The Big Beautiful Shade Trees We Love
We all have our favorite trees. As landscape architects we have personal favorites (we tend to favor ornamentals) that reliably fulfill the aesthetic and functional goals of residential landscape architecture. Perhaps your favorites became fixed in your imagination during childhood—particularly if yours was a childhood spent running around outdoors. There were big trees for climbing, trees for building tree houses, shade trees to give you relief from the sweltering afternoon sun on a long country bike ride, trees that attracted different flocks of birds at different times of year, and of course, evergreens to liven the silent white of mid winter landscapes. But, considering the big, classic shade trees, which are best for planting around your Northern Virginia home?
To answer that question, we went straight the source of our great trees: Ruppert Nurseries in Laytonsville Maryland. Ruppert cultivates, transports and transplants some VERY big trees. There, we asked certified horticulturalist & arborist Ronda Roemmelt to share a few of her personal favorites.
Ronda prefaced her comments by saying that, when selecting trees, it is imperative to choose a tree that is right for the role it will play in the landscape. There may be a tree you love and would like to have in your yard. But, if the conditions aren’t right for that particular tree, better to choose another. Without getting too technical, we asked Ronda to name the big trees she likes best and why she likes them. So here we go:
1 Sugar Maples and Red Maples
These are solid performers because they do well in a variety of conditions. And, they aren’t overly expensive. Both produce that brilliant seasonal color we love in autumn. And, because the maples establish fairly quickly after being transplanted, you can count on some cool shade from that summer sun in the first season.
Maples also work well for lining a long driveway to create a grand alee effect. Just be sure they are planted at least 30 feet apart.
If you are a neat freak, you will appreciate that the maples have only one leaf drop in the fall. In spring they release their seeds which are those whirligig things that flutter down.
Ronda says that maples are her “bread and butter” tree. They are standard, average—common place even, but a tree that she feels “will have a place in Northern Virginia yards for many years to come”.
2 Swamp White Oak
This tree is a Virginia native. Fall color is not the strong suit for this tree. Like beech and oak trees, the swamp white oak holds onto its leaves through the winter and sheds them in spring. The distinctive character of this tree resides in its deeply lobed glossy green leaf. The leaf has a soft fuzzy underside that stays vibrant green through the summer even when the green of other trees fades in the heat.
When the tree matures it develops that grand stately oak shape that people love. Because of its horizontal branching pattern, the tree gets very, very broad. And, branching is dense so it provides a deep shade.
Another distinctive feature of Swamp White Oak its exfoliating bark pattern that starts when the tree is young. Other types of exfoliating trees don’t develop that characteristic until later in their life span.
Unusual for an oak, the Swamp Oak can be planted successfully throughout most of the year. Oaks have a deep tap root. And, when the tree is still actively drawing nutrients, transplantation disrupts the flow up and down the trunk. For that reason, most oak species can survive transplantation only when fully dormant.
3 Chinese Elm
The Chinese elm is an entirely different tree from the American Elm. It has a different shape, a different leaf and over all look. An extremely desirable trait of Chinese Elm is it’s built in resistance to disease and pest infestation. Ronda likes this tree particularly for residential use. She loves the bark of the Chinese Elm. It peels and reveals a pretty olive green under bark. It has a dense crown and shows a gorgeous yellow fall color. “It’s a great tree. A very, very attractive tree.”
Three isn’t really enough. So we’ve got four more favorite shade trees to share with you in part two of this post. And, as always if you’d like to talk about making some additions to your landscape or need advice on the care for your trees and plants, please contact one of our landscape management specialists.