Shade tree advice for backyard

jandrus82March 6, 2013

I'm looking to plant a shade tree in by backyard this Spring. Although I'm decent (passable? lol) at landscaping I'm somewhat at a loss of what and where to plant. I've attached two Google Map images of my property. The front of my house faces South, back of house North. Last fall I planted a Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry tree in between the shed & playset. I also planted a Royal Burgundy Cherry tree basically where Google's "Pin Point A" is located (about five feet closer to the playset). I'm willing to move the Cherry tree to the front if need be.

A couple of pictures:

I have somewhat decent drainage in the backyard (around 4,000 sq ft.). Behind the playset and shed can get soggy in Spring, there is a 10' of Public Water Easement (for water drainage). PH is high at 7.8.

I was thinking of planting on the west side of my lot near the playset, don't want my girls to get burned up in the sun, but I'm open to placement as well.

From my local tree nursery I can obtain (and reason's I do and/or don't like):

-Autumn Blaze Maple
Gorgeous looking tree, awesome fall color. Great for dense shade. Worry about surface roots sucking my lawn's water.

-Armstrong Maple
Nice looking. Maybe I can plant 15-20 ft from Cherry. Again the roots, blah.

-Heritage River Birch
My favorite tree. Great bark, love the dappled shade. Can also be limbed up easily. Doesn't do "well" in my PH, but a decent amount of my neighbors have them and they look good.

-Ginkgo Autumn Gold
Love the fall color. Super slow grower.

-Zelkova Green Vase
Awesome looking tree. Love the vase shape. I can't find a good source on the spread of this tree, some say 30' and others say 50' (to big).

-American Hornbeam
Nice looking. Not really a shade tree IMO. My nursery recommended it though.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions and advice.

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How about an DED Resistant American Elm. The classic American Shade trees.....I like 'Princeton' the best but there are other options. Great form, dappled shade, long lived, drought tolerant, not messy, yellow fall foliage, native species, host plant for many butterfly species, fast growth and preferred nesting tree of orioles. Check out the Link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Botany Shop

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 11:23AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

in photobucket.. if you copy/paste the HTML code.. where you type.. on preview.. if you see it we will ..

i dont understand why there is no back door on your house ...

where will the deck eventually be..

and why not plant the tree now.. to eventually shade the deck???

if you have any plans of being a gardener in your yard.. maples will not be friendly in 20 to 30 years ...

i dont recommend anything that requires it be disease proof.. i just dont want to invest 20 years.. to find out.. they arent ...

ginkgo are extremely slow in my z5 MI ... maybe 100 years to get some shade to sit under.. lol ...

why isnt oak on your list.. they grow 3 to 5 feet per year.. once they get going.. storm proof.. and a tree that can last centuries .... and frankly ... are one of the fastest growing 'good' trees there are .. IMHO ....

z5 means nothing as it is a very great range ..... and unless my caffeine buzz is messing with me.. i dont see where you told us where you are.. st loius is much different than ann arbor MI ...

are you aware of proper planting.. watering.. mulching.. and most importantly.. the size of stock best suited to transplant ????

and proper planting time is supreme.. in my z5 MI.. the month of april is prime time.. to plant DORMANT leafless trees ... once they have leaves.. the stress begins ...


    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 2:40PM
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Ken, I live just southwest of Grand Rapids, MI. Not horribly far from you.

We are knocking out a window (the one on the far) and a little bit of wall for the deck.

Any oaks you recommend?

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 8:20PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

all of them.. lol ..

in adrian MI ... i have red, scarlet, black, pin, white, and shingle ... hope i didnt leave any of the kids out.. lol ..

and i would get a 6 to 8 footer.. dormant and un-leafed AND BARE ROOT .... and plant it as soon in april as you can.. 6 to 8 weeks for its roots to get pumping.. before it leafs out..

and i would plant it.. 15 to 30 feet from the house ... yes.. that is not a typo ...

you left out a word as to where the door will go.. but i am imagining the little window near the center.. or around that corner to the left ...

there should be many suppliers near GR to supply such .. but now is the time to make the calls ...

if you are interested in a good 'red color' oak.. unfortunately.. you would have to go shop them in fall when they are in color.. and plan all this of next spring ....

and personally.. i would plant 3 trees in your yard ... of 3 types ....

do NOT put anything that claims to be FAST GROWING.. within 50 feet of your house ...


    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 9:12AM
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I did leave out a word... it's going in place of the left window.

After you suggested Oak I did some research on them. I agree very nice tree but I read that most don't do well in alkaline soil... 7.8 for me. Very alkaline. What's your thoughts?

Any thoughts on Elms? Specifically 'New Horizon' Elm...

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 10:59AM
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If you are looking for an alkaline soil tolerant oak, quercus muehlenbergii is a good option. I don't think it is considered fast growing, however. I do believe with most eastern forest oaks, if you can make them happy with a good mulch ring and water during drought until they get established, respond by growing faster than usually claimed in the "feet per year" category as opposed to "inches per year"

I was going to suggest Sapindus drummondii but I don't believe it is hardy in your zone.

The best bet would be to contact a local nursery and ask what grows well in your area with a high ph. Another good option would be to contact your local Dept. of Natural Resouces and ask the same question.


Edit: another great option would be Maclura pomifera 'White Shield' - no thorns and no fruit because the tree is a male. It is also reportedly a very vigorous clone that should give decent shade in a relatively short time period. Also has nice yellow fall color. Hardy to zone 4.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ohio Department of Natural Resources - Chinkapin Oak

This post was edited by j0nd03 on Thu, Mar 7, 13 at 11:48

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 11:37AM
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Green thumb dude...Yes Elms in my opionion are Trees that are overlooked. Is there any better tree than an American Elm on a cold clear winter day with those huge arms against that blue sky! Here in Okla one of my favorite trees is Ulmas Parvofolia (Lacebark) Elm. Beutifull small leaves and a fast grower.


    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 2:57PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i dont know about elms.. i didnt grow up with them around.. so i dont have any inclination towards them ... as it seems to me.. many older folk do..

but it was those i was referring to when i said the above about elm disease.. and hoping these new hybrids are actually as RESISTANT as they claim ... and note .. its resistant.. not 'proof' ...

i never heard of the trees our friend from AR is referring to ...

which makes me wonder if you arent going about this backwards ... perhaps you ought to ID tree farms that can provide the 6 to 8 foot bare root tree i suggest.. and then ask what they have available ...

see link.. i just googled: MI tree farms.. and after ignoring xmas tree farms.. found this one ... i have never done biz with them .... and they may even know about your soil ...

and yes.. you can mail order trees for the precise planting time ... and since they are near.. they will know that time perfectly ...

and if you go.. take the camera.. and snap us some pix of the farm ...


Here is a link that might be useful: for example .. free soil MI??? .. $10.50 for a 4 to 5 foot Quercus robur $13.95 for a 5 to 6 foot Quercus rubra === what is this an hour to 1.5 north of you ... ever been to a tree farm.. ask if you can pick them up .... blah.. blah.. blah ....

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 3:38PM
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Bur Oak do quite well on alkaline soil. They're also very wind-firm and drought -resistant. However they do not have a pretty fall color.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 4:41PM
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Bur Oak do quite well on alkaline soil. They're also very wind-firm and drought -resistant. However they do not have a pretty fall color.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 4:42PM
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Tulip poplar is a good one.....very fast growth...gets to be a real giant...does well in alkaline soils....Thomas Jefferson had these planted around his house
Hackberry is another one for alkaline soils
Black walnut...although messy can have nice form and has a nice contrast between the lime green leaves and black bark...also fast growth
* I would stay away from siberian elm...they can be invasive and their form isn't near as great as the American Elms

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 5:54PM
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beng(z6 western MD)

Instead of zelkova, plant 'Allee II' Chinese elm -- NOT to be confused w/Siberian elm. Chinese elm is resistant to both DED and elm yellows & looks much better than zelkova, IMO, and is very fast.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 8:37AM
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beng(z6 western MD)

Here's a Zelkova in the VA State Arb. I don't care for the tangle of forks myself:

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 10:54AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

contact your COUNTY extension office.. or soil conservation office.. and ask them about your soil .... either those.. or your Ag office.. should have a forester on call ... and i bet offhand.. he can tell you what grows like weeds in your area ...

besides blueberry in SW MI ... i think of SW MI as one of the breadbaskets of MI .. crop-wise.. and i am finding it hard to believe.. you would be much restricted in tree selection.. due to soil ...

you cant really be thinking.. there are limited selections of oak due to soil types out there .. that would confuse me..

so i am attacking your original premise.. that your soil is really an issue ... it may well be so ... but it might not.. but what ever you do.. do NOT assume... [you know the rest of assuming.. i am sure] ...


    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 1:09PM
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I studied zelkova in California and I like them, the crowded crown doesn't seem to be too much of an issue at this point. If you want good fall color, though, look elsewhere.

And what Ken said about your soil.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 3:18PM
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A vote for white oak. Can't go wrong with container grown and most of my B&B trees have been slow to grow, but the white oak I planted two summers ago was 2.5 cal. B&B and is probably 10' taller now than when I planted it, despite hearing about how slow growing white oaks are.

Agree with Ken about maples and wanting to garden down the road. I just rearranged my raised vegetable beds that are 20' away from my neighbor's red maple and had to deal with a jungle of maple roots.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 3:54PM
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I'll give my county AG office a call on Monday and see what they suggest.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 8:11PM
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If memory serves, river birch aren't long-lived as trees go. Maple can be pretty long-lived, some oaks can last centuries and ginkgo can clear a millennium.


    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 9:12PM
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You initial list was pretty much what I was contemplating when I started my front yard shade tree/s odyssey months ago. I threw all of them out and have pretty much decided on an oak of the red/scarlet (coccina/rubrum) variety.

We have alkaline soil and Oaks of all sorts grow like crazy. Builders sure as heck liked planting pin oaks ~20-30 years ago when my town started growing. Now they are all over and quite handsome at 40'-50' tall!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2013 at 6:34AM
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