One of the most often-asked questions on the GardenLine radio show, and definitely in email and Facebook, is “what tree do you recommend for shade?” I usually preface my answer by telling people to read the tree chapter in my book or the Randy’s Top Dozen tip sheet. That’s because I also anchor that idea with the thought that you may not like what I like and vice versa. Some people like bigger leafed trees, some people like smaller leafed ones. Some people desire a colorful leaf that changes appropriately in the fall. So, now you hopefully understand why it’s hard to answer the question with just my favorite.
I can’t think of a way to actually answer that question precisely. So, my favorite tree is………drum roll please……The Nuttall Oak. That’s because it meets the three most important requirements as answer to the question I always get about which tree is the best shade tree. 1. It must grow fast 2. Provide ample shade and 3. Be able to acclimate to our clay soils. The extra side-benefit for me is that the Nuttall Oak also does a nice show of fall color, assuming Mother Nature does her job by providing cooler temperatures at the exact right time.
This is what was written about the Nuttall in my newest book, New Decade Gardening, A Gulf Coast Guide.
“The Nuttall Oak, Quercus nuttallii, has been my favorite for a long time. As long as you have ample room between the planting site and the house’s foundation, this is by far my favorite tree to meet those three requirements. 20 years ago, it wasn’t even close to being my favorite. If it has a downside, it would have to be because of its rather large leaves. That simply makes it a pain in the backside should you have a pool or if you don’t like raking leaves. Otherwise, this close cousin of the Shumard Red Oak does have similar colors in the fall and definitely its own personality.
One of the biggest difference is the size of the acorn. They are larger than most oak nuts and they have a unique striped look to them. So, obviously the fast growth is a huge selling point, and for me the unique acorns are too. For those that can’t stand any acorns falling from the tree, this may not be your first choice. In some circles it’s also known as a Swamp Red Oak.