Trees provide many functions in the natural world.
Aside from providing us with the vital air that we breathe, they can provide us with fruit, medicine, timber, as well as sanctuary, and refuge in the form of shade.
Pennsylvania has a wide range of climates, meaning that what you chose to plant as a shade tree will depend on where it is you live in the state. Most areas are generally in the 5b to 7a range, but some areas are in 5a and 7b.
Shade trees are important in that they provide respite during the hot, humid summer months, allowing you to spend precious time outdoors during the afternoons.
Read on to discover some shade trees suitable for planting in your yard in PA.
12 Shade Trees To Grow In PA
1. Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)
The katsura tree is notable for its weeping form, and its heart-shaped leaves, that emerge reddish, before turning a bluish-green for the summer. They then turn shades of orange, yellow, and gold during the fall. When a soft breeze passes this tree, the leaves flutter and dance, causing a calming effect in anyone who takes the time to notice.
The katsura tree is an elegant canopy tree, with broad upright limbs and is a moderate grower. Young trees need to be kept well-watered for the first several years, as they aren’t very drought tolerant. This perhaps is the only downside of this beautiful tree. The crushed fall leaves are also said to smell like burnt sugar, which is a bonus!
Other Common Names: Japanese Judas Tree.
Growing Zones: 4b-8.
Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 ft tall and 25-30ft wide in about 25 years.
Flowering Season: Inconspicuous flowers in spring before the leaves emerge.
There are few shade trees you could grow in PA that are more show-stopping when in bloom than the winter-hardy saucer magnolia. Mid-spring sees the branches covered in large pinkish-white flowers. They tend to grow upright when young, and take on more of a round and spreading form with age.
They come out on the short-end of shade tree status, reaching about 30 ft tall and wide after about 25 years. Whilst it’s not as impressive in the fall as maples, you’ll still be rewarded with beautiful yellow foliage right before the leaves fall for winter.
Like many early-blooming magnolias, the flower buds can occasionally be killed by late frosts, so be sure to keep away from any cold blasts, air corridors, and excessively wet spots in the garden.
Other Common Names: Chinese Magnolia
Growing Zones: 5-9.
Average Size at Maturity: 20-30ft tall and 20-25 ft spread.
Flowering Season: May- July.
3. Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) – Fast Growing
The tulip tree has a long, narrow, and straight crown that spreads with age. Often considered one of the most eye-catching of all the eastern hardwood trees, as the large showy flowers resemble tulips or lilies. Some people also claim the ‘tulip,’ in the name is refers to the silhouette of the leaves. Either way, the tulip tree is renowned for its beauty; being the state tree for Kentucky, Tennesse, and Indiana.
The tulip tree has a medium to narrow crown and star-shaped leaves that are waxy and smooth, turning a shade of gold in the fall. The showy flowers are sometimes missed because they can be 50ft high up in the tree canopy. Following the flowers, cone-shaped seed heads remain after the leaves have been shed.
The tulip tree will grow rapidly in rich, deep, well-drained soil with uniform rainfall. It’s intolerant of compacted soil and sheds its foliage in drought conditions. If you’re looking for a showy, fast-growing, and pest-resistant shade tree for your yard, then this could be it. The tulip tree attracts hummingbirds and provides nesting for many other species too.
Other Common Names: Tulip Poplar, yellow poplar.
Growing Zones: 4-9
Average Size at Maturity: 70-90 ft tall and up to 40 ft wide.
Flowering Season: May and June.
4. Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) – Fast Growing
The sawtooth oak is a hardy tree suited to a wide range of soil and climate conditions. Its wide-spreading habit makes it suitable for a shade tree. Its leaves are visually appealing too; starting a shimmering yellow/golden green, changing to dark and rich green in summer, and finally to a golden-brown/yellow in the fall.
It has a pyramidal shape and grows fast in its youth. It produces acorns from a very young age, which provides food for lots of wildlife, including wild turkeys.
Other Common Names: Sawtooth oak.
Growing Zones: 5-9
Average Size at Maturity: 40-60ft tall and 40-60 ft wide.
Flowering Season: N/A
The American hornbeam is a mid-sized tree native from Nova Scotia to Florida and west to Minnesota and Texas. It tolerates some flooding and does well in either shade or full sun. Planted in full sun, its canopy will become dense and rounded. Fall provides visual interest via the leaves.
It’s a slow-growing tree, about 1 foot a year, so if you’re after shade for your yard fast, then the American Hornbeam might not be the tree for you. However, it is a good addition to smaller gardens and looks good as a specimen tree or in a wild landscape. It can be grown as a single-stemmed tree or multi-branched shrub.
It’s a favored nesting place for hummingbirds. Songbirds are attracted to their forked branches and tasty seeds. The smooth, gray wood is said to resemble leg muscles, earning it the nickname of ‘musclewood.’ The American Hornbeam prefers deep, moist, fertile slightly acidic soils.
Other Common Names: blue beech, ironwood, muscle beech, muscle wood.
Growing Zones: 3-9
Average Size at Maturity: 20-40 ft tall and 20-30 ft wide.
Flowering Season: Green catkins from April to June. Fruit is a ⅓ inch winged nutlet on a three-lobed bract.
Littleleaf linden is a popular, shade tree that gets planted widely in cities because of its tolerance to pollution. It’s also a good tree for attracting pollinators although not as good as American linden (Tilia americana). Bees and other pollinators are fond of the pendulous chains of fragrant blossom in the late summer after many other species have finished blooming.
Many communities plant linden along streets due to its dense and symmetrical crown and rapid growth that produces great shade. Littleleaf linden tolerates alkaline soil if kept moist, and is not very drought-tolerant. Neither does it tolerate roadside salt particularly well. If subject to drought, it scorches around the leaf margins. The leaves are heart-shaped with a slight blue tint to them in the summer months, before turning yellow in the fall.
Other Common Names: small-leaf lime tree, little leaf lime tree, small-leaved lime.
Growing Zones: 3-7
Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 ft tall and up to 40ft wide.
Flowering Season: Late summer, followed by ¼ “ nutlike fruit.
The American Sweetgum is a unique shade tree. It has a neatly compact crown, star-shaped leaves, twigs that have a corky growth called wings, and intriguing fruit. It’s suitable for larger yards and is planted in parks and campuses throughout the country.
The leaves change from glossy green in the summer, to shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple in the fall. The leaves remain on the tree until late in fall, long after other species have dropped theirs, adding another dimension to your garden landscape should you choose to plant one.
The seeds of the American Sweetgum are eaten by birds including goldfinches, purple finches, sparrows, northern bobwhites, and wild turkeys. Small mammals are also known to enjoy the leaves and seeds too, such as squirrels and chipmunks, amongst others.
Other Common Names: Sweetgum, sweet gum, sweetgum tree, red sweet gum,
Growing Zones: 5-9
Average Size at Maturity: 60-75 ft tall and 40-50 ft wide.
Flowering Season: Small, yellow-green, red-tinged flowers mature on stalks from March to May.
Ginkgo Biloba is a distinctive medium-sized tree with a columnar shape and unique fan-shaped leaves. It’s one of the oldest known trees in the world, which is why it’s tolerant of such a wide range of environments, including pollution, heat, salt, and confined spaces. It’s no wonder Ginkgo’s have survived since the times of the dinosaurs.
It’s slow-growing in its first few years, so perhaps not the best choice if you want shade quickly for your yard. There are no discernible flowers, but this is made up for with the striking gold color the foliage turns in the fall. It’s tolerant of poor and compacted soil and is a good choice for when you need a tree for a small space such as a deck or patio.
The soil needs to be kept consistently damp for the first few years, then little to no water should be required. It requires little other maintenance, making it ideal for those who want a fuss-free shade tree, provided they aren’t in a major rush to get it.
Other Common Names: Maidenhair tree, common ginkgo.
Growing Zones: 3-9 (aren’t too fond of hot and dry climates)
Average Size at Maturity: 25-50 ft tall and 25-35ft wide.
Flowering Season: Dioecious flowers in April-May
Fruiting: Fruits after about 20 years. The fruit is fleshy, and brownish-orange, with a pungent aroma some people don’t care for.
Considered a harbinger of spring after the long winter, the Eastern redbud is a beautiful tree, native to large portions of North America. It’s hardy and adaptable, and as such is a good choice for forest settings and home gardens alike.
Showy pink flowers emerge very early in the spring and last for about two to three weeks. Heart-shaped leaves emerge in a reddish color, changing to a lustrous green, and finally to a golden yellow in the fall. The eastern redbud is pleasing to the eye even in the winter months, with its rounded crown and arching branches.
The blossoms can be picked and used in salads, and have a citrusy aroma, or the unopened ones used a caper substitute.
The eastern redbud is not picky where it’s grown, but does best in moist, well-drained areas. The shape of the leaves and crown provide a good shade. If you’re after a more modest shade tree for a smaller yard, then the redbud could be for you. They also work well as understory trees and can be grown in partial shade.
Other Common Names: Eastern Redbud.
Growing Zones: 4-9
Average Size at Maturity: 20-30 ft tall and 25-35 ft wide.
Flowering Season: Very early spring.
The Red Maple is a fast-growing shade tree native to PA, best known and loved for its spectacular fall colors. Any type of maple is a good choice for a shade tree in PA; they grow extremely quickly, have large leaves and spreading branches, and can be planted anywhere in your yard.
The leaves are three-lobed with pointed tips, emerging red in the spring, turning green for the summer before turning a yellow/golden color in the fall. As such, they provide year-long landscape interest alongside shade. Red maples will tolerate either damp or dry soil.
Other Common Names: Swamp maple, soft maple, water maple.
Growing Zones: 3-9
Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and up to 40 ft wide.
Flowering Season: Small hanging clusters of bright red flowers appear in the spring before the leaves.
The northern red oak is a fairly fast-growing, straight trunked shade tree with sturdy branches. Oaks are the most wildlife-beneficial of all native species and offer a lot to the landscape in terms of visual interest and shade.
The green leaves are lobed with pointed tips in the summer months, turning a dark red in the fall. The bark is dark, with a furrowed, silvery striping. Upon maturity, trees will produce acorns.
Due to their rather large, size, Northern Red Oaks are best suited for large yards or open fields. Plant in full sun and avoid planting in wet clay.
Other Common Names: Red oak.
Growing Zones: 3-8
Average Size at Maturity: 60-70 ft tall and 40-60 wide.
Flowering Season: Mid-to-late spring. Acorns take up to two years to mature.
The black gum tree is another firm favorite fall color tree, with annual shows of reds and orange. It has a neat, pyramidal growth habit. One potential drawback of the black gum is that it’s very particular about its growing conditions and won’t tolerate urban pollution. It needs organic, acidic soils. The leaves will turn yellow if the soil is too alkaline.
Its particularity regarding growing conditions makes it unsuitable for inner cities or urban planting and is best suited for sheltered spots.
Neither the fruit nor the flowers are particularly noteworthy, but it makes up for this with the enticing color of its foliage; both the hue of green in the growing season and the crimson autumnal colors. The bark is dark and furrowed and adds to the visual interest of the Black Gum.
The black gum has a low canopy with a typical clearance of three feet off the ground and has a slow-growing rate. It’s both suitable as a shade tree, or as an accent tree.
Other Common Names: Tupelo, black tupelo, pepperidge, sour gum.
Growing Zones: 4-9
Average Size at Maturity: 30-50ft tall and 20-30 ft wide.
Flowering Season: Small, greenish/white flowers in April/May.
Shade trees provide respite from the heat of the summer and bring a feeling of permanence to the landscape. The wide range of climatic conditions present in the state of Pennsylvania means there are a wide range of shade trees for you to choose from for your yard.
Whether you’re short of space or have plenty of it, there’s a shade tree that’s just right for your specific conditions.
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Thomas worked for a number of years as the head of plant propagation for a horticultural contractor taking care of many different species of ornamental trees & shrubs. He learned how to propagate certain endangered endemic species and has a love of permaculture, sustainability and conscious living. When Thomas isn’t hiking in nature he can be found playing music, reading a book, or eating fruit under a tree.