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The Best Shade Trees for the Southeast

l'orme à coté du ruisseau image by rachid amrous-spleen from

Shade trees play an important part in the landscapes in the Southeast, providing shade not only for humans but also for smaller shade-loving plants and for small animals. Shade trees do not have to be large, although some of the largest ones are suitable for bigger properties. Gardeners with smaller areas have their choice of shade trees that will fit in perfectly.

Oriental Beech

Oriental beech (Fagus orientalis) can grow up to 100 feet tall with a round, spreading crown. The tree produces dark-green egg-shaped leaves that turn yellow or gold-yellow in the fall and grow from 5 to 7 inches long with the widest part at the tip. The nuts grow in shaggy capsules up to 1 inch wide.

Plant the Oriental beech in full sun and a moist and well-drained soil. The tree is hardy from northern New York west to southern Minnesota, south through Arkansas and east through northern Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Narrowleaf Ash

Narrowleaf ash (Fraxinus angustifolia) grows from 50 to 80 feet tall with a crown that spreads from 30 to 40 feet wide. The tree produces leaves that are lacy and resemble those of a pine tree. The dark-green leaves turn yellow or purple in the fall. The leaves grow from 6 to 10 inches long and are made up of seven to 13 small leaflets that are each about 3 inches long. The seeds are flat polynoses and measure just over 1 inch.

Plant narrowleaf ash in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. The tree is hardy from southern New York and New England west through Iowa, south to the Gulf Coast and east through northern Florida.

Chinese Elm

Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) is also known as the lacebark elm and Drake elm. The tree grows from 40 to 50 feet tall and produces leaves that grow about 2 inches long, small blue flowers and winged polynose seed pods in the fall.

Plant the Chinese elm in full sun or partial shade and in a soil that is constantly moist. The tree is hardy from southern New York and New England west through Iowa, south to the Gulf Coast and east through central Florida.


Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is also known as redgum. The tree is one of the largest, growing more than 100 feet tall. The leaves are star-shaped, resemble those of the palm tree, turn deep red or burgundy in the fall and grow from 4 to 7 inches in diameter. The fruits are hard, brown, round, more than 1 inch in diameter and are visible after the leaves are gone.

The tree is hardy from Connecticut and southeastern New York through southern Ohio, south to eastern Oklahoma and west though central Florida.

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