looking for shade tree recommendations (central OK)

canokieApril 29, 2012

Sadly, it appears that both of my Autumn Blaze maples will need to be replaced this fall. This time around, I want to be sure I'm selecting the right trees for my climate and soil, as well as ensure that they are planted correctly.

I live in a northern suburb of Oklahoma City, in central Oklahoma, where it is hot and dry in the summers, and can be pretty windy sometimes too. The soil is heavy clay and probably tends toward alkaline. My house was built in 2009 and it appears that the builders removed most of the topsoil if there was any to start with. My south-facing yard gets full sun all day, and the lawn is Bermuda, which I do not water or do anything with other than mow and dig weeds by hand.

Since my house faces south, a shade tree in the front yard is a top priority. My house is one storey and my lot is not very big, so I don't want something that will grow to 100' tall or anything. I would prefer something that I don't have to baby excessively or run a high risk of losing. Due to our winds, I don't want anything that is prone to losing limbs. And of course nothing with roots that could damage the foundation, sidewalk, driveway, etc.

I am partial to maples and birches (probably because they are what I grew up with in Canada). I am guessing that birches are probaby not a good idea even though a few lots in my neighborhood have them, but I would like to hear from anyone who has experience with the birch cultivar 'Duraheat'.

I love fall color, particularly red, and trees with burgundy foliage any time of year.

I am also interested in edible landscaping, so if there is anything that meets the other criteria and also provides edible nuts or fruits, that would be a plus. I know pecan trees grow well here - are there any smaller varieties that might work for me?

On the other thread inquiring about the fate of my Autumn Blaze maples, I received some excellent suggestions which included Caddo maple (John Pair or Autumn Splendor), Chinese pistache, and the Fire Dragon cultivar of shantung maple, which also has beautiful fall color. I would love to hear from anyone who has experience with any of these trees, particularly in my climate and soils. Also, if you have other recommendations for me, please list them.

Thank you very much,


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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

I think you missed a point I made in the other thread. 'Keith Davey' Chinese Pistache. There is potential for CP to spread in some area's of the country, and the 'Keith Davey' clone is male and will not seed to wild areas. How is your perc test going. Until we know how well your soil drains, it doesn't matter.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 1:23PM
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Superstars for OKC- Shantung Maple, Chinquapin Oak, Chinese Pistacio, Deciduous Yaupon Holly. The best of the best, so to speak. Very little disease, very beautiful, heat,drought and alkaline tolerant.

Rock Solid for OKC Edible Fruits- Rusty Blackhaw Vibrnum, Red Mulberry, Jujube, Japanese Persimmons, Blackberry and certain Pomegranates. Drought, heat, alkaline tolerant, and some very tasty cultivars exist for each.

I grow peach, pear, fig, plum, and apple as well on adapted for your soil, semi-dwarf rootstocks.

This is not a comprehensive list but all of these suggestions are proven performers. Bur oak too big so I left it off the list, but makes a primo shade tree.

I guess I could list at least ten more shade trees, but I thought I'd first tell you about the real workhorses, and all are more appropriately sized for your lot.

After the superstars are established, you wouldn't have to water them at all. Who needs a frickin lawn, I know I don't.

Same with the more exotic fruits I listed. What determines success after selection is how the trees are planted, wide shallow hole with root flare above grade, and proper irrigation until establishment. This means slow, deep watering, and laying off until signs of stress, then repeat.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 2:38PM
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I know tree size is an issue for you. I would like to add that the further west towards the OK/TX border one goes the smaller the trees get. I remember post oaks top out at around 35-40' max with most around 30'. The only tall trees I can remember seeing were cottonwoods and maybe sycamores. Most of the locally adapted strains of trees have been sort of dwarfed over the generations IMO due to the lack of available moisture and hot conditions. I know a new nursery just opened in OKC and I have been dying to go check it out. They had a big grand opening sale a couple of weeks ago. Try to get locally harvested and seed grown for any natives you select. If planted correctly, they should give the least amount of fuss after establishment.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 3:43PM
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Texas live oak Quercus Fusiformis, very tough tree and Oklahoma native. It's like a smaller Southern live oak. It gets half as wide and nearly as tall as quercus Virginiana.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 8:17PM
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The following trees are drought and heat resistant and are dependable reliable growers and usually available :
Cedar Elm is a tree rated for up to Z6. It has a muted golden-orange fall color - very dependable. They have small leaves.
Shumard red oak usually has dependable fall red color.
Texas Ash has several different fall colors : red, yellow, purple.
Mexican Plum has some fall color. It is a smaller tree to 25'.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 10:07PM
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famartin(z5 NE NV)

Shelley, how long do you plan to live in your current home? Trees take a while to grow, especially the ones that are actually "worth it". You may be waiting a long while for your shade.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2012 at 10:38PM
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I call party foul on Nevada. Propaganda no less from the bunny-ranch state...Geeze dude, a 'superstar' grows fast then chills out after root establishment and some decent size...I would like to know, where you got that notion... rock the boat..but don't rock the boat...confused? so this desert lizard crawls aboard... and I spills my tea...so don't rock the boat baby...

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 2:37AM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Even fast growing trees take years to produce significant shade, so famartin is completely right. It may be 8-10 years, or it may be 30+ depending upon species, site conditions, and possible cultivar. I planted two freeman maples in a location that would drive Ken nuts (~25-30') off the house, and much closer together than most would like for the specific purpose of being a sun screen. They have been growing very fast (3-4+' per year), and after 5+ years beginning to do the job they were intended by providing SOME shade to the patio in the late afternoon. These trees will not be there in 100+ years in all likelihood, but neither will I be. Point being is that even the performing trees take more than 2-3 growing seasons, and length of time at the home is a factor. Most people seem to think they will walk out their door one day, and a 40' tree will be there, obviously that is not the case when you think about it.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 9:22AM
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Yeah, I grow what I'm talkin' 'bout in the same climate, what are you deserters from the confederation talkin'
'bout? Jeesh.

Shantung and pistacio are three foot a year growth every year until you say stop, and turn off the hose when in drought. Chinqapin and bur oak, pretty much same thing. They don't care if you water them and they slow down to a crawl. They go into Super Zen State. 'sides, who wants to water a thirty foot tree in ten years (three gallon) Except for bur oak, all have delightful fall and winter features.

Dr. Ark, I just spilt my tea again and just realized it's Monday. Thankyou for pleasant chitchat. Man, I told her mama, and I told her paw, I had sent her back to Arkansas... But I just can't wait to get back to her neck of the woods... Gday Mate.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 10:43AM
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I'm sticking to my bur oak suggestion(though Shumard & chinkapin oaks are also good).
It's native to your state, relatively fast-growing(2+ ft/yr in young specimens), but strong-wooded; tolerant of a wide range of soil types & pH, drought-resistant once well-established, not subject to many pests/diseases.
It's a marvelous 'shade tree'.

Will it potentially 'dwarf' your home? Well, perhaps - but so would Shumard or chinkapin oaks; a tree that can potentially live 200-400 years or more will continue to grow until it dies, and oaks can become quite large in that sort of timeframe.
Probably will not become a massive thing during YOUR lifetime, but will, within 10 years or so become large enough that you can enjoy the shade it casts.
Granted, bur oak does not excel in the 'fall color' category, but it's great the other 50 weeks of the year - big, glossy leaves, corky bark, big ornate acorns, and interesting winter silhouette.

Here is a link that might be useful: Bur Oak - Urban Forestry Tree of the Year 2001

    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 10:54AM
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Thank you all for your helpful replies. I am planning to live here for many years to come unless something unexpected comes up. However, I would rather not wait years for some kind of shade. I'm wondering about planting something else closer to the house that would help shade it until the other tree(s) fill in. Thoughts?

Mackel, I like the persimmon idea. Need to check into that further.

Arktrees, thank you for clarifying that it is the Keith Davey cultivar of chinese pistache that you were recommending. I've been sick the last couple of days so have not started the perc test yet. Hopefully tomorrow. On the other hand, we've been getting quite a bit of rain. Not sure if that helps or hinders the test...

Scotjute, you listed some trees I had never heard of. Thank you for the ideas.

I'll post the results of the perc test as soon as its done.

Thanks everyone,


    Bookmark   April 30, 2012 at 11:30PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

The perc test is to saturate the immediate soil, so that you can find how fast does it truly drains. That's the reason for refilling it multiple times. So no, rain won't hurt you, it will actually help you reach saturation sooner.

As for time frame for shade, short of buy a very large tree, with the very large expense, and myriad problems that go with it, then there isn't much you can do. When we moved into our house we went to planting trees in the first two weeks, because they take the longest. Five years later and they are looking pretty good, and the neighbors who though we were crazy, now wish they had our trees. One other thing to consider, I have speed our trees along by reducing stress, and application of fertilizer at the right time. Especially important if your topsoil has been striped off as you indicate (we had EXTREMELY poor soil), and WATERING around them when it's dry. I realize you don't want to water, but you can't have both fastest possible growth for whatever you plant, and not watering when dry. This is what I practice and preach. As a result my Autumn Fantasy Maple has been adding 1.33" of caliper and several feet per year. BTW, Autumn Fantasy is more drought tolerant than the other red-silver maple hybrids. They are a deep brick red in fall as well. This is another maple that could probable work for you. I know of some that were not watered significant;y last summer in high heat (to 110) and no rain for a couple months, that fair pretty well. So if you would water in the worst conditions, then it would likely do well. It's our fastest growing tree, and certainly much faster than our Shuntung.



    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 7:27AM
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for "fast shade" how do crepe myrtles grow around your area?

drop in a shantung or some native oak for the long haul then pick up a few $30-$40 crepes to spring up quickly -- just a thought, they do make a mess but the bark provides nice winter interest, the late summer blooms are nice

-- i know they are not "native" and "everyone has them" -- reasons I held off planting them for four years, but I need shade on some walls that bake from May - August, and those were the best I could come up with for Z7 NORBAM.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 9:32AM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Excellent suggestion hogmanay. I can't stand those things, but in the OP circumstances, I would certainly consider planting them next to the walls. Also many of them have nice fall color, so that works too.

BTW, below is a picture of our Autumn Fantasy from last fall. Again, this one should be able to work for you. This tree was planted as about an 7-8' 1" caliper tree in late Spring 2008. It did not grow once planted in 2008, all growth has been from Spring 2009 onward.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 10:03AM
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Dr Ark,

Red Maples don't like an alkaline pH, ok. They remain sick their entire lives which is short when they're planted here. End of story.

On the other hand, caddo maple, shantung maple, paperbark maple, and japanese maple do very well here. There is no way of getting around it, Dr. Ark.

I'll be in Eureka Springs on vacation the first week of June, drinks on me just look for forty year old winebago with moons, shamrocks and stars painted on side. Such a nice place. Til next time, Friend.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 10:47AM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

I'm well aware that is normally the case, but since this is a Silver/Red Maple hybrid it handles moderately alkaline pH, and this is one of the better ones from what I understand. From what I understand Autumn Fantasy is planted well down into central Texas, so assuming that is true, then they can in fact handle the pH.

Also Shelly, don't forget to look into Scarlet Oak. They won't mind the pH of the soil and can be very attractive. Again, see below for a picture of ours from last fall. Also look into Sassafras. I'm pretty sure they can handle the pH, drought tolerant, and fast growing.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 11:36AM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Send me some contact info through GW. I'm sure my S.O. will not mind going to Eureka Springs since we have not been in some time.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 11:45AM
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Arktrees, those pictures just about took my breath away! Such a beautiful tree! Even more beautiful in my opinion than the Autumn Blaze I have, since I am partial to the deeper reds/burgundy anyway. I am happy to hear that they are drought tolerant and also fast growing, which is important. I think I will look for one of these in the fall. I don't mind watering trees at all when its hot and dry, especially when they are getting established, I just don't want something that is going to be very difficult to keep alive in our climate/soil. And I usually don't water my grass... but trees are a different story.

Regarding planting - what is the closest to my house I can safely plant? My house makes an L shape with the garage and the front yard is the inside of that L. The builder put the tree about 20' away from the front. Would you plant any closer than that?

I just now saw Mackel's post on the soil alkalinity... what is your soil like over there in Arkansas? I'll have to test mine but I think its around 7.

Hogmanay, crape myrtles grow very well here and thank you for the suggestion. I gather they are fast growing, so that may give me some shade in the short term. I know they are very common in this area, but since I am relatively new to Oklahoma, and just figured out last summer what all those flowering trees were, they are still new to me :)

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 11:26PM
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greatplainsturf(6/7 OK)

Don't just assume your soil is alkaline. For some reason people think OK has lots of alkaline soil, but from my experience that is not the case. Most i have seen is on the slightly acidic side here in central OK. I just don't want you to limit your options too much up front. I have attached a great link for Oklahoma trees. Some of my favorites are Northern Red Oak and Ginko Biloba. Be careful with live oak as we are on the northern limits. Most live oaks you see here get the trunks wrapped in winter to prevent damage.

Here is a link that might be useful: Great list of trees for Oklahoma

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 8:16AM
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Thanks greatplainsturf, this is a very helpful website.

Arktrees, I just noticed that the second set of pictures you posted were the red oak not the Autumn Fantasy maple (I guess I was too dazzled by the pretty colors to notice the leaf shape :) Anyway, how big are red oaks? Do you think they would work on my lot? My impression was that they were really huge, but maybe there are some smaller cultivars?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 1:52PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

The second set of pictures are Scarlet Oak. And yes it can get to very large size......but it will be a long time. Even then I would likely be looked at as an asset instead of liability. It would probable be 50 years before it started to "outgrow" the house. IMHO, I wouldn't worry about it. But Scarlet Oak can grow relatively fast, and originate from dry ridge tops on limestone, so soil pH would not be a problem. I can't yet say how fast, as it's still getting established. However I would recommend you buy them in fall color to get the best color. That's what I did with ours, and many will it light you up. :-)

As for our soil, it is acidic. However as I stated in another post, Autumn Fantasy is a hybrid Red-Silver Maple, and should be able to hand alkaline soil as long as it's not extreme without problems. The Silver Maple half tolerates most alkaline soils.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 2:38PM
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The author of the website is a landscaper, for heaven's sake. Where are the credentials....it says he's a professional photographer... he's paid to take pictures...where was I going with this...landscapers, photographers, what we have here is an artist, with a bunch of unrealistic customers who think they know more than the landscaper....

After years of this, the landscaper loses his common sense from being a genial guy and a smart businessman...so he quits, and becomes a photographer.

Some old school stuff in there, some of this informaion is plainly behind the times. We're doing a much better job now of documenting deaths of trees, for example, last year in Texas ten percent of all trees expired. Guess which ones?

Well...don't ask a landscaper, that's not in his job description...I asked an astute nursery owner what his favorite tree was, and he said the one the customer buys...

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 4:09PM
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As Arktrees recommended, I dug a hole about a foot deep and filled it with water several days in a row to saturate the soil. Last night I filled it again and started monitoring how fast the water went down. After an hour, the water dropped a couple of inches. When I went to work this morning (about 12 hours later) there was still maybe 5 inches in the hole. I'm guessing this isn't good?

As far as what I observed while digging the hole - the top 6-8 inches or so was pretty good stuff, probably from three years of being covered with bark mulch, which has been breaking down. Also, the soil under the grass is good for at least a couple of inches down, I noticed. However, abot 8 inches down, I hit heavy red clay, the sticky stuff. I'm guessing that is why the water isn't draining too fast.

So, how does this affect my choice of shade tree? Please let me know what your revised recommendations are for my yard. And if I've misinterpreted the perc test, please set me straight.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 3:35PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

So 7 inches in 12 hours AFTER it was saturated. How often do you get 7 inches of rain in 12 hours? You don't want it to pour through in a half and hour as the soil would hold no water then. So it sounds just fine to me. I wouldn't worry about it. You should be able to plant most anything you like that is suitable to your climate. I would recommend that you do encourage your grass to grow, and mulch the clippings back into the lawn. This will help to improve your soil biology, and texture.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 4:05PM
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