shade tree for small backyard

sakura28(Zone 6)April 27, 2009

Hello to all :

I have yet another question ... and no answer myself.

Last year we lost our best backyard shade tree. We had had a large, multi-trunked maple (I don't know what kind) cabled & pruned 4 years earlier, but it was looking worse & worse and more dead branches were breaking off. There was a safety concern as the way the tree was leaning apart and we had lost an inner trunk from something (don't know what because it was that way when we bought the house), but it was all black. Anyway, to spare us the cost of yearly pruning & trimming for who-knows-how-long, we opted to have it cut down. Now we are baking in the sun all day long.

Our backyard is about 60' deep X 100' wide.

We have clay (or a mix) soil with a lot of rocks in it, but I think the drainage is not an issue as it's a gentle slope and I've never seen puddles even after heavy rain. According to the new zone maps, I'm 6 although it was 5b (Connecticut).

We want something for shade that we can sit under, picnic under, & enjoy, and, at some point have relief from the summer sun. I understand we will not get this quickly, but I'd like some substantial growth by 5 yrs. time. I don't want anything that will attract bees (we have young children), or have insects constantly dropping from it, or have something that we need to baby or spray for problems, or prune every year because it's massive. We'd like to plant it in the same spot that the maple was, which is about 30' from the back of the house. I am not concerned about gardening under the tree as I have my flower/shrub beds elsewhere.

We have looked at a few options ...

A Yoshino sakura, but that was $ 650 (4")for a large specimen, and we are concerned about caterpillars, Japanese beetles, longevity, etc. Cannot find smaller/less expensive yoshino's in the area so far. I see a lot of weeping cherries in our neighborhood & haven't noticed any problems, but then again, I don't live in those yards.

A red maple, but we were worried about one day having yet another massive, overgrown tree in our yard. I don't know if this would happen in my lifetime or not ... A nearby nursery has a red maple, no specific cultivar listed, for about $90 (a 7'-8' specimen). I'm not sure if that's a good choice ... Another nursery has a $ 300 'October Glory' (2.5") - that's a bit over our budget, but we might consider it if it's worthwhile.

We also thought about A Japanese Maple 'Bloodgood', but they are awfully expensive - over $ 100 for a 5 gal. I was under the impression that they grow slowly although the eventual size is nice ... but we had a red-leaved Jpn Maple in our front yard which suddenly died, so we are a bit nervous about investing in one ...

Maybe there are other choices we haven't considered, or perhaps a red maple is just fine ... I don't know if this is the best time to plant anyway ... maybe fall is better ? It's been in the 90's here this week.

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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

We have a red maple (Acer rubrum) about 15 ft from the house, and aside from rather predictable gutter problems, it isn't an issue. We had a professional arborist look at the trees, and he was of the opinion that it might be an issue in about 60 or 70 years.

If you are serious about wanting to sit *under* the tree, you are looking at a substantially large tree. I'm not sure I've ever seen a Japanese maple I would be comfortable walking around underneath. The same is true of Japanese cherries.

Understand that tree scale is very different around here than in some other parts of the country. In a normal, established, residential neighborhood, the largest things are trees, not houses.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 6:22PM
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sakura28(Zone 6)

Thank you for the helpful advice ... it puts things into perspective. It's true, all the houses in the small residential neighborhoods here have large trees ... and as I look at the few Japanese maples in the area, they wouldn't work for what we need. Maybe in another part of the yard, another year, as a nice accent.
I think I'll take another look at the red maples the nurseries have to offer, and not fret so much about 60 years hence ... we can always have it pruned or replaced if it becomes to monstrous, just as we did with the other maple ... if we even stay in this house that many years.
Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 8:00AM
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Why only one tree?

Plant a slower growing white oak in an area which will provide shade for the most summer sun exposed area of your house. Then find the kind of maple tree you like best and plant it where it can grow to shade the outdoor living areas in your back yard.

Do not worry about the yard being too small for these two trees mature sizes. There is a high percentage of chance that by the time the maple tree will need to be removed, from causing surface root problems or other such issues, at least your white oak tree should have matured enough to be providing some shade for the house. That is as long as the back side of your house faces West or Southwest

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 9:17AM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

6000 sf isn't really a 'small' backyard. There are numerous trees that will work in that size space - two large-canopied trees easily with an understory. Take your time and look to see what is out there (lots of choices).


    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 1:35PM
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sakura28(Zone 6)

That is something good to think about ... we do have room for more than one tree, and the back side of our house does face the west.
I'm not quite sure about an oak though ... my memory of oaks is getting paid to fill paper grocery bags with acorns in my grandparents yard and dump them in the compost pile.
Thanks for the thought. I will look into it.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 1:38PM
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sakura28(Zone 6)

I guess our yard is a good size ... we have 1/3 acre ... and we love it ... but when the tree service cut down our maple, he said "These trees shouldn't be grown in small yards like yours." It kind of intimidated us to planting anything but "small" trees. Nevertheless, as I have been aptly reminded by many comments here, and I thank you for them, our yard really isn't that tiny, and there is a lot we can do. I just remembered that my neighbor is growing a white pine at the back of their property, so I don't know what I am worrying about. We do have a large white pine at the far back corner of our property, so there is shade there, but not until the afternoon. We love that tree even though it's huge (80' I'd guess).
The rest of the backyard is a blank canvas.
Thanks for all the suggestions ... we will look around more & consider all our choices & not be too hasty.
The thermometer said 98 today ... this shouldn't be until July !

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 2:36PM
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Maybe its just not old enough, but our oak tree has never dropped acorns. If its a variety thing or maturity/pollinator thing I'm unsure, but no acorns. Its been in our yard about 15 years and was fairly large when planted.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 5:22PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Try shantung maple. It doesn't get too big. It seems to turn into "real" tree providing shade rather soon compared to others. Click on the picture to see the progress of growth since spring of 2006 Fire Dragon

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 6:25PM
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Glad your not listening to that 'your yard is too small' nonsense. If that were true, my neighborhood would have no shade trees at all. My backyard is 50 x 80 and had two mature American elms when I moved in. Granted they would have done some damage if they fell. The neighbors did a few years back and took out a garage in the alley.

They got dutch elm disease a few years ago and the backyard just isn't the same. The beauty, serenity and sense of enclosure they provided was wonderful. Sure, if one day the right storm came along and the wind blew the right direction they would have hit the house, but the benefits sure outweighed the risks.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 7:40PM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Shantung maple is an understory tree, and a very nice one at that. Shade trees to shade houses should be at least ~25-33% higher than Acer t. for maximum benefits. West-facing aspects should have at least one large tree for maximum benefits.


    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 7:42PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

No, it's not really understory tree. It can reach 35 feet tall (eventually). It can tolerate full sun with no problem. They put it under shade tree category. The OP asked for small tree so I thought that might be a good tree. Trident maple is another one that can be used as small shade tree that can tolerate a lot of sun. Shantung maple is just that much tougher than Japanese maple. Down here in Texas, we call shantung maple a "tough" version of Japanese maple. It's on Texas Superstar list because it is very tough plant.

Here is a link that might be useful: Shantung maple

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 8:38PM
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sakura28(Zone 6)

Thanks again to all for all the helpful information !
I will look into oaks (saw a Pin Oak at a nursery) ...
The Shantung Maple is beautiful ... I had never heard of it. Thank you for the nice pictures, lou midlothian tx.
I am not sure what's available around here, so that will figure in the decision. In any case, I have my "homework" cut out for me ... lots to look at & think about !
Thank you !

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 6:05AM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

Lou, we'll have to agree to disagree. I like the tree very much but for obtaining the maximum benefits from a shade tree, Acer t. just doesn't get tall enough, the solar angle during summer is too great during max heating. Shading one-two story structures should be done - for maximum benefits (cooling, wind amelioration, property values) - by trees 45-50 ft or greater. Acer t. is great tree for under larger trees.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 11:48AM
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Sugar Maple

White Oak (Quercus alba)

Chestnut Oak (Q. montana) (alt. Q. prinus)

Bebb Oak (Q. bebbiana [Q. alba x macrocarpa])

Post Oak (Q. stellata)

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 2:18PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Dan, how far from the house are we talking about? My backyard is only 35 feet deep. Same for the front. Granted, I have Bur oak, Mexican white oak and Nanjing Beauty taxodium hybrid that would eventually get large but you have to keep in mind that there will always be neighbors trying to kill your trees just because one of the branches hangs over the fence.. or golf ball sized acorns falling on their properties.. What about lawn? If you have a tree growing such a large size where there's not enough sun reaching the ground. I guess it's matter of preference. I prefer shade because it gets very hot for a long time in Texas...

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 7:13PM
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