Shade trees are towering plants suitable for large spaces. Bringing welcome, cool shade on hot summer days, they also insulate homes from outdoor noise and serve as privacy screens. While many kinds of shade trees brighten gardens with brilliant fall color, others have showy spring flowers or edible fruit or nuts. These high-performance plants also benefit homeowners with lower summer cooling bills.
Yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava), hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, grows wild along streams and mountainsides from Pennsylvania south to Alabama and west to Illinois. Normally reaching 50 to 75 feet tall with a 30- to 50-foot spread, yellow buckeye has deep green, compound summer leaves. They bring yellow-orange color to the landscape. Between April and May, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the tree has upright clusters of yellow flowers. The blooms give way to nuts---buckeyes---inside pale brown husks. Plant yellow buckeye where dropped twigs, leaves and nuts won't create a problem. Give it a sunny to partly shady location with humus-rich, consistently moist sandy loam. Note that the buckeyes are toxic if ingested.
Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) grows in wet soils and along streams throughout the southern United States. Standing 60 to 80 feet high and wide, it tolerates temperatures to minus 10 degrees F. It has a rounded crown and upright branches with rough, oval 2- to 4-inch green leaves. Small, green flowers appear during April and May. Pollinated female blooms produce edible, sweet, purple berries that bring hungry birds to the tree. Use sugarberry as a lawn shade tree where its fallen berries won't be a nuisance, suggests the Missouri Botanical Garden. It likes full sun to partial shade. Wind- and pollution-tolerant, it prefers rich, moist or wet well-drained soil but isn't fussy about soil type.
At 50 to 80 feet high and up to 60 feet wide, black cherry (Prunus serotina) is one of the largest cherry trees. Growing wild throughout the eastern United States, this member of the rose family has narrow, glossy, green lance-shaped leaves. The yellow or rosy pink autumn color contrasts well with the tree's dark gray bark. Its drooping, 6-inch clusters of fragrant, white flowers bloom in April and May. The small cherries, red in early summer, ripen to nearly black. Although bitter to humans, the fruit feeds several bird species. Sweetened, it makes acceptable preserves.
Hardy to minus 40 degrees F, black cherry is vulnerable to several insect and disease problems. They include leaf spot, powdery mildew, root rot, aphids and Japanese beetles. Plant the tree where its spring flowers will be visible. Provide full sun to partial shade and moist, rich loamy soil.