What are the Best Shade Trees?

Christopher Wray
August 26, 2019

There are a few shade trees that really stand out among the huge selection of trees available. Although there are many different varieties of shade trees, and each of them have unique qualities, there are a few shade varieties that we think are a little better than the rest for various reasons. Whether it be their growth shape, growth speed, or color, each tree in this list has a unique characteristic that makes it stand out.

These trees are not written in order, as each different variety brings a unique trait to a landscape and the best tree depends upon your placement. While some on this list are smaller trees fit for the urban setting, others are larger, more park-like trees that would fit well in most larger areas.

Red Oak Tree

Red Oak Tree Leaves in the Autumn
Red Oak Tree Leaves in Autumn.

If you want to plant a tree that lasts for your great-grandchildren, then the Red Oak is for you. The Red oak has a lifespan of up to 500 years! This tree is a true beauty that grows moderately fast in good light and watered as needed.

As the name implies, this tree is colored with leaves that dazzle red and orange during the autumn months. The Red Oak reaches a height of 50 feet, spread of 50 feet and can survive well into locations classified in USDA Hardiness Zone 4 and above. The Red Oak stands out for it's lifespan, hardiness, and beautiful autumn color.

Urban Sunset® Maple Tree

The Urban Sunset® Maple is probably our favorite tree for 2018. This tree has set itself apart for its unique leaf shape, incredible display in autumn, cold hardiness and compact shape. This tree is the perfect medium sized shade tree for the urban landscape.

The Urban Sunset Red Maple reaches a height of 35 feet, spread of 20 feet and thrives in Zone 4b and above.

Crimson Sunset® Maple Tree

Similar in shape and hardiness to the Urban Sunset, the Crimson Sunset is a tree that we think may be the best dark-leafed Acer variety available now. Similar in leaf shape and color to the Crimson King Maple, the Crimson Sunset is different due to its upright growth shape and compactness.This tree flourishes in the heat of the summer, which bring out the dark leaves. Not many darker leafed trees survive in the heat as well as the Crimson Sunset. This tree will not only survive in hot Eastern Washington, it will thrive!

The Crimson Sunset reaches a height of 35 feet and spreads to 25 feet in maturity. A great tree to use as an accent or along a drive for its growth shape and color. Grown in Zone 4 and above.

Redpointe® Maple Tree

For several years the Redpointe Maple has been on our list of favorite trees. We wrote a blog about this tree specifically just because there's so much to love about it. The Redpointe Maple is a wide spreading pyramidal tree that resembles the Autumn Blaze Maple in some characteristics. The tree is unique due to its great growth shape that requires little maintenance to keep in shape. The Redpointe reaches a height of 45 feet and a spread of 30 feet in maturity. It is less hardy than some on this list as it grows in Zones 5 and above, but does not disappoint as a larger shade tree that brings beauty and characteristic into any landscape.          

One feature that makes this tree a better choice than the Autumn Blaze Maple in some settings is its ability to stay green and beautiful even in soils where the pH is higher than 7 or 8. The Autumn Blaze Maple will turn yellow during the summer if the pH is higher than 7, where the Redpointe will stay a healthy green color.

Emerald City® Tulip Tree

Another tree that made it onto our blog is the Emerald City Tulip tree. If you are looking for a shade tree that not only provides shade and color to a landscape, but also has ornamental traits, like flowers in the spring, then this tree is the one for you. The Emerald City has interesting medium sized green leaves in the summer and pushes out beautiful, yellow flowers in the early summer. It also shines yellow in the Fall to create contrast with red coloring trees in autumn.

The Emerald City Tulip quickly reaches a height of 55 feet in maturity, spread of 25 feet and lives in Zones 5 and above.

Eye Stopper™ Cork Tree

Eye Stopper Cork Trees at Garden Gate.
Eye Stopper Cork Trees at Garden Gate.

The Eye Stopper Cork tree is a beautiful cultivar that was selected at the Longenecker Arboretum at the University of Wisconsin for its special traits that made it stand out among other cork trees. The Eye Stopper was noticed specifically for its bright, clear yellow color foliage in the fall. This tree has smaller leaflets on stems, making the foliage of this tree more interesting than the other trees on this list.

The tree is classified in Zone 4 and above, which will make this tree a great selection for any location in the Pacific Northwest. In maturity, the tree reaches a height of 40 feet and spreads 35 feet.

Wireless® Zelkova

As the name implies, the Wireless Zelkova was selected because of its ability to be planted below power lines without growing into the lines and obstructing their path. Not only is it low-growing, it is wide-spreading, which makes the trees an incredible choice for areas like parking lots, where you want to provide a lot of shade, without obstructing views of store signs and more.

Not only does this tree provide great benefits for its shape, it also is a fast growing tree that brings a lot to love for its small leaves that are green through the summer and a beautiful orange in the autumn time.

The Wireless Zelkova reaches a height of 24 feet and spreads 36 feet. It is classified in Zone 5.

Autumn Brilliance® Apple Serviceberry

Last, but most definitely not least important, is the Autumn Brilliance Apple Serviceberry. This tree can be grown in multi-stem, shrub-like form or as a tree. If you want to use this tree as a shade tree, we would recommend the tree form. This serviceberry is a wonderful, fast growing and popular tree known for its white flowers in the spring and pretty display of red in autumn. The leaves of this tree are small and green. The Autumn brilliance stays small, so it will work in landscapes where some shade is desired, but where a large tree would be an issue.

This tree reaches a height of 20 feet, spreads to 15 feet and lives in Zones 4 and above.

In summary, our selection of the best shade trees available in 2018 are:

Did you not see your favorite shade tree? Add it in the comments, share why and we may add it to the list!

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