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We would like to shade a 'sun room' that was added to our house and gets very hot in the summer. A good planting spot, not too far and not too close, leaves room for a 30ft canopy diameter (maximum 40ft before it would overlap the house). Using some trigonometry estimates, it seems like a 50ft or taller tree would do a nice job shading this room's south-facing french door and skylight window.

On the other hand, a little bit of south-facing sun will be precious in winter. For that reason, a deciduous tree is preferable so it shades less in the winter.

We are in zone 6 of southeast PA, USA. The site is on a slope that drains well but is usually pretty wet - though we are getting more frequent and severe droughts. Other than the house, there is a garden nearby, so I don't want any allelopathic trees. Last condition that comes to mind is we have nice cedar trees nearby that have cedar rust, which I understand can be damaging to certain types of trees.

We prefer native plants and have lots of floral, fruiting, and nut producing trees. Adding to that theme would be great but not necessary, for this spot we just need a great shade tree that's safe near the house.

What are good deciduous shade trees for a site like this, with a mature size of apx. 30ft diameter canopy and a height of 50 to 70ft?

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  • How do you feel about berries (e.g. Hackberry) or nutlets (American Basswood)?
    – Jurp
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 22:18
  • @Jurp Those are all good. Hackberry would be a little short as a shade tree, wouldn't it?
    – cr0
    Commented Jul 19, 2022 at 23:23
  • In La Crosse, WI, hackberries were planted as elm "replacement trees" in the late 1960s. They're currently 70 feet tall in many parks there. They are not, however, particularly fast growing trees though.
    – Jurp
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 12:31
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    For fast results and not there at all in winter, consider growing hops - an herbaceous perennial that can climb 20 feet (you provide a pole or two to support strings - if the house configuration permits, you can put hooks on the top of the wall to support strings, but that is probably difficult if the sunroom sticks out.) Take less time to establish than a tree, come down entirely (other than the poles to support them) in the winter.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 17:46
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    To add to @Ecnerwal's comment - and again, if the house configuration permits - you could use Major Wheeler Honeysuckle Vine (a native and NOT invasive). It differs from hops in being woody, so that once trained on a wire you won't have to train it in subsequent years. Very showy and an excellent hummingbird attractor. Grows up to 20 feet tall and maybe 6-12 wide.
    – Jurp
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 18:14

2 Answers 2

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I'm assuming that trees which are a little more columnar than globose would be good choices, as well as those that are somewhat fast growing, although "fast-growing" usually goes with "weak branches" or "poor bracnh structure".

The fastest growing landscape trees that I know of are cultivars of the Acer x freemanii cultivars, the most popular of which is the Autumn Blaze Maple. I've known them to grow five feet a year, but this comes at the cost of terrible branch structure. This can lead to the tree dropping large branches 20 years down the road. Its other issue is that it has its parent silver maple's tendency for terminal bud die-back, which increases the poor structure. It has beautiful fall color, though.

Another option is the American Basswood (Tilia americana) or American Linden. I would try to find the species rather than a cultivar, as the species is taller and tends to be narrower. It may exceed your 30 foot width, though. Note: do NOT plant a European/Columnar/Littlelead Linden [Tilia cordata cultivar] because they attract and are decimated by Japanese beetles.

A third option is Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa in the North, but you could maybe also plant the Southern Catalpa bignoides). This is a pretty fast-growing tree with lovely flowers and very large leaves (which are easy to pick up with a pointed stick in the fall), but it's potentially messy due to its "catalpa bean" seed pods and will probably be too wide for the site.

And finally, there is Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), a native tree with the best fall color in North America. Its height is variable and may reach 50 feet, but its width is only 20-30 feet, so it would fit nicely into your site. It is hardy enough for SE PA, but may not be common in your area. If you've never heard of Black Tupelo before, then it may not be a good choice for your area because there may be other issues with it there (for example, Redbuds do well in most of Wisconsin but are killed by a fungus when planted too close to he humidity of Lake Michigan).

Most of the other trees that I can think of are either too short (musclewood, serviceberry) or too slow growing (hickory, beech, hackberry, maple).

Here is an edited list of 50+ foot tall trees (mostly genera only); the original list comes from Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs, copyright 1997 by Michael Dirr. Dr. Dirr is probably the leading expert in woody plants in North America. The trees on this list should be hardy in your area, but note that "tall" is almost always associated with "wider than 30 feet". Most are slow-growing, too.

  • Acer (Maple)
  • Aesculus flava (Yellow Buckeye)
  • Carya (Hickory)
  • Catalpa speciosa
  • Celtis occidentalis (Hackberry)
  • Cladrastis kentuckea (Yellowwood)
  • Fagus (Beech)
  • Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo)
  • Gymnocladus dioica (Kentucky Coffee Tree)
  • Liriodendron tulipifera (Tulip Tree)
  • Magnolia acuminata (Cucumbertree Magnolia)
  • Nyssa sylvatica (Black Tupelo)
  • Quercus (Oak)
  • Sassafras albidum (Common Sassafras)
  • Tilia americana (American Basswood, Linden)
  • Ulmus (Elm)

Fast-growing trees to avoid:

  • Littleleaf Linden (as noted above)
  • Any poplar (short-lived, extremely messy, weak-branched, tend to suck all the water out of the soil)
  • Norway maple (an invasive species in much of the country, with extremely heavy seed-drop each year and a tendency to drop its leaves in late November or even December).
  • Prickly Ash (Robinia pseudoacacia) - stoloniferus, so will colonize a fairly large area.
  • Silver Maple (Acer saccharhinum) - very weak structure with a strong tendency toward multiple leaders; often quite wide
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Remember a tree will not reach 30ft the next couple of years.

If you want a fast growing tree consider any species of Willow native to PA.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) is native to your region, and provides your garden with a nice light canopy.

Edit:

Black Walnut is actually considered an allelopathic tree.

Edit:

Removed Ailanthus altissima.

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    Ailanthus is a poor choice as it's considered invasive, but it's an especially terrible choice in Pennsylvania, due to the presence of spotted lanternfly - the tree is the host plant for the lanternfly and is being eradicated throughout PA.
    – Jurp
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 12:29
  • @Jurp Thanks, I removed it immediately. Lanternflies are new to me. It is considered invasive in my area too, but even I have had the tree for many years, I never saw any seedlings.
    – Gyrfalcon
    Commented Jul 20, 2022 at 14:40

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