In a sunny place like Jacksonville, planting shade trees in your yard makes a lot of sense. Besides adding beauty to your landscape, they can keep you cool on a hot summer day. Strategically planted trees can cool your home and reduce your electricity bill.
The University of Florida’s Institute of Agriculture and Food Sciences says, “deciduous trees on the south, east, and west sides of your home will provide cooling shade in the summer and warmth from the sun when they lose their leaves in the winter.” It’s important to put the right tree in the right spot. We have some suggestions for you on the best shade trees to plant in Jacksonville.
These flowering trees show their stuff in summer when many other trees stop blooming. They come in all shapes and sizes, from shrubs to trees that reach up to 30 feet high. The taller varieties make good shade trees. The flowers resemble crepe paper and bloom in many colors, from white to pink to crimson to deep purple. The show doesn’t stop when summer ends: The leaves turn a beautiful yellow, orange or red in the fall. The mottled bark adds color to winter landscapes after the leaves have fallen. Two more selling points for crape myrtles: They’re drought tolerant and low maintenance.
Crape myrtles will sometimes need pruning, but urban forestry extension agent Larry Figart with the University of Florida cautions against “topping” the tree. “Cutting off the large branches at the top of the tree leads to delayed flowering and odd-looking sprouts. Instead, just remove the new sprouts at the same place every year.” You may want to ask a professional to help with pruning.
East Palatka Holly
If you’re looking for a less traditional choice in the shade tree category, the east Palatka holly is a solid choice. The stiff green leaves and red berries in winter add a festive touch. These are smaller trees, and landscapers like to use them as hedges or privacy screens. They’re an evergreen tree and grow 30 to 45 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. You’ll get more berries if you plant this tree in full sun, but it’ll grow in full shade as well. This tree will attract birds because they love the berries. The berries are poisonous to people and pets, so keep your kids and your pups away.
If you’re lucky enough to live where flowering dogwoods grow, why not plant one? These trees thrive in North Florida and throughout the South. The cheery pink or white blossoms are a sure sign of spring. In the fall, their green leaves turn a gorgeous crimson-purple. In their native surroundings, flowering dogwoods are an understory tree. This means they grow under the taller canopy trees and do well in part sun. They can grow up to 35 feet tall, and they do need water during dry stretches.
This classically Southern shade tree (pictured at top of page) is one you plant for the future. When you do, be sure you give it plenty of space. These trees grow up to 60 feet tall and up to 100 feet wide. They’re best suited for large properties. The leaves on this tree fall only after new leaves have arrived in the spring, meaning it stays green year-round. This is why they’re called “live” oaks. They’re hardy and sturdy with dense wood. Live oaks grow slowly and live a long time. It takes about 70 years for them to reach their maximum size. They’ll last for at least 150 years; some of the oldest live oak specimens are more than 1,000 years old.
Another icon of the South, the Southern magnolia is an excellent shade tree. This evergreen tree is famous for its large and fragrant white flowers. Its scientific name, magnolia grandiflora, acknowledges this flowery feature. The blooms appear in May and June, with some lasting through the summer. The large leaves are green and glossy. At 60-80 feet in height and 40-50 feet wide, these trees need room to grow. They’ll grow a foot or two each year.
Figart warns there are some downsides to this tree. “It’s wind-resistant and stands up well in a storm, but the roots are shallow and spread wide. They can lift sidewalks and driveways. The leaves drop year-round, and grass won’t grow in the dense shade.”
This Florida native grows well in sun or shade, and in wet or dry soil. Its adaptability makes it a good candidate for a residential shade tree. The winged elm gets its name from the corky projections on its branches. The tree grows from 40 to 60 feet high, with a vase-like shape and round crown. It needs regular pruning for its first 30 years. This will help structure its branches and avoid multiple trunks.
Whatever shade tree you choose, you’ll be adding beauty and some pretty cool benefits to your yard. Trees of any kind can help clear the air, and they attract pollinators and wildlife. Best of all, you’ll be able to enjoy being outdoors during a Florida summer when you’re in the shade.
Larry Figart is an Extension Agent in Urban Forestry for the Duval County Extension Service of the UF/IFAS (University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences)