrous root systems which are quite safe even on tiny lots. When you weigh the pros and cons, it’s fairly evident that shade trees are a welcome addition, not only to our homes, but also to the environment.
When is the best time to plant them? Ten years ago.
The second best time is today.
When planting during summer though, you must ensure your tree is planted in good, well-drained soil (amend with fine fir or hemlock bark mulch with a dose of bone meal added in), and watered deeply, all the way to the bottom-most roots, and water regularly until it gets established.