Shade trees are one of the best investments in any landscape. Of course they provide shade, but they also can provide flowers, texture, fall color, winter interest, cover for wildlife and more.
With the devastation of the Ash tree due to the Emerald Ash Borer and, now, the decline and death of Colorado Spruce and Austrian Pine, we’ve learned a valuable lesson in diversification. When we replace a dying species, we need to be introducing a new and interesting species into the yard – different from what our neighbors have.
Sometimes trees get overlooked because they don’t have the “bells and whistles” that the popular trees have. Some trees also have an “awkward teenage phase,” and you might not give them a second glance when you see them young but they mature to beautiful specimens. (The tree world can be kind of like high school.)
Below are some of my favorite shade trees that should be given a second look to if you are in the market for a shade tree or two. (All of these trees will grow to be at least 30-feet tall or more at maturity.)
Beech – This unique tree species has striking colored leaves. ‘Tri-color’ has pink, white and green leaves while ‘Riversii’ has dark burgundy and copper foliage and its gray bark looks like “elephant knees”. There are many large specimen of copper beech in the Fox Valley – some are more than 100 years old.
Kentucky Coffeetree – This is one of those “awkward teenagers” I discussed earlier. It has an open canopy with large compound leaves (think Honeylocust on steroids) that have a golden fall color; it’s tough and native and becomes more gorgeous as it ages.
Elm – Hybrid versions (many developed in Chicago) grow fast and have a one-of-a-kind vase shape. They are tough, resistant to Dutch elm disease and serve as an excellent parkway tree. The ‘Frontier’ has red fall color and all others are yellow.
Katsura tree – This tree is one of my favorites! It has small, heart-shaped leaves and tiny reddish flowers in early spring. It emits a smell like cotton candy when the leaves fall in autumn, and it tolerates moist soils. It’s rare and stately.
Catalpa – This tree has HUGE, heart-shaped leaves followed by gigantic white/purple flowers in early summer. It’s a tall, narrow tree, long lived, has gold fall color, and it also comes in a purple leafed variety.
Black Tupelo – This native tree has amazing red and orange fall color (It puts Maples to shame!), as well as shiny leaves.
Ginkgo – Geneva has some of these beauties along Route 38. This pre-historic tree with beautiful fan shaped leaves, has stunning gold fall color, but it has a slower growth habit.
London Planetree/Sycamore – This beautiful, stately tree has very large, fuzzy leaves. It also has unique camouflage bark, and is a medium to fast grower.
Tulip tree – A Wasco Nursery favorite, it has unique hand-shaped leaves, yellow/orange flowers, and is tall and narrow. The tree has yellow fall color, is a very fast grower and also is excellent as a street or yard tree.
Chinquapin oak – This is a sawtooth type of Oak with narrow serrated leaves. It’s very tolerant of suburban life, has excellent fall color and a nice shape with dark, attractive bark.
Meagan Provencher is the Senior Landscape designer for Wasco Nursery and Garden Center in St. Charles. She can be reached at 630-584-4424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.