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Make your summer a shade cooler this year

A bench under this shade tree becomes inviting in the heat of summer.
A bench under this shade tree becomes inviting in the heat of summer.
Photo by Jane Gates

What’s the most Eco-friendly, long-lasting and beautiful way to make your home and garden cooler this summer? Plant a tree. This can also be the most cost-efficient way to add shade to your garden as the shade will grow year after year as your tree matures.

Trees have been the most reliable solution for staying cool since civilization began. There are many different kinds of trees that can add color and form – even flowers, fruit or nuts -- to your landscape. In hot summer areas even the wildlife knows to seek the shade of a tree, and in cold winters, deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves) allow warming sun to penetrate. Planting a shade tree to lessen the heat of summer sun directly on your house can even save you about ten percent on your air conditions bills. Whether you want your tree to turn colors in the autumn, put on a show of blooms, underscore a theme garden, be a romantic place for sitting or picnicking – or be used for any other purpose -- here are some tips that will help you grow the best shade tree possible for your yard.

Think about the space where you want to plant your shade tree. Take into consideration the time of the year and how shadows will move. Plant your tree where the shade will be of most benefit at the hottest time of summer. (Tip: the south and west facing sides of any structure will receive the most intense sunshine.)

Other things to consider are how the tree will grow, look and behave. When a young tree is planted it will be small and compact, but it may look much different when it matures. Do your research so you know what your tree will look like in the future and plant as if the tree were full size. Ask yourself some questions. Does your location have shade or sun? What kind of soil or drainage does your planting area offer? And can the space you are planting accommodate both the overhead span and the underground root system of the tree you want to plant when it reaches its mature, full size? Planting the right tree in the right spot will make for a healthy, happy and low-maintenance asset to your garden, while providing the best shade-cover possible.

Decide if you want deciduous (trees that drop their leaves in the autumn) or evergreen. Not only are the looks different but care will vary. All trees shed their leaves but the deciduous ones do it all at once. Litter can be a consideration. If you are planting a tree near a swimming pool or a pond, you will want minimal leaf and flower drop. Trees will always shed leaves, flowers, seeds and bark, but some are more prolific than others. Heavy-flowering trees, large petals and large leaves will create more litter. Even evergreen trees can create a lot of litter. Pines are particularly generous at dropping needles. So select trees for these areas that will create the minimum work to keep clean. Also beware of flowers and fruit that can be sticky or stain where surfaces below can be damaged, like parked cars, seating areas or walkways you want to keep clean.

Some trees offer a choice of fruiting or fruitless varieties like the mulberry or olive tree. Some offer sweet scents and fruit like citrus trees. Fruit trees and flowering trees can put on brilliant shows of colorful blooms. Some trees turn blazing colors for an autumn show. So long as these trees grow tall enough, they can all keep you cool in the heat of summer. Smaller trees can be planted in small groups to cast more shade.

Plant your young tree in the right location and keep it well watered. Most trees don’t like to be kept wet just on the surface so make sure moisture reaches the lowest roots.

If you select a tree that will grow well in your garden space and guide its growth by judicious pruning, it should grow into a sturdy, low-maintenance source of shade. A well-planted shade tree will make the summer a shade cooler for you and your pets. It will also help clean the air of pollutants, attract birds and butterflies and add beauty to your property. A happy, healthy shade tree can become one of your best landscape investments.


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