Shade Trees for Small Spaces

When we think of shade trees, often times we have in mind big, majestic trees such as live oaks, American elms or pecans. Although beautiful as mature trees, they require lots of room in the landscape and, for many homeowners, space is simply not available to grow these wonderful specimens.

Lawns, shrub and flowerbeds usu ally get first priority over larger shade trees and often compete heavily for limited space. However, there are some quality trees out there that homeowners should consider for their smaller lots. These trees won.t dominate a smaller landscape but still offer shade and many other attributes as well.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) grows to about 20 feet tall, with some specimens getting a little taller. Grown usually as an under story tree in partial shade, eastern redbud tolerates full sun provided it is given sufficient water through the summer months. Most known for its beautiful spring flowers in colors of pink, purple or white, eastern redbud develops into a rounded or spreading oval small tree. Texas and Mexican redbud are smaller, sometimes multi-trunked trees tolerating much more direct sun and requiring much less water.

Lacey oak (Quercus glaucoides) is a small shade tree that should be used more often. The tree reaches a mature height of only about 35 feet, but produces new leaves in shades of pink or peach which turn a surprising bluish-green when mature, adding a contrasting color to the green landscape. Extremely drought tolerant, Lacey oak requires full sun is tolerant of hard, limestone soils. Lacey oak is a deciduous tree that sometimes displays golden fall color.

Bigtooth maple (Acer saccharum sp. grandidentum) is a compact maple obtaining a mature height of 20 to 30 feet or slightly larger. A relic of the last Ice Age, bigtooth maple is a drought-tolerant, relatively slow-growing maple that will grow in hard, limestone soils and full sun. In addition to providing good shade during the growing season, these trees are most attractive in the fall with leaves turning shades of brilliant orange and red.

About the author: Rob Bauereisen is Field Operations Supervisor at Fort Worth Botanic Garden ( For more suggestions on shade trees to plant in your small landscape, see the March/April issue of Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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