Planting a few shade trees can make your backyard beautiful and more enjoyable. However, not all shade trees grow well in the humid, subtropical climate of central Florida. For some shade trees, the rainy season brings too much moisture, and for others, the lack of a deep winter freeze proves challenging.
Fortunately, the following shade trees thrive in central Florida. Each has something unique to add to your landscape.
1. Bald Cypress
The bald cypress is a unique coniferous tree that, unlike most conifers, sheds its leaves in the fall. It grows to about 50 feet tall, but its canopy only reaches about 25 feet in diameter, making it a good choice for medium-sized yards. As the trees mature, they tend to take on an ovular or pyramid shape.
Bald cypress trees have soft, short, light-green needles, and their branches hang softly from the trunk. In the autumn, the needles turn a rich, rusty color before shedding, and the tree looks bald for a few months.
Bald cypress trees prefer moist, sunny spots. They grow best along streams and rivers, but if your yard does not have a natural water source, you can irrigate the tree to encourage rapid growth. To prevent root damage, leave at least 15 feet between a bald cypress and your house, or at least 10 feet between the tree and a walkway.
2. Southern Live Oak
If you’d prefer a tree that stays green all year long, perhaps a Southern live oak will fit the bill. This oak is quite different from the broad-leaf oak species you see in the North. It has small, ovular leaves and dark, furrowed bark. Live oaks do actually shed their leaves, but they do so early in the spring — and since the new leaves start developing as the old ones fall, the tree never looks bare.
Live oaks can grow up to 65 feet tall with a broad, sprawling canopy. Their limbs sometimes emerge at odd angles, so pruning the tree when it is young is important if you want it to develop a uniform shape.
These trees have extensive root systems, which makes them very stable in storms and windy conditions. They prefer moist, well-drained soil and can tolerate some flooding. Live oaks are incredibly long-lived. One specimen, known as the Seven Sisters Oak, is thought to be about 1,500 years old. When you plant a live oak, you pass beauty on to future generations.
3. Florida Maple
Florida is too warm for most maples, but not for the Florida maple. This tree is known for its remarkable fall color. Its leaves turn a rich, red-bronze before tumbling to the ground. Its new spring growth has a reddish tint, too. Florida maples are good shade trees for medium-sized yards as they mature to about 40 feet tall — and they do so quickly.
Florida maples can grow in full sun or partial shade. They will also tolerate low spots and occasional flooding. As long as they have plentiful water, they do not require much care. You can remove the lower branches if you prefer, but beyond that, trimming is not necessary.
One downfall of the Florida maple is its roots. As it matures, its larger roots will breach the surface of the soil. Mow around these roots with caution to avoid damaging them. Mulching around the tree, rather than planting grass, can minimize this concern.
4. Loblolly Pine
A non-traditional pine tree, the loblolly pine grows to between 60 and 100 feet in height with a canopy that’s approximately 30 feet wide. It does not have the traditional pyramid shape you may associate with pine trees. Rather, its branches are more sprawling and give the tree an ovular look. Eventually, the tree will lose its lower branches, leaving plenty of shady space beneath its canopy.
Loblolly pines are fast-growers, adding about two feet in height per year. They prefer full sunlight but will tolerate a range of soil types, from clay to loam. Expect to see plenty of birds, chipmunks, and other small wildlife visiting the tree. These animals often feed on the tree’s seeds, which are inside the long, ovular cones.
Also known as trumpet trees, tabebuias produce stunning, trumpet-shaped flowers in the summer. You have various varieties of tabebuia to consider, each with a different color blooms. The purple tabebuia and pink tabebuia are popular choices. Some varieties only grow to 25 feet tall while others reach heights of up to 160 feet, so no matter how large your yard is, you can find a tabebuia to fit.
These trees tolerate most soil types and can withstand the occasion drought. They grow best in full to partial sun. To keep a tabebuia in good health, make sure you prune it regularly to remove old growth and dead branches.
Hopefully one or more of these shade trees sounds like the perfect choice for your yard. Just imagine the shade and beauty that future generations will enjoy when you do them a favor of planting a shade tree.