tree landscape of shade trees

The Best Shade Trees

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” – Warren Buffett

When you think of your favorite park or nature walk in warm weather, you can probably picture at least a few of the trees that provide delicious shade from the sun. Those pools of cool protection are perfect for a picnic, nap or a long conversation with a friend. If you enjoy walks around your neighborhood, there are likely certain stops along the way, under a tree, where you can catch your breath and catch up with the neighbors. Thanks to the foresight of someone in the past, we can enjoy the shade trees of today. It’s important to continue the cycle of planting shade trees for generations to come, supplying our future with the same shade and natural cooling we enjoy today.

Defining “Best”

Choosing the right tree for your landscape is no small task. There is a wide range of species of shade trees available across North America, but they don’t generally thrive in all climates and soils. The “best” shade tree is a subjective designation. In choosing your best, it’s helpful to keep several factors in mind:

  • How large they will grow. Tree canopies tend to cover as much area as their roots, so one must keep in mind how close nearby structures will be.
  • How fast you want your trees to grow.
  • The strength of the tree. Some trees are more susceptible to limb breakage, which can cause damage to other landscape features or structures.
  • Maintenance issues. Shade is usually provided by an impressive supply of leaves that will drop in the fall and need to be gathered. Other trees produce seed pods that some homeowners find bothersome. Are you willing to deal with the falling leaves, seed pods or flowers, depending on the type of tree you choose?
  • What are your overall landscaping plans? Do you want splashes of color throughout the year or are do you want a lush background for other features?


If you’re looking for a tree that grows quickly, upwards of 100 feet tall, the Cottonwood is one of North America’s leaders. They are known to grow by as much as six feet per year but need plenty of space and often don’t do well in many residential areas. One side effect of their rapid growth is generally weaker wood and small branches that can break easily. Clearing fallen branches is a maintenance task associated with these giants.


The large leaves of a maple tree are perfect for shade and are well known for their autumnal color changes. Some maples, such as the Crimson Sentry Norway Maple, have striking foliage all through the summer, into the fall. They can provide a special highlight to an otherwise monochromatic landscape. Other well-known species like Japanese and Red Maples are also prized for their unusual coloring. As with many shade trees, maples can live a century or more, some providing shade for as many as 400 years.

White Oak

Oak trees have long been prized for their size, strength, durability and beautiful foliage. A healthy oak can live two or three centuries, providing food in the form of acorns, and shelter for squirrels and a wide variety of birds. Their strong branches can endure the ice and snow of Colorado winters and the joy of a child’s swing or treehouse. After providing ample shade in the heat of summer, when the chill of fall arrives, the leaves turn vibrant shades of red and gold for one last show before the long winter.

Quaking Aspen

There are not many scenes comparable to a walk through a grove of Quaking Aspen in fall. The heart-shaped leaves that provide dappled shade in summer turn to gold and tremble at the slightest breeze creating a soft sound like no other. These unique trees multiply though their root system and may grow up to five feet per year, making them ideal for newly installed landscapes. The aspen is at home in the harshest of winters and poorly draining soil systems.

The specialists at Front Range Arborists can assist you with deciding the “best” shade tree for you. They have extensive knowledge regarding a wide variety of trees and shrubs and can help you choose and care for them. Contact us today to schedule your free estimate for the selection and care of your shade.