Help? Trying to Create Shade in my Sunny Massachusetts Yard

beaglemom12(Zone 7a)July 3, 2014

We have a bit of a dilemma here, as my fiance and I are both being very picky about what trees we want to plant in our backyard, and have both been researching for months. We have a 6 ft privacy fence, but our lot is up on a hill, so the privacy fence does not actually give much privacy. We can still see the windows of neighboring houses while we sit on our ground-level patio. Walking around in the backyard, no privacy at all. Neighbors can see right into the yard. We also have absolutely no trees in our backyard :( So the entire yard is in full sun basically all day from morning til evening. During the hot, humid, sunny days of summer, this is not very pleasant. We would like to have a bit of shade, and some privacy from the neighbors. Although we are lucky to have very nice neighbors, still, it would of course be nice to have some privacy. One half of the yard gets some shade, but only after about 6 PM, due to some very tall trees in the next yard over.

Part of our dilemma is that we can't plant trees that will get super tall, because we have solar panels on the roof of our one-story house, which need sunlight as much as possible to generate electricity. So we prefer to plant trees that will only get to be about 25 feet tall at maturity.

My fiance and I both agree on the height, no more than 25 feet tall. We also both agree that we don't want fruit trees, because we don't want fruit falling off the tree onto the lawn, adding to lawn maintenance and worrying our dog will get a hold of some bad fruit or pits which are toxic to dogs. We both agree that we need to make sure we don't plant any trees that are toxic to dogs. That is extremely important.

My fiance does not want trees that flower, because he doesn't want flower petals falling all over the lawn. I, on the other hand, don't mind flowering trees, and I actually think flower petals falling onto the lawn would be pretty. This, we disagree on.

I don't want any trees that have red flowers or that turn red in the fall. I don't mind seeing red trees out in the woods, but I don't want them in my yard. I just personally don't like the color red. We really like trees that turn yellow or orange in the fall.

We want to pick out 3 different types of trees. One for the far back corner, to block the view of a neighbor's house, which can be the tallest (25 feet) because that is the lowest corner of the yard. Something we can put a couple of chairs and a dog house under. One for the middle back to block the view of a neighbor's house, which can be a bit shorter but no less than 12 feet tall). For those first two, the wider the spread, the better. And one for the side of the yard which we would like to plant in a row along the fence to block the view of a two-story neighboring home with an above-ground swimming pool that has no privacy and we don't want to see it. For the row of trees, we would like them to be on the taller side (20-25 feet), and can have a narrower spread, since they will be in a row, but my fiance does not want big puffy evergreens with foliage low to the ground, which I agree with because those kinds of trees also harbor more ticks, and we don't want our dog to be exposed to more ticks in our backyard.

Every time we think we have agreed on some trees to plant, one of us discovers something about it in our research that makes us change our minds.

Right now, we think we have agreed on a Wax Myrtle tree for one of the trees we want to plant. The one in the middle back of the yard. I have read that this tree is an evergreen, but I'm not sure if it stays evergreen in our zone, which is Zone 7a. We are very close to zone 6b, but are considered zone 7a. The Wax Myrtle can grow in zone 7-11, but does anyone know how tall they get in southeastern Massachusetts? I have read they are 15-20 feet at maturity, but I'm guessing that can vary depending on the zone? Especially considering they are more common in the South, I'm a bit concerned about this one. Although if it IS evergreen and grows to 15-20 feet, that would be perfect because it would give us privacy in the winter, too.

Another one I have my eye on is for the far back corner of the yard, and that is the Muskogee Crape Myrtle. Yes, I realize these are flowering trees, but I might be able to convince my loving fiance ;) I think they are gorgeous in purple, and they grow in zones 7-11 and up to 25-30 feet at maturity, with a wide spread as well. This would be perfect for that far back corner. I also love that they turn a beautiful bright orange in the fall. Does anyone on this forum have this in their yard in Massachusetts? Can you tell me how tall it is at maturity in this area?

As for the row trees along the side of the yard, neither of us are sure what we want to plant over there. Suggestions are welcomed!!!

Thanks everybody!

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Just a couple of quick comments:

Neither wax myrtle nor crepe myrtle, despite their somewhat misleading zone ratings, are well adapted to life in MA even in a Z7 area. They are likely to suffer from extensive dieback each winter and will never look like they do in the South.

All trees except for sterile hybrids bloom. How messy their spent flowers are varies from species to species but should not present any sort of problem on a lawn that is mowed.

No tree or any other plant for that matter, stops growing when it reaches its mature height.

Good local nurseries, your County Extension Service, state agriculture department, UMass are great sources for information about trees that will do well in your particular area and meet or partially meet your criteria.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 5:13AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

How about something like acer gresium, paperbark maple? I havr never seen a large one and they have interesting bark. Mine does not pit on much of a show in the fall and seems cold hardy but somewhat slow growing.

Redbuds? I should know their scientific name there are a dozen between me and a neighbir here. They have a bit of a yellow fall color but do flower. No big magnolia type petals. Their seed pods do not seem to bother any of my neighbor's dogs.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 9:12AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

how about a pergola patio setup ...

create your own shade and privacy ... immediately ....

all of your wants and needs.. seems to make just about any plant fail in the long run ...

do understand.. that no tree ever really stops growing ... and the ones that limit out lowish.. take decades to get tall ... and ones that get tall fast .. arent going to stop at some magical height ...

we all want the perfect tree.. for any given situation ... rarely does anyone find it ...

good luck ...


ps: you cracked me up.. how many times you worked the word 'fiancee' into the post... congrats.. i remember those days ... lol

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 9:51AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

mainegrower is quite correct; although if your heart is really set on a Crape Myrtle you should check with the Polly Hill arboretum to see if any cutlivar or more like species (i'm thinking a very hardy selection of L. fauriei *might* be floating around out there) had matured there and remains reliable mature. With a smaller yard (it would be different if you had several acres for a mini-arboretum) you do NOT want a shade tree that will potentially die back every 5-10 years.

"During the hot, humid, sunny days of summer, this is not very pleasant. " - on Cape Cod!? My God! If only you knew what unpleasant really was!

Acer griseum is a good suggestion but they are slow early on, or so I understand; some hybrids of them grow faster. I think they turn yellow. I'm not sure I can recommend it in this case it but I will note that my Lacebark elm ('Allee') always turns a somewhat pale yellow, and later than other trees so that's kind of interesting. I have the impression you want something that can get fairly large fairly quickly, and the lacebark elm certainly would...but as mainegrower also said, no tree is going to get to the height you want and just stop. The lacebark might get too big for your taste.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 1:33PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Ken, I want to disagree politely. I contend while a redbud (or other tree) will never stop growing its vascular system or structure or genetics do effectively limit their height.

On the extreme and more spoken about end, think of the tiny foliage on top of both of the native redwood and sequoia. I just don't think 500 foot is physically possible out of either unless one starts growing alongside a 300 foot cliff then a branch contacts the soil and roots itself at a height of 300 feet.

My Shingle pushes out about six inches of growth a year still at 90 foot tall but stuff breaks off it all the time.

More notably, no southern magnolia in Missouri is taller than the tree listed on the big tree champion tree and there is a common height they just do not get past.

The dwarf world is different and beware of that. While the listing for a sycamore might tell me it will get 80 feet tall which is common here, many of the pines will list a ten year height. And what do you know, year 11 it will be six inches taller lol.

So I think it is safe to plant many of the smaller trees and if your yard happens to be the 1 in 10,000 best site ever for a redbud and you get the national champion in sixty years oh well lol.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 6:06PM
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beaglemom12(Zone 7a)

Thank you for that tip akamainegrower. I will definitely not plant those trees if they won't do well in Massachusetts. Definitely wouldn't want to plant something just to have to get rid of it because it didn't make it through the harsh winter.

akamainegrower and ken_adrian, I'm not sure what you mean by no tree stops growing when it reaches its mature height. If that were true we would have trees thousands of miles tall. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you? Sorry LOL

tornado3800, thank you for the suggestions. Unfortunately I don't like the look of the paperbark maple, and we don't want a tree with pink flowers, which the redbud has. :/

ken_adrian, thank you for the "congrats" :) i didn't even realize i said it that much LOL

davidrt28, it does actually get pretty hot over here in Massachusetts in the summer time, with temps often up in the 80s but "feels like" temp in the 90s, due to the super high humidity. Yesterday I didn't even want to go outside because the air was so thick and humid, it was difficult to breathe. Although, I would much rather have this weather than the bitter cold temps of winter with its cloudy, dreary skies. The lacebark elm would probably get too tall for us, but thank you for the suggestion. :) We have solar panels on the roof we don't want to block the sun from shining on them.

We still are not sure what we want to plant in the corner and middle of the back fence, but we think we found a tree to plant in a row along the side fence... the Crimson Pointe. What are your thoughts on that? I looked it up, and it grows in our zone, meets our criteria for "mature height", and my fiance likes it a lot, even though it flowers (finally one we both like). We would plant several in a row for privacy on the side from the two-story neighboring house. Does anyone know what the growth rate is like for a Crimson Pointe? I attached a picture of a row of them I found online.

Thanks so much for all the tips and suggestions everybody :)

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 6:49PM
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beaglemom12(Zone 7a)

I'm not sure how to upload more than one photo in a post, but here are some more pictures of my backyard, I figure that might help. I took these photos at about 6 PM, and all are at eye-level standing up. This first one is our "lovely" view of the two-story house on the side of us.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 6:58PM
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beaglemom12(Zone 7a)

And here is our "lovely" view of the house behind us. We can see right into his kitchen window the second we step out the back door onto our patio. That is the 3-pane window on the right. We really want a tree there to block this guy's kitchen window. His wife has called out to me to talk to me while I was in my backyard and she was in her kitchen. It was quite awkward...

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 7:02PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Trees don't ever actually STOP growing. However, they will slow down a LOT once they reach a "mature" height.

A tree that might grow 3-4 feet per year when it's 10 years old might only put on 2" per year when it's 150.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 10:11PM
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Redbuds are and excellent suggestion. The flowers are not a problem as the will sift into the lawn and not need raking. You may want to look into a variety of Tulip tree called Emerald City. It is a lower growing type of this American native. Consider also the tree lilac Syringa reticulate. It does bloom, but like the Redbud, the flowers are small enough not to need raking. There are also varieties of Honey Locust that will stay small.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 4:30PM
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I stole this from another poster on another post, but it is a good one. Thornless Honey Locust, Gleditsia Trithancos.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 8:01PM
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Be mindful an evergreen perhaps could be limbed up a bit (once the plant was taller & larger, and could spare the limbs), so the foliage wouldn't have to come down to the ground. This fact may open up some possibilities for you.

I don't know what grows well in your area. Trident Maple is somewhat similar to Paperbark Maple, from what I've read.

If you decided the budge on the height concern, fastigiate European Hornbeam might be a nice looking tree.

As for flowers falling on the lawn, not all flowers are created equal. Compare the flower or similar structure of a Magnolia with a Dogwood or Redbud and see what I mean.


Here is a link that might be useful: Fastigiate European Hornbeam

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 10:01PM
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