Planting Trees in a Shady Area: What You Need to Know

Learn how to successfully plant trees for shade with these tips from an expert! Find out what considerations you need to keep in mind when planting trees in shady areas.

Planting Trees in a Shady Area: What You Need to Know

Trees are often planted for shade, and the most important shade tree on house grounds is usually located near the southwest corner of the house. If placed correctly, it will shade the house during the last part of the afternoon in summer. Trees provide better shade than artificial structures, as the air that passes through the branches is cooled by the perspiration of the leaves. When planting trees in a shady area, there are some special considerations to keep in mind.

Fine, compacted soil and competition for moisture in tree roots can be an issue. Adding other native plants can benefit your trees, as well as add interest and habitat value to your garden. Grass is not good for trees, given the compaction, lime and other chemicals that can be applied and the risk of injury from lawnmowers and string trimmers. Connecting them through islands in naturalized areas where fallen leaves are left in place (and not piled deeper than usual) solves these problems.

Weeding requirements are relatively light in the shade compared to in the sun. The decision to plant shrubs and trees must be made months before your arrival at the nursery or Conservation District in your local county. For the most success, plan in spring or summer before planting (including soil testing), prepare the site for fall planting, order stocks in winter, and plant when early spring arrives. Order in advance or you may have to choose between leftover stock or receive your seedlings after the best planting season.

A lack of planning is one of the main reasons why some homeowners don't grow healthy trees and shrubs. Select plant species that are adapted to the soil texture, drainage, and amount of shade on your site. Do not plant a shade-intolerant tree in the shade of other trees, as they will die. Slopes greater than 6 percent, oddly shaped fields, gutters, property boundaries, and edges of wetlands and forests are ideal places to plant shrubs.

The local Conservation District office, nursery, public library, or Michigan State University Extension offices will have information on specific plant requirements. Add a layer of mulch around the surface of the root ball after the initial watering. Shredded cedar, wood chips, or decomposed leaves are great choices as mulch. These products insulate the soil against extreme temperatures, help retain moisture and help suppress the growth of unwanted weeds.

Keep the mulch product at least two inches from the trunk to allow the tree trunk to “breathe”. When only a small number of trees and shrubs are needed, it's a good idea to buy them with soil attached, as planting success rates are higher due to the decreased impact on the plant. In that case, planting another tree in that area would likely be redundant and the shade produced by existing trees could prevent new trees from growing in the first place. Planting trees on your property helps protect your home from the sun and prevents your cooling system from working overtime.

Never plant a tree so that it divides a view into two equal parts or to hide the view of the house from the street. If your garden doesn't have adequate space for your shade tree once it reaches maturity, planting it is not recommended. Even if it's tempting, don't pile soil on the roots of the trees to create a garden, as you'll suffocate the tree. When planting trees to conserve energy, remember that you have an opportunity to make your outdoor spaces more livable, even in periods of heat and cold.

This is an area that hasn't been studied enough to give us clear advice on planting, but this spreadsheet lists some anecdotal observations from Virginia gardeners and naturalists about some plants that thrive in roughly a tree yard. Conserving energy by planting trees isn't always as simple as planting a shade tree in front of the south facade of your house. Except for very large properties, a decorative tree should be small, although any tree brings some accent to the landscape. Transplants are plants that were uprooted and planted elsewhere, while seedlings are young plants that grow in one place.

This gives more apparent depth to the terrain than when trees are planted directly on the sides in a continuation of the front baseline of the house. A tree plantation should be developed in the background so that when you see the house from the front, you can see treetops above roofline. Properly selected and placed trees can add more livability and value to your home than any other landscape feature. Watering at intervals will help newly planted trees and shrubs become established and grow successfully.

If you want to mimic a public garden with a large number of species planted quickly without waiting decades for it to take effect, you'll have to plant very densely since most shade-tolerant plants spread quite slowly if at all in a forest. Removing some lower branches over time allows for a clear view outside of your house while encouraging sunlight to enter windows during winter when sun shines at a lower angle. When done with care adding other native plants can benefit your trees while adding interest and habitat value to your garden.