My Favorite Shade Tree

If I could have just one shade tree in my yard, I’d want one that had stood the test of time – one that would make me proud of my choice. Shumard red oak (Quercus shumardii) is such a tree.

This is a partially matured Shumard red oak. It will grow to be much taller and wider, but it can’t get much prettier. Few trees that we grow offer any more beauty.

What I expect from my shade trees…
These are the criteria against which I measure all my tree candidates.

Attractive. I don’t want any ugly-dog loser if it’s going to be the biggest plant at my place. This comes first.

Adapted to what I can provide for it. Skip the big shade trees that have to be pampered, please. The tree I select has to be able to thrive in the climate and soils I have for it.

No pest problems. It’s expensive and cumbersome to spray a large shade tree. The large shade tree that I’m going to choose can’t have serious issues with insects and diseases.

Good form and strong branches. Some of our Texas trees are funny looking. And brittle. Or both.

Longevity. I want a tree that I can plant with a grandchild, and know that he or she will be able to bring grandchildren to its base and recount the day that we planted it together.

Continued Below


Some people might want to include…
Fast growth. Oh, please, please don’t go there! Fast growth means weak wood, which in turn means susceptibility to insects and diseases and breakage in ice and wind. No thanks!

Spring flowers or fall color. OK. I’ll accept those, but they certainly aren’t at the top of my list of requirements, because they both last only a couple of weeks. That leaves me with too many months when the trees aren’t blooming or fall-colorful. These are bonuses. They shouldn’t be requirements.

Fall color this intense doesn’t happen every year in Texas, but when it does, it’s really worth the wait. Shumard red oaks rank as some of our finest shade trees anyway, and this kind of great fall red foliage really puts the icing on the cake.

So that brings me to Shumard red oak…
I’ve been endorsing this winner for 50 years!

Shumard red oaks grow to be 50 or 60 feet tall and wide, so they qualify for the category of “large shade trees.” Their large, deep green foliage during the growing season is outstanding, and fall color many years is vibrant. Other than a few harmless insect galls, Shumard red oaks rarely have issues with pests.

Don’t get me wrong. Other oaks are also great choices, as are cedar elms, pecans and even non-native Chinese pistachios, but for one reason or another, Shumard red oaks rise just slightly above them in my own personal preferences.

The one warning I’ll give you about red oaks (and chinquapin oaks, also Chinese pistachios) would be to protect their thin bark from sun scald and subsequent invasion by borers the first couple of years after you plant them. Wrap their trunks with paper tree wrap from the nursery or hardware store. Start at the ground line and wrap them as soon as you plant them, and let them grow to shade their trunks. You’ll also discourage woodpeckers in the process.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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