Anticipating Shade Needs

Trees are among our most permanent landscape plants.  Some can live and enhance a landscape for over 100 years.  It’s important that you select shade trees carefully, as you’ll be planting them not only for yourself, but for future generations as well.

Spring and fall are the best times to plant trees, but winter and summer offer great opportunities for gaining insights on planting locations.  In winter, allowances for winter sun warming from deciduous species and blockage of cold winds with evergreens is paramount in our minds.  Summer is great for being able to observe shade patterns for cooling effects.

Spring is a good time to plant trees because the cool temperatures and high moisture content are favorable, as well as the tree’s opportunity to take advantage of a full season of growth for establishment.  As well, nurseries and garden centers have a good selection of tree species to choose from.

Fall is also a good time for tree planting…actually slightly better, as the soils are warm, the rainfall patterns are more steady and 2-3 months are still available for root growth and development.  Fall follows summer, when we’ve been able to most visibly able to see the need for shade in various locations in the landscape.

As for deciding where to plant trees, watch the sun on your house during the summer months and notice the path that it travels during the day.  Generally, the path of the sun in summer is similar to the winter, with a big difference – the sun is about 40 degrees off the horizon in winter and 67-70 degrees in summer.  This means that it is “higher in the sky” in summer and thus, very different shade patterns are produced.  As a result a mix of larger and smaller trees are desirable; larger trees for shade and smaller trees for aesthetics and massing.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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