11 Best Easy To Plant Shade Trees For Your Backyard

Beautiful red maple tree for shade in yard

There’s not much that’s better than sitting under a shady tree on a warm summer day. The leaves make a pleasant rustle as a cool breeze trickles by, and the warm rays of the sun dapple the ground. What’s not easy is picking the right shade tree for your backyard.

Generally, easy to plant shade trees for your backyard should be fast-growing, hardy, and offer plenty of shade.

Trees such as the tulip tree, linden tree, various oaks, and sycamore trees check those boxes! You don’t want a tree that makes a mess, has invasive roots or can be felled by a slight breeze.

While there are literally hundreds of trees you can choose from, not all of them make great shade trees. Even though they are sold at the nursery, it doesn’t mean they are well-behaved trees.

In this list, we have 11 easy-to-plant shade trees that require very little maintenance once they are established, and won’t become a nuisance.

Just to add – when you shop using links from Tree Journey, we may earn affiliate commissions if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

1. Tulip Trees Are The Fast-Growing Giant

A close up of the leaves and flowers of a tulip tree, with many star-shaped green leaves and light yellow tulip-shaped flowers.
Hardiness Zones4 to 9
Best Soil TypeMoist, well-drained. Hardy once established
Average Height70 to 80’ tall
Average Spread40 to 50’ wide

When you have a lot of open space and you’re looking for a tree that can drop some shade quickly, the tulip tree has you covered. Sometimes called tulip poplar, yellow poplar, or whitewood, this tree is actually in the family of magnolia trees.

These trees are so named because of the light yellow or orange, to cream-colored flowers they produce that look much like the popular spring bulbs.

In the spring, these flowers create an interesting contrast against the broad, dark green leaves.

These trees attract plenty of birds, squirrels, and pollinators. You’ll help out the local ecology when you plant these trees.

Tulip Poplars Grow Quickly And Get Big

Tulip trees can grow over two feet per year, meaning in ten years, you’ll have a tree that’s over 20 feet tall. They will keep this incredible growth rate for most of their lives. You’ll need a lot of space for these trees though because they can get quite tall.

These trees usually grow to 70 or 80 feet tall with a wide canopy that can stretch out over 50 feet.

They have shallow roots that can be difficult to mow around and can make it challenging to plant under them.

But we understand wanting a tree with which roots won’t be a problem! Head on over to our article about shade trees that won’t give you root problems, to help you find find the right tree for you!

Tulip Trees Are Very Low Maintenance

The tulip tree grows with a single trunk and many branches that shoot off the main trunk. Because of this habit, it won’t require much in the way of trimming. The most you’ll have to do is just trim off dried-up, no longer viable limbs.

Tulip poplars are also very healthy trees. Most insects and illnesses don’t bother messing with these giants.

With that comes one exception, aphids.

Aphids Are Problematic For Tulip Trees

Aphids like to attack tulip trees, but they rarely do much damage. The tree is such a quick-growing and strong tree that it can easily shrug off an aphid infestation and grow back better the next year.

The biggest problem you’ll have from the aphids is the honeydew they drop as they are feeding.

The aphids can cause tiny, sticky droplets to fall everywhere underneath the tree’s canopy.

Uses For Tulip Tree Lumber

During the United States’ early, formative years, the tulip tree was used by pioneers to build houses and barns.

Now, these trees are mostly used for plywood, timber, furniture, and cabinets to name a few uses.

Where To Plant Tulip Trees

As we have already established, tulip trees get massive. You won’t want to plant these trees in most urban settings. You will need to give the tulip tree plenty of space so it can spread without competition.

Keep it away from fences, outbuildings, and of course your house. You’ll also have to pick a nice sunny spot because these trees are sun lovers. When they grow with other trees, they try to shoot up past all the others, if they don’t they will end up suffering and becoming unhealthy.

2. Linden Trees Are Great For Honey And Bees

Hardiness Zones3 to 8
Best Soil TypePrefers well-drained moist soil but tolerates most soil types
Average Height50 to 60 feet
Average Spread20 to 40 feet

Linden trees have been popular trees in landscapes for many years.

When these trees are planted in urban neighborhoods, they fill the streets with a sweet perfume in early summer.

Many species of these trees have romantic-looking heart-shaped leaves. Pair these leaves with the fragrant flowers and you have a wonderful summer picnic tree.

Bees Love Linden Trees

In the wild, when linden trees reach the end of their lifecycle, the hollows are often filled with honeybees and heavy combs filled with sweet honey.

Bees also love flowers because of how much nectar they can gather from the large trees. Even lumber is often used to make the frames for beehives.

Linden Tree flowers are also used in the perfume industry and can make delicious tea. Check out Buddha Teas Organic Linden Tea for a floral, sweet-tasting tea that’s as relaxing as chamomile.

To sweeten your linden tea, try out Breitsamer Honig Linden Raw Honey. This honey is light, very sweet, and may have hints of peppermint hiding in its unique bouquet. Use this linden flower honey to sweeten your teas and pastries, or simply load it onto warm, freshly baked bread.

Linden Trees Can Tolerate Tough Conditions

These trees grow so well in urban landscapes because they can tolerate the most punishing conditions once established.

They love moist, well-draining soil, but as long as they are cared for during the first year or two after planting, they can grow well in poor soil, and deal with plenty of pollution.

They are medium to large trees, growing up to 60 feet tall and spreading up to 40 feet wide, but they can be trimmed to maintain compact growth.

The wood and branches are tough and springy meaning they tolerate even the strongest of winds. Linden trees, even though they grow pretty large, rarely fall over or lose branches in heavy storms.

More Benefits To Linden Trees

These trees can grow from 18 to 24 inches in a year. You’ll end up with a strong, fragrant, hardy shade tree in a few years.

The linden tree doesn’t have a super dense canopy. It actually lets in a little bit of sunlight, enough to let some grasses grow without a problem.

If you don’t want to worry about what can grow underneath your trees, the linden tree lets you grow shady grasses easily.

One major downside to linden trees is that they can get QUITE messy.

Japanese Beetles Are Sometimes A Problem

There aren’t many pests that bother the linden tree once it’s established.

You may have to deal with Japanese beetles when the tree is young, and aphids tend to like the linden tree. These pests are relatively easy to deal with, and once the tree is a few years old, it can handle these insects without problems.

The linden tree puts on a bright yellow display in the fall. It’s a pretty tree in the spring, produces fragrant showy flowers in the summer, then produces a bright yellow show in autumn. This is one easy-to-grow shade tree that puts on a show three seasons out of four.

3. Sycamore Trees Has Unique Camouflage Bark

A sycamore tree in autumn with yellowish orange leaves on the branches and scattered on the forest floor.
Hardiness Zones5 to 9
Best Soil TypeRich, loamy soil
Average Height40 to 100 feet
Average Spread40 to 70 feet

The American sycamore tree can be found as far north as New Hampshire and Ontario, Canada, and as far south as Florida and Texas. Through western spread, you can find varieties of sycamore trees in Nebraska and even in states such as Arizona and New Mexico.

Other names for the American sycamore include American plane tree, buttonwood, and water beech. The most distinguishing features of this tree are the mottled camouflage-looking bark and the seed balls that hang on the tree until mid-winter.

When trees grow, the outer protective covering—the bark—has to stretch and fill in to keep the growing layers covered. On the American sycamore, the bark is unable to stretch, so it sloughs off in pieces and grows back. When it does this, it gives the tree its camouflaged look.

Older sycamores can grow into massive trees with wide trunks. The trunks on sycamores usually split into secondary trunks a few feet above the ground, with branches and leaves high up.

They can grow up to 70 to 100 feet tall, with a spread from 60 feet to 80 feet wide under optimal conditions.

Sycamore’s wide leaves look similar to sugar maple leaves, and some varieties of this tree drop the “whirligig” seed pods called samaras. This is because the sycamore is a genus from the maple tree family.

A Sycamore Tree Is Perfect If You Have A Lot Of Space

The growth pattern of the American sycamore tree starts off looking rather pyramidal, but over time, the tree spreads out forming a rounded, but irregular crown of deep shade.

If you have a large space needing a ton of shade, the sycamore tree may be the one for you.

Sycamore trees usually grow up to two feet per year under ideal conditions and can live for hundreds of years.

If you plant one of these trees in your yard, it will be there for generations.

Cool Shade With A Habitat For Wildlife

If you love to watch wildlife, then you should plant a few sycamore trees. These trees support an abundance of birds, beneficial insects, and other wildlife.

Many birds including chickadees, finches, and dark-eyed juncos eat sycamore seeds. Other birds that like to frequent these trees include the large pileated woodpecker and barred owls. These two big birds eat pests like mice and harmful insects.

Being that sycamore trees are related to maple trees, they produce a sweet sap that many woodpeckers enjoy.

Along with the seed and insect-eating birds, you’ll probably end up with numerous woodpeckers as well.

Sycamore Trees Attract Insects As Well

Sycamore trees tend to attract aphids, but this also brings in aphid predators such as ladybugs and hoverflies.

Hoverflies look and sometimes act like wasps, but they are harmless, and actually are beneficial insects.

Of course, squirrels love sycamore trees too. They will nest in the hollows, and eat the seeds, so if you love watching the antics of these acrobatic critters, you’ll get plenty of enjoyment as they skitter through the mass of leaves and branches.

You’ll Need Lots Of Space For Sycamore Trees

These trees are often planted in residential areas along streets and in parks and recreation areas.

They are tolerant of pollution, wind, and poor, compacted soils, so they make great shade trees in areas where other trees would struggle.

These trees are also used to help control soil erosion and shore up hillsides and near wetlands. The wide, spreading roots help to anchor soil and hillsides.

They are often found in wetlands, so if you wanted to help control erosion near a stream or river, a sycamore might be the perfect tree.

Since they can become so large, they need a lot of space to truly spread out. You’ll want to make sure you don’t have any buildings, sidewalks, or septic systems nearby when you plant these trees. Their roots can extend well beyond the canopy and will raise sidewalks and walking paths, or clog septic drain lines.

Though if you have a wide open area that requires shade, or you’re having trouble keeping your soil from getting washed away every time it sprinkles, think about the sycamore.

Sycamore Pests And Problems

One insect that can cause damage and stress to even the mighty sycamore tree is the sycamore leaf beetle. It is a small, black, bumpy insect that often resembles animal droppings.

Often these insects don’t bother healthy sycamore trees, so if you happen to see these pests, it may be because your tree is already stressed.

Luckily, unless it’s a severe infestation, this nasty-looking bug doesn’t cause much harm to the tree. While they are feeding on the leaves, it can look unattractive, but they usually make a full comeback the next year.

Anthracnose Is A Common Sycamore Tree Problem

Sycamore anthracnose is a serious illness that can disfigure these trees.

Anthracnose is caused by a fungus that affects tree leaves. It usually spreads by wind and rain when infected spores are passed from one tree to another.

Anthracnose causes defoliation. The trees that contract this disease typically drop their leaves and grow new ones. Anthracnose shows up as damage to the veins of the leaves which can spread to small twigs. This can cause shoot blight and cankers along small branches.

Anthracnose fungus tends to break out when prolonged mild temperatures are met with a wet and rainy season. The fungus tends to clear up if the average daily temperature is above 60° F (15° C).

Sycamore Trees May Require Some Clean-Up

Since sycamore trees can get so large, they will drop a lot of leaves in the fall. These leaves can get rather large as well. Meaning if you typically bag up your leaves every fall, a sycamore tree is going to require a lot of extra raking time.

However, if you simply let the leaves decompose, or you mulch them into your yard, you’ll create some extra nutrients for these trees, which could help to keep them healthier.

You may want to wait until early spring or late winter before you start your clean-up of sycamore trees. The seed balls like to hang around until mid to late winter.

If you like to naturalize your landscape though, sycamore trees are beneficial trees to lots of wildlife.

4. Elm Trees Are Making A Comeback Across America

An elm tree in autumn with yellowish orange leaves on the branches and scattered on the forest floor.
Hardiness Zones4 to 9
Best Soil TypeTolerates most soils
Average Height40 to 60 feet
Average Spread30 to 50 feet

Early in the 20th century, millions of elm trees were planted across residential areas. Elm trees are fast-growing, shade trees that can tolerate nearly any soil condition, no matter how poor. They also seem to thrive along polluted streets while helping to clean the air.

By the 1960s, cities, and counties across America were tasked with removing sickly and failing elms because they were struck with a fatal fungus. Dutch elm disease was introduced by the European elm bark beetle when it crossed the ocean from infected trees.

For decades, elm trees seemed to be on the decline because of the one-two punch of beetle and fungus, but with the hybridization of the elm tree with resistant species, the American elm is making a comeback.

You can now find dozens of insect and fungus-resistant elm species at many nurseries!

Are Elm Trees Right For You?

Elm trees exemplify the “set it and forget it” mentality. Once you plant it in the ground, you can very nearly just sit back and watch it grow.

Elm trees can grow in nearly any soil condition. They will thrive in heavy clay soils, just as well as they will grow in sandy, fast-draining dirt. As long as they find ample water, these trees can grow up to six feet in a year!

In a very short time, and with very little maintenance you will have a large, robust shade tree.

They Are Pretty Low-Maintenance

These trees don’t require trimming, but if you need to take some off the sides and top, they take very well to heavy pruning.

Most varieties of elm trees have small leaves and small seeds, so there is very little cleanup, even when they drop all their leaves in the fall.

It’s just not recommended to plant them near drain lines, sidewalks, or buildings because the roots will cause damage near these structures.

How Big Do Elm Trees Get?

Elm trees reach an average size between 40 to 60 feet tall, but they have been known to reach over 100 feet in height.

Their canopy spreads out widely, often in a pleasing, shade-forming, fountain shape.

Depending on how tall elm trees grow, the canopy can spread as wide as 80 feet.

The trunks on these trees often consist of several smaller trunks fused together or branching off from the main trunk. You’ll want to give these big trees plenty of room to stretch out.

Other Elm Tree Benefits

Throughout history, the elm tree has been utilized for its lumber. The wood is strong and very flexible, despite the fast growth rate.

It’s this characteristic that makes elm wood ideal for wooden longbows. For centuries, elm trees have been used to make bows. Especially when yew trees were not available.

The lumber from elm trees has also been used for shipbuilding. The wood works well even when it stays submerged permanently. This means the bottom ridge of the boat—the keel—was often made of elm wood.

Elm Trees And Wildlife

The tiny flowers of the elm trees are very beneficial to honeybees. These also attract butterflies and moths, more beneficial pollinators that need our help.

Elm seeds provide food for many bird species such as chickadees, purple and Eastern goldfinches, as well as the rose-breasted grosbeak.

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap just under the bark of elm trees, and many other species nest in the branches.

5. Red Maples Offer Beautiful Autumn Color With Plenty Of Summer Shade

Hardiness Zones3 to 9
Best Soil TypePrefers acidic, moist soil.
Average Height40 to 70 feet
Average Spread40 to 50 feet

The red maple tree is a stunning specimen to behold in the fall. They often grace landscapes with bold crimson foliage when the days start to shorten, and the temps gradually decrease.

Red maple trees are great shade trees in the summer that can tolerate most soil types and thrive in full-sun areas.

They often have a rounded growth habit, but they can be quite variable. I have a red maple in my backyard that looks like a spade shovel head, with branches nearly touching the ground.

Other red maples grow on a tall singular trunk with big rounded canopies. It really depends on the tree itself. Though it takes well to prune if you are looking for a certain shape, just try not to cut the top off.

Requirements For Growing Red Maples

Red maple trees grow best in slightly acidic soils that are often moist.

They compete heavily with other plants for moisture. Once they are established though, the red maple is relatively drought tolerant.

While acidic, moist soil is ideal for red maples, they can and often do grow in nearly any other soil type. They like rich loamy soil, but do well in clay, and sandy soil as well. Under clay and sandy dirt, you’ll need to water them occasionally so they don’t get too dry.

Red Maples Provide Color Year Round

For an easy-to-grow shade tree that has a yearly interest, you can’t go wrong with the red maple.

In the spring the tree bursts forth with small clusters of red flowers before the tree buds.

The leaves soon follow and start off red-tinged before turning green. In the fall the leaves erupt with varying shades of red, depending on the specific variety. Even in the fall, the red maple has red branches.

Red Maple Maintenance Requirements

Red maples are fast-growing trees, they can grow from 18 to 24 inches per year. While many trees that grow this fast tend to be brittle, this isn’t the case for red maples. Their wood is still strong, and they rarely drop branches.

If you plant your red maple in lower-lying areas where water likes to accumulate, you’ll rarely have to water it. During times of drought, you will need to water your maple more frequently.

This species of maple requires very little pruning. You can let them grow how they please without needing to prune them except for branches that are no longer growing.

Most red maples don’t need much fertilization. They aren’t heavy feeders, but if you do decide to offer some supplemental feeding, just use a multi-purpose fertilizer once every couple of years.

For more information on maple trees, take a look at our article on why maple trees make amazing shade trees.

6. You Can’t Go Wrong With The Mighty Oak Tree

Hardiness Zones3 to 10 depending on species
Best Soil TypeTolerant, but likes well-draining soil
Average Height50 to 70 feet
Average SpreadCan be as wide as the tree is tall

Oak trees are some of the most popular shade trees in America for good reason. They are strong, provide plenty of shade, and are easy to grow. There are several different species to choose from.

Whether you’re looking for a tall growing straight tree, or you want a sprawling oak with broad interesting branches, there’s an oak tree for you.

In the United States alone, there are over 90 different species of an oak tree.

Oak Trees Are Notoriously Low Maintenance

Even when oak trees are young, they require little watering. As long as your area gets regular rainfall, you’ll likely not have to water your oak tree. In fact, it’s best not to over-water them because fungus and root rot can start to set in.

Even during severe dry periods, you’ll only need to water your oak tree about once or twice a month.

Unless you are trimming a young oak tree to achieve a certain shape, mature trees don’t need to be pruned. The only branches that need to be removed are the ones that are dry and brittle. This is just to make sure they don’t fall on their own.

How Fast Do Oak Trees Grow?

This depends on the species, but as a general rule, most oak trees will grow from a foot to three feet per year. When they are young, oak saplings grow much more quickly.

For the first 10 to 15 years oak trees can grow two to three feet per year, then they slow down after that.

Oak trees will continue to grow throughout their lifespan. Some oak trees can live upwards of 600 years, but the average tends to be between 100 to 200 years old.

How Messy Are Oak Trees?

All trees drop leaves, seeds, branches, or needles, so in essence, all trees are messy. Depending on the variety, oak trees can be very messy.

Live oaks for instance drop tiny leaves that are hard to remove, and the trees often are covered in Spanish moss, which can fall in large clumps.

Most oak trees drop acorns along with their leaves. While these small round or oval nuts can feed a plethora of wildlife, they can be a pain to rake up.

With that being said, most oak trees don’t start to drop acorns until they are around 20 years old.

Some oaks like red oak trees only produce acorns every two years. Then again, when the trees get much older, they tend to slow down until they stop producing altogether.

Did you know that you can grow your own oak tree from just an acorn? For a step-by-step guide on how to turn your acorn into an oak tree, check out our article on exactly that!

With the additional mess comes a tree that is extremely hardy, and needs very little in the way of care. If you don’t mind a bed of acorns and leaves, then you’ll have a shade tree that you probably won’t have to worry about for the rest of your life.

7. Ginkgo Trees Have Unique Fan-Shaped Leaves

A close up of a branch of a gingko tree, with green fan-shaped leaves growing sparsely on the branch.
Hardiness Zones4 to 9
Best Soil TypeGrows well in most soils, but can’t handle consistent hot temps
Average Height25 to 50 feet
Average Spread25 to 35 feet

Gingko trees are some of the most unique and distinctive trees around. They are instantly recognized by their broad, fan-shaped leaves and compact growth habits.

These trees seem to be made for urban habitats and can withstand most soil types. They are at home in acidic and alkaline soil, as well as sandy fast-draining soil and heavy clay soils. The ginkgo tree doesn’t let pollution or salt keep its spirits down.

The flat, fan-shaped leaves turn a golden yellow in the fall. They have a nice habit of dropping all their leaves in a short period. Unlike most deciduous trees that take months to lose all their leaves, the ginkgo likes to do things all at once.

How To Grow A Ginkgo Tree

As long as you give a ginkgo tree dirt—nearly any kind will do—water, and plenty of sunshine it will thrive. Seriously, this tree is so easy to grow, even those without “green thumbs” can.

When you first plant it, drop in a little bit of fertilizer and keep the soil moist and you will soon have a great, unique shade tree.

Once they have settled in and their roots are growing well, these trees become drought-tolerant. While they don’t do well in hot, arid climates like the Southwest, desert states can grow in many other areas that are relatively humid.

Ideal conditions for ginkgo trees are rich, loamy, well-draining soil, with regular rainfall, and at least four hours of direct sunlight.

You won’t need to prune your ginkgo either. These trees don’t grow very tall, getting to about 50 feet tall max, and they tend to stay in a compact growth habit. Some people prune their ginkgo trees to maintain a certain shape, but it’s not a necessity.

I Heard That Ginkgo Trees Stink, Is This True?

That’s right, some ginkgo trees have a notorious reputation for smelling worse than a skunk after eating too much Taco bell. Fortunately, you can avoid having your yard labeled as the “Bog of Eternal Stench” by planting male ginkgo trees.

Female ginkgo trees put out a strong aroma when they start fruiting, so plant a male tree and you avoid the ripe feet smell.

Most nurseries only sell male ginkgo trees now, and some of these trees have been bred to be sterile.

When choosing a ginkgo tree, just make sure you get a male tree. Unless that is, you’re trying to keep your neighbor from coming over to borrow your hedge clippers again.

Ginkgo Trees Have More Than Just Unique Leaves

In more ways than one, the ginkgo tree is a unique relic. They have remained unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, and are sometimes called the living fossil. Add to the fact that the ginkgo tree is literally in a class of its own, and you have a very unique shade tree.

The ginkgo tree is the last living relative of the order Ginkgoales. All the other species in this order went extinct millions of years ago. While they are cultivated all over the world now, you can truly say you have a unique tree when you plant your own ginkgo.

8. Dogwoods Are Compact But Provide Many Seasons of Beauty

Hardiness Zones3 to 8
Best Soil TypeMoisture-retentive, loamy soil
Average Height25 to 40 feet
Average Spread15 to 25 feet

In the spring and sometimes the summer, dogwood trees are instantly recognizable. They are covered in four-petaled flowers with green clusters in the middle. The flowers range in color from white, to yellow, or pink and red.

In the late fall and winter, most dogwoods produce small red berries that many bird species will eat, especially migratory birds.

Other animals that may visit your dogwood for red berries in the winter include squirrels, deer, rabbits, and possibly even black bears.

These trees don’t grow very tall but they can provide plenty of shade in small areas. They also show off pleasing colors most of the year. For a full list of smaller-sized shade trees, make sure to head on over to our article about the fastest-growing small shade trees, for a smaller outdoor space!

Requirements For Healthy Dogwood Trees

These trees don’t typically like full sunlight. Instead, they prefer morning sun and afternoon shade.

Luckily you can plant these on the northern or eastern side of your house to meet those requirements. Dogwoods don’t get very tall, so they don’t need to be planted as far away from your house as an oak tree, plus, you don’t have to prune them often.

Dogwoods will need supplemental watering during dry periods, but they don’t do well in low-lying wet areas. Making sure it’s watered regularly is the most care your dogwood will need.

Dogwoods Are Great Shade Trees For Small Spaces

Most dogwood trees only grow to about 20 to 30 feet tall and spread 10 to 20 feet wide.

Though under the best growing conditions, they can reach heights of 40 feet or more and get as wide as 25 feet, most will not get that big.

Dogwood trees have a moderate growth rate. They grow between one to two feet per year. It may take longer to get a good base of shade from a dogwood, but the spring flowers might make up for the wait.

If you don’t have several acres to plant giant oak trees, elms, or other looming giants, you might want to opt for a dainty, unassuming dogwood tree.

9. Ash Trees Are Under Attack

Hardiness Zones2 to 9
Best Soil TypeGrows well in most soil types
Average Height50 to 80 feet
Average Spread40 to 50 feet

Ash trees are remarkable trees that grow tall and wide. They tolerate nearly any soil type and don’t need much in the way of care. The big problem is they are under attack by an introduced beetle that is quickly decimating ash tree numbers.

Because of the Emerald Ash borer, an insect that was brought over from Asia, these trees are not recommended in many states.

The adult beetle bores into the tree and lays its eggs. When they hatch, the larvae tunnel through the living tree tissue. When this living tissue is severely damaged, the trees eventually cease to live.

For a more in-depth look at why ash trees make amazing shade trees – head on over to our article!

Where Can Ash Trees Grow?

If you have dirt on your property, and you live in zone 2 through 9, then you can probably grow ash trees. Ash trees prefer rich, moist, loamy soil, but they can do well in clay, sand, and compact soil, and they can survive in slow-draining wet soil.

It doesn’t matter if your soil is acidic, alkaline, or neutral, an ash tree can handle it. As long as this tree gets plenty of sunshine and water, it can grow nearly anywhere.

The only care this tree need is to be watered during long dry spells. There is no pruning needed unless you are removing non-growing branches. Just keep a close eye on it for the emerald ash borer.

Recognizing Emerald Ash Borer Damage

There are several symptoms related to this beetle. The leaves and branches can begin to fade away before the fall, you may notice a lot of woodpeckers or a lot of growth at the base of the tree.

The most significant sign is small ⅛” to ¼” D-shaped holes.

These are exit holes from the beetle after it has evolved from the larval stage. If you see these holes, you might want to call an arborist to confirm.

Sometimes, your ash tree might succumb to pests or other ailments. If you are worried about your ash tree, take a look at our article on the 5 reasons you may have to cut down your ash tree.

Ash Tree Benefits

Aside from showering you with cool shade in the hot summer months, these trees provide shelter and food for many animals. They can even feed tadpoles if they are planted near a water source.

Ash trees can be gorgeous in the fall. The leaves start to turn yellow, and continue to darken to orange, maroon, and then a deep purple color. It’s really an amazing show.

These trees are quick-growing specimens. The fastest species of ash, the green ash tree, can grow over two feet per year. If you’re planting these trees from seed, that means in ten years you could have a tree that’s over 20 feet tall.

Ash lumber is strong as well as flexible. That’s why it’s such an important wood for making baseball bats, hockey sticks, oars, bows, and much more.

10. Dawn Redwoods Are The Dinosaurs Of The Trees

Hardiness Zones5 to 8
Best Soil TypeDeep, rich loam
Average Height40 to 100 feet
Average Spread20 to 30 feet

Dawn redwood fossils have been found in North America, right along the dinosaurs. These prehistoric trees were even thought to have been extinct until they were rediscovered.

According to the University of Kentucky, the dawn redwood was thought extinct for over 5 million years.

Though it was rediscovered in 1944 in China in the Szechwan Province. For two years scientists were unable to explore due to the war, but in 1946 a grove of over 1000 redwoods was found.

Not As Big As California Redwoods

The dawn redwood won’t get as tall as the giant California Redwoods which can easily reach heights over 300 feet tall. The dawn redwood tops out at a mere 100 feet tall and about 25 feet wide. They have a pyramidal growth, the bottom is wide and it gets smaller the higher it goes.

These trees that grew alongside the dinosaurs are fast-growing trees. They can quickly grow to 20 to 40 feet tall and give you over 20 feet of direct shade.

The Deciduous Tree That Resembles An Evergreen

While this tree grows and looks much like an evergreen tree, it will drop its leaves in the fall.

Even the small, soft leaves look like short pine needles, and the dawn redwood is a conifer. It grows small, green, round cones that house the seeds.

The Dawn Redwood Requires Little Care

This tree works well in urban settings where pollution can be higher and is often found along neighborhood streets. Aside from the small cones they drop, the tiny needle-like leaves require no cleanup, so they work well along walking paths and streets.

You won’t need to prune this tree as it grows nearly straight up, and in a conical canopy shape. The only pruning would be to remove old limbs that no longer leaf out.

They prefer deep, well-drained soil, but are tolerant of clay, and some flooding. The dawn redwood, once established, retains some drought tolerance.

11. Magnolia Trees Are The Sweet-Smelling Southern Evergreen

Full branches of pink and white magnolia flower blossoms fill the lower frame of the image with a  blue sky and thin white clouds behind.
Hardiness Zones5 to 9
Best Soil TypeSlightly acidic loam
Average Height20 to 70
Average Spread20 to 40 feet

The only evergreen on our list today shows up with plenty of extra benefits. In the spring you can smell the sweet fragrance of the large blooms of the magnolia tree. While most magnolia flowers are creamy white, they also come in yellow, pink, or purple colors.

Magnolia trees are moderate to slow-growing trees. Depending on the variety, they can grow no larger than tall shrubs, or soar up to 70 feet in the air. They can spread up to 40 feet wide, offering you plenty of space to hang out in the shade.

Magnolia Trees Don’t Need Pruning

Unless you are looking for a certain shape, or the limbs are severely damaged, magnolia trees don’t need pruning.

Just let them grow and they will spread out and offer plenty of shade.

I have seen Southern magnolia trees stretch out so far the limbs reached the ground and then rooted to grow more trees.

Words simply can do such a sight justice. But it made for a wonderfully cool hideout in the heat of the Southern summer.

Different Varieties Of Magnolia Trees

While some trees, the Southern magnolia, in particular, is an evergreen tree, others are deciduous.

Most of them make great, easy-to-grow shade trees, regardless if they keep their leaves during the winter or not.

The Southern magnolia tree is the tree with the dark, olive green to almost black, broad, thick, and waxy leaves most of us know. While these trees are iconic, and reminiscent of slow, southern summers, they can be a little messy.

A few of the thick leaves drop throughout the year, but most of the previous year’s leaves drop in the spring. Then in the summer, after the flowers are finished, the tree drops the large seed pods. These trees can require a bit of cleanup if you’re trying to keep a tidy yard.

What Kind Of Soil Is Best For Southern Magnolias?

While this tree would prefer rich, well-draining, acidic, loamy soil, most of the time they are stuck growing in thick red clay. Which they tolerate very well.

Magnolia trees can also stand some flooding, but they won’t do so well in constantly wet soil.

They can take the heat, and are drought tolerant, as their natural habitat can be quite dry at times. Just be sure to give it some water during extended dry spells to keep this tree happy and provide you with plenty of shade.

How To Care For Backyard Shade Trees

Now that you have your shade tree picked out, let’s go over how to plant them and make sure they are around for generations to come.

A little bit of prep goes a long way with these trees. All of these trees are easy to care for and require little care once they are in the ground, but the planting part is vitally important.

Aside from the dogwood tree, the others on this list should be planted in a spot that gets plenty of sunlight. These trees will need at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Looking for some southern exposure will usually give your tree enough light.

Plus, if you are looking specifically for fast-growing shade trees, make sure to head on over to our article about the best, and fastest-growing trees for shade!

Make Sure They Have Space

You generally want to plant trees at least 25 feet away from any structure, especially your house. For some of the larger trees here, I’d recommend giving them even more space. When a tree can grow over 50 feet in the air, and spread as wide or more, planting them close is just asking for trouble.

Limbs can fall, or the tree can be knocked over during storms, so be sure to give them plenty of space. Even the strongest trees can be felled by Mother Nature.

Be mindful of sidewalks, driveways, pools, and septic systems. Some trees have shallow roots that can lift concrete causing trip hazards, or have roots that can infiltrate drain lines in their search for water.

Prep The Ground Where You’re Planting Your Tree

You may already know to dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball, but while you’re prepping the hole, have some soil additives ready to add to the hole if you have dense or sandy soil.

Most trees, when they are starting out, need a lot of nutrients to get established.

Make Sure To Dig Proper Sized Holes

When digging holes for your future shade trees, you need a strong shovel able to handle compacted soil, rocks, roots, and whatever else is buried in the ground.

That’s why the Bully Tools 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel will get the job done every time. It has a fiberglass handle and a thick, reinforced shovel head for the toughest of jobs.

Add Peat Moss!

Adding peat moss, or other soil amendments helps to hold moisture and offers plenty of organic matter for your young, growing tree.

You might also want to add a little bit of all-purpose fertilizer to the hole just to give the roots an extra boost.

Water Before Planting

I like to water the hole before dropping it in the tree, but after adding soil amendments and fertilizer.

Fill the hole about halfway full of water, then mix up the dirt with your shovel, then put your tree in the hole and backfill it with dirt.

This makes sure the rootball gets plenty of water, and doesn’t run off instead of soaking into the ground.

Be Careful With The Trunk

When planting your new tree, be sure to keep the new soil level with the root ball.

Don’t bury the trunk deeper into the ground. If the base of the tree is surrounded by dirt and moisture, you might be inviting fungal infections.

The same goes for mulch. Mulch is a great additive to help keep moisture in the soil around your new tree, and keeps the roots cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. Just be sure to leave a few inches free of mulch around the trunk of the tree.

Water Your Sapling

For a year or two after you have planted your tree, make sure it gets plenty of water. For the first couple of weeks, you may want to water your tree daily.

After two weeks, water your tree about two to three times per week, and then once a week for the next year or two.

When watering trees, garden vegetables, or flowers, soaker hoses are your best friend. Spraying the leaves and flowers can cause sun spots, and splashing the dirt up onto the plant can spread infections, so soaking the ground is the best way to water.

With the Holldoor 1/2’’ Soaker Hose, you won’t have to worry when you water your shade trees.

Wrapping It Up

When looking for an easy-to-grow shade tree that shoots up fast, you have several choices. Depending on how much space you have, the amount of cleanup, and your overall appearance, you can’t go wrong with these trees:

  • Linden
  • Ginkgo
  • Dawn Redwood
  • Oak trees
  • Ash
  • Tulip tree
  • Sycamore
  • Elm
  • Southern Magnolia
  • Dogwood
  • Red maple

Each of these trees needs very little care once the roots are nice and established. Most don’t care what kind of soil they grow in, and many are drought-tolerant. Don’t wait for Arbor day to plant a tree, pick a few out and get to planting!


Herms, Daniel A., and Deborah G. McCullough. “Emerald ash borer invasion of North America: history, biology, ecology, impacts, and management.” Annual review of entomology 59.1 (2014): 13-30.

Hubbes, Martin. “The American elm and Dutch elm disease.” The Forestry Chronicle 75.2 (1999): 265-273.

Gressitt, J. Linsley. “The California Academy-Lingnan dawn-redwood expedition.” Arnoldia 58.4/1 (1998): 35-39.

Major, Randolph T. “The ginkgo, the most ancient living tree: the resistance of Ginkgo biloba L. to pests accounts in part for the longevity of this species.” Science 157.3794 (1967): 1270-1273.

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