We’re often asked to recommend fast-growing shade trees. People with new homes on open ground often want to establish shade trees quickly. Often an established tree has been removed, leaving a big sunny spot where there was once shade. The desire for “instant shade” on a budget often leads to choosing trees that won’t be successful long term. While fast-growing trees such as Silver Maple can be cheaper to buy in the beginning, we see many families spending hundreds and even thousands over the years to have the trees “trimmed” or ultimately removed.
Some of the fastest growing trees are also the shortest lived, and can come with built-in shortcomings. Examples include Catalpa, Box Elder, Silver Maple, hybrid Poplar and willow. These trees can be the messiest, disease-prone, and most attractive to pests. They tend to break easily in wind and ice storms, and can have invasive root systems that heave sidewalks and clog sewer lines.
The fact remains that sometimes we aren’t willing to wait for hard maples, oaks and other “blue chip” shade trees to grow, and want results faster. For these situations we typically recommend the London Planetree, a cousin of the American Sycamore that grows along creeks and ponds here in Adams County. Like the Sycamore, London Planes have attractive mottled white bark, but they don’t drop messy fruit and are more disease resistant than their cousins.
London Planes can grow 3 to 5 feet per year, developing rapidly into a handsome pyramidal shape. They are amazingly tolerant of compacted soil and clay, and can survive extremes of wet and dry in almost any type of soil. They prefer full sun.
London Planetree Characteristics
Height: 70 feet
Spread: 50 feet
Life span: Moderate to long
Soil Requirement: Any Soil
Moisture Requirement: Wet or Dry
Pruning Requirement: Needs little pruning
Limb breakage: resistant
Uses: Parking lot shade, street tree, shade in open areas, reclamation
Weaknesses: Leaf drop in drought
Silver Maple Characteristics
Height: 70 feet
Spread: 45 feet
Life span: Long-lived on moist sites
Soil Requirement: Prefers acid soil
Moisture Requirement: Prefers moist soil
Pruning Requirement: Needs frequent pruning
Limb breakage: susceptible
Uses: Shade in open areas, reclamation
Weaknesses: Invasive surface roots, seedlings, pest susceptible
If what you’re really looking for is a more compact shade tree, there are plenty of shade trees you can depend on never to grow larger than 25 or 30 feet tall and wide. In fact, there are trees available in almost any dimension you have room for in your yard. Rather than “trim” trees constantly to keep them compact, start with a tree that naturally grows to the shape and size you want! A professional nurseryman can match the right tree with the conditions and requirements you have.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in outdoor living spaces. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.
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