In case you missed it, we had a bit of a cold spell back in February in these parts.
It was in the news!
It took quite a toll on our landscapes. Even our shade trees were impacted, and that almost never happens. Go figure!
So, it’s caused us to rethink some of our plantings. I doubt if nursery employees have been asked for many Chinese tallow or ash trees lately. They took a beating. You can hear the chainsaws running almost every day. Even a small percentage of oak trees were killed or maimed.
However, I’ll draw the line before we give up on oaks. They remain some of our very best North Texas shade trees.
Fall is the best possible time of the entire year for planting new trees because it gives them the longest possible interval before summer’s hot weather. I hope you’ll take the next couple of months to plan new tree purchases.
Let me tweak the considerations you might want to carry with you as you head to the nursery.
Fast growth is still a terrible criterion in choosing a new shade tree. I get it that you want shade quickly. This is Texas, and shade is your friend in the summer. But all fast-growing shade trees are notoriously short-lived. They all have one or more fatal flaws. It may be insects or diseases, or it may be brittle wood. Somewhere in there, there is something that is going to limit their life expectancy to 15 or 20 years.
But don’t let that get you down. If you absolutely must have shade in a hurry, buy a high-quality shade tree, but just buy a larger specimen. Nurseries offer trees in all sizes, and they are well equipped to deliver and plant them for you.
Choose a type of tree that will fit the space you have for it. It amazes me when cities and HOAs require specific large trees in very small areas. Giant, spreading live oaks get planted in zero-lot-line landscaping. Tall bald cypress trees get planted beneath powerlines. It all comes from the category of “What were they thinking?”
Tree roots can be a real problem in landscaping. People think that soil has eroded, but in reality roots will get larger as a tree grows, and they will expand up and out of the soil. That’s completely normal, and it’s nothing to worry about until it causes a hazard or until it starts to lift curbs, sidewalks, patios, pools or even the foundation. You need to take all of that into account before you plant.
Think about your trees tidiness. Some trees make very little mess as they go through life. Other trees are always dropping something. It might be leaves as early as July and August and extending clear through autumn, or it might be blooms. I love crape myrtles, but they are not friends of swimming pools. Some trees drip sticky residue from their leaves when aphids or other insects are present. A nursery professional can guide you on that.
Spend some of your time in the next couple of months shopping at various nurseries to choose your new tree or trees. Independent retail garden centers often will have the best advice, and they may have larger trees for a more immediate impact in your landscape. Visit with a Texas Certified Nursery Professional at a member nursery of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association. That person will have taken a tough exam to prove prowess in horticultural knowledge. He or she will be able to guide you as to the tree’s mature size, both in height and width, its growth form and flowering habits, any insect or disease problems it’s likely to encounter, its adaptability to your local soil and climate – in short, everything you would need to know.
It will help if you know the tree species you want before you go in, so do as much homework as you can ahead of time. Shop at several nurseries if you need to. When you find just the right tree, talk to them about delivery and planting and guaranteeing your tree. That warranty should be for at least 12 months. That will give you one full growth cycle to make sure that the tree is well established. But even more important than any guarantee is the reputation of the nursery and its longevity in your community.
Finally, just to have listed them once again, I’m going to give you my choices as the best large shade trees for North Central Texas. I’ll start with two that did suffer some rather rare damage in the cold. Live oaks and Shumard red oaks rank as two of the very best trees for our area. Granted, a small percentage of them was hurt by the cold, but even with that, they are outstanding choices.
Add to those Chinquapin oak and Bur oak. Both are native locally and both are handsome landscape trees that will live for centuries. The other three large shade trees that I like to promote are cedar elm, pecan and the one non-native, Chinese pistachio.
If you need a mid-sized shade tree, the best for this area would be Little Gem southern magnolia, Mexican plum, redbud, ginkgo (a fruitless male selection) or golden raintree.