Question of the Week – Number 1: July 30, 2020

“What’s the very best fast-growing shade tree?”

I probably get this question 10 times a week. I’m not sure what the people are expecting to hear back. Could it be willows, ashes, cottonwoods, mulberries, mimosas, catalpas, silver maples or one of the other racehorse trees? Let’s hope not! Every one of those has at least one fatal flaw.

Texas nursery growers turn out hundreds of thousands of live oaks and other high-quality shade trees each year. Make your selections carefully.

Indeed, there are so many other critical factors that need to enter the picture when you’re choosing new trees. My bet is you’d rate each of these above fast growth if you came right down to it:

Good looks;
Pest and disease resistance;
Site adaptability to soils and climate.

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So think about those things individually. Would you rather have fast growth if it meant that your new tree wouldn’t survive your local soils or winters? Or pests? Or if it was sorry-dog ugly? Probably not.

Go for quality. Go for durability. These would be my top-rated shade trees for big parts of Texas:

Shumard red oaks,
Live oaks,
Chinquapin oaks,
Bur oaks,
Cedar elms,
Chinese pistachios,
Southern magnolias.

In the acidic soils of East Texas I’d add into that list water oaks, willow oaks, southern red oaks, slash and loblolly pines and bald cypress. There are many other good options, but those are the ones that come first to my mind.

Fall is a great time to plant your new trees. It gives them the maximum time to establish new roots before next summer. Also, the trees have been sitting in the nursery all summer, so you can fairly easily see how well they’ve become established.

Many nurseries also cut prices as the season winds down. In fact, you might even find good sales right now. Odds are you’ll have the nursery deliver and plant the tree for you, and they’ll have the means of doing so carefully, even during the summer.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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