Shade Trees Pay for Themselves


There’s a reason that old farmhouses are surrounded by mature shade trees. After a day in the fields, farm families could retire to a cool house. In the days before air conditioning, farm wives could work in relative comfort if there were big trees casting a pool of shade on the house and farmyard all summer.

I’m one of those people who will go out of my way to park under a tree on a hot day. I’m happy to walk a little further just so that my car isn’t an oven when I get into it. Those hot seats can burn if you’re wearing shorts – OUCH! Then it takes a while just to cool off the interior, with the air conditioning full blast. All of this eats quite a bit of energy, which ultimately costs money.

Think for a moment about the typical house, sitting in the sun on a hot summer day. With the sun beating down, siding and brick can become too hot to touch. No matter how well insulated, any home becomes an oven in the broiling sun. So do schools, factories and commercial buildings. So we equip them with central air conditioning that runs all day and night to compensate, and lock ourselves into stale air, white noise, recurring utility and maintenance costs indefinitely.

On a hot afternoon there can easily be a twenty degree temperature difference between full sun and dense shade under a big tree. Think about that. Creating that kind of coolness artificially costs real money, day after day and year after year. Suppose you simply placed a tree where, as it grows, it casts a pool of shade on your home during the hottest part of the afternoon? How much would that cost to do? Each year it would grow and so would the pool of shade.

We have a London Plane tree in our front yard that we planted in 1998, specifically to shade our house, porch and front yard in the afternoon. It took a few years for it to grow, but the change in our comfort level from this single tree is dramatic. When we get home from work in the evening our front porch is cool and comfortable, and so is our house. A whole-house fan is all we need to keep the house comfortable most days, so our house is open to the sounds and scents of the outdoors.

It’s easy to find reasons why not to plant shade trees. Raking leaves is tedious. Mowing around trees is too much trouble. For a little perspective on these objections consult your checkbook. Cooling your house gets more expensive each year with no end in sight.

We’ve heard all the horror stories about trees falling over on houses or blowing down in windstorms or heaving the sidewalk. All we can say is that there are some obvious mistakes to avoid when selecting and planting trees. A big one is selecting “fast-growing” junk trees like silver maple, which eat up any potential energy saving with expenses for “trimming” and removal. Trees should be thoughtfully selected and located, where they have room to grow to maturity without overhanging your house or crowding other trees. This is where a good nursery can offer professional guidance.

Whether or not you are concerned with “going green” or global deforestation or climate change, planting shade trees is a common-sense solution that will save you money and make you more comfortable. Trees are simply a wise investment in future comfort and energy savings. Just take a minute and sit under one on a ninety-degree day and you’ll understand this perfectly.

We like to say that the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago; the next best time is today.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at For more information is available at or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

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