Deciduous trees are well-known for providing shade, while growing and thriving in the sun they serve to shield us from. Some varieties of deciduous trees fare much better growing in the shade provided by these monstrous hardwood shade trees. Shade-loving deciduous trees are ideal for north-facing sites that only get a few hours of morning or afternoon sun, or for planting as an understory tree in a woodland area.
Native to temperate America, river birch, Betula nigra, grows almost exclusively along river banks in the wild, and is suitable for wet sites in cultivation. It can grow up to 80 feet tall and grows nearly 3 feet per year. It grows in either sun or shade and is tolerant of a variety of soil types. River birch has a pyramidal shape when young and grows into more of an oval as it ages. It is necessary to remove the lower branches to allow for foot or vehicle traffic beneath it.
A slow-growing deciduous tree, American hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana, eventually reaches about 20 to 30 feet high and wide. In shady sites, it takes an open form, growing more dense in full sun. The orange or yellow spring-blooming flowers are small and inconspicuous. Fall leaf color is showy in shades of red, orange and yellow. American hornbeam’s smooth, fluted, gray bark provides interest during winter.
Found throughout the eastern Unites States, south of the Great Lakes Region, eastern redbud, Cercis canadensis, rapidly grows to about 20 to 30 feet high in a rounded vase shape. It is relatively short-lived, beginning to decline at about 30 years old. Purplish-pink to fuchsia flowers cover it in spring, opening before the leaves emerge. Eastern redbud is tolerant of partially shady sites. Although somewhat notable, yellow fall color is also somewhat unreliable.
With many varieties in mature heights ranging from 6 to 50 feet high, Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, is also slow-growing, putting on only 10 to 15 feet of new growth over 15 years. It is best planted in dappled shade, as too much shade can cause its highly desirable, purplish-red leaves to turn green. Although it is sensitive to drought conditions, it requires good drainage and will not tolerate water standing around its roots. Japanese maple is susceptible to breakage in high winds. The leaves emerge early in the season and may require protection from late spring frosts.
If you have a partial shady location in your urban yard or garden, try planting one of these shade-tolerant deciduous trees.