A wide variety of species make for great shade trees, some providing light shade and others dense cover. Depending on the amount of space you have in your yard and the climate where you live, there are likely a number of shade trees that will meet your needs.
Oak trees make excellent shade trees, particularly the pin oak (Quercus palustris), red oak (Q. borealis) and white oak (Q. alba) species. Fast-growing and reaching a mature height of 60 to 70 feet and spread of 25 to 40 feet, the pin oak’s unique branching formation provides dappled to dense shade. Also fast-growing is the red oak, which has a large, broad, rounded canopy and grows up to 75 feet tall with a 50-foot spread. The white oak grows to a staggering 100 feet tall with an 80-foot spread and has thick horizontal branches, but it’s slower-growing than the other oaks.
The American elm (Ulmus Americana) can reach more than 100 feet tall and has a tall, vase-shaped, drooping crown. American elm trees prefer to grow in moist, rich soils. Chinese elm trees (U. chinensis), also called lacebark elms because of their attractive, peeling bark, grow to only 60 feet tall. They have dense foliage and wide-spreading, slender branches.
The little-leaf linden tree (Tilia cordata) is extremely fragrant and blooms with yellow flowers in early summer. The little-leaf linden has a pyramidal canopy with dense foliage that remains on the tree late into the fall and early winter. Tolerating severe cold and a wide range of soil types, the little-leaf linden tree grows 60 to 70 feet tall with a 35- to 50-foot spread.
The American beech tree (Fagus grandiflora) not only provides shade but also produces edible nuts. This beech tree can grow up to 100 feet tall in fertile, deep and moist but well-draining soils, and has a long, thick trunk and rounded crown.
The white birch tree (Betula pendula), also known as the European birch, grows 30 to 60 feet tall and has drooping branches. The white birch’s smaller leaves provide dappled shade and its bark is smooth and white and peels away in thin layers.
Several maple tree species make for great shade trees, including the Norway maple (Acer platanoides), red maple (A. rubrum), silver maple (A. saccharinum) and sugar maple (A. saccharum). The Norway maple grows 40 to 50 feet tall and wide, while the other maple species usually grow 60 to 75 feet in height with a 40- to 50-foot spread. Norway maples provide extremely dense shade.
The Moraine locust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis ‘Moraine’) is fast-growing and provides light to medium shade. Reaching 40 to 50 feet in height, this shade tree is cold-hardy and can withstand urban conditions, droughts and flooding. The Moraine locust is similar to the honey locust, only it doesn’t have thorns or seedpod clutter in fall.
A fast-growing shade tree with a pyramidal crown that turns rounded with age, the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) has light-green, fern-like leaves that provide dappled to moderate shade. The bald cypress prefers wet or swampy soils, but it can adapt to most soil types and grows in a wide range of climates. Growing 50 to 70 feet tall with a 20- to 30-foot spread, the bald cypress is low-maintenance and has few insect problems or diseases.
The American arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) is a slow-growing evergreen tree that can grow in nearly any climate or soil type and provides year-round moderate to deep shade. The American arborvitae reaches 25 to 40 feet in height with just a 10- to 15-foot spread and is often used to create tall hedges and privacy screens.
Also evergreen and providing year-round shade are pine trees (Pinus spp.), which can grow in a wide range of regions and soil types, including in poor, dry soils. The scrub pine (P. virginiana), also called the Virginia pine, is a good shade tree due to its 30- to 40-foot height and branches that aren’t as close to the ground as other pine species. The shortleaf or yellow pine (P. echinata) is one of the best shade providers, with an 80- to 100-foot mature height and much wider spread than other pines.