Best Trees for Turf Grass
Sean Breckin, AOLCP

Labor Day marks the start of the fall tree planting season. Therefore, we want to make sure you’re equipped when looking to plant the best trees for turf grass. You often hear us discussing the value of shading your lawn during the high heat of summer. It should be noted that not all tree species play nicely with grass. So, when looking at trees, you want specimens that: like a neutral pH, can thrive in a variety of environmental conditions, AND provide the right amount of shade for your turf grass during the high heat of summer.

Here is PJC Organic’s Top 10 Shade Trees to plant with your Organic Turf.


1. Gleditsia triacanthos – Shade Locust, Honeylocust

An outstanding shade tree with small leaves that cast shade, but not so deep that the turf can’t grow. Plant this durable tree that can withstand all sorts of environmental conditions. 

Notable Cultivars: ‘Shademaster’ ‘Skyline’, North American Native.


2. Nyssa sylvatica – Tupelo, Black Gum, Pepperidge, Sour Gum

A spectacular fall color display and food source for birds. Interesting branch growth makes this a statement tree for any landscape. Thus, this tree’s beauty was immortalized in Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” – add some romance to your landscape and let this tree love on your grass.

Notable Cultivars: ‘Wildfire’, North American Native.


3. Acer saccharum – Sugar Maple

A New England favorite, these trusty trees grow great with lawns. Sugar maples double as shade tree and food source. These highly tolerant trees perform year after year. In addition, their sap can be harvested for drinking, or boiled down to make maple syrup for your homemade pancakes. A national champion is in local Charlemont, MA.

Notable Cultivars: ‘Green Mountain’ ‘Inferno’, North American Native.


4. Platanus acerifolia – London Planetree

This hybrid tree is native to Europe and serves as a parkland mainstay and common street tree due to its resilience. The exfoliating bark provides visual interest while the maple shaped leaves provide outstanding shade. Plant this tree if you have a big space to fill – it’s truly a statement piece.

Notable Cultivars: ‘Bloodgood’.  


5. Quercus rubrum – Red oak

 Handsome. Brilliant. American. The national tree of the United States serves as a landscape specimen and pairs nicely with any lawn. Oak species dominate many of the forest ecosystems. Even so, they can be tricky to establish. Nonetheless, Red oak endures many environmental challenges and performs well for decades. Plant this tree for summer shade and fall foliage interest.

North American Native.


6. Gingko biloba – Ginkgo Tree

This Chinese native first appeared on earth over 290 Million Years Ago! The beautiful shaped leaves provide outstanding visual interest all season long. Furthermore, it turns to bright golden yellow in the fall, making It a year-round showpiece. Ginkgo is highly adaptable and makes itself at home on any landscape site.

Notable Cultivars: ‘Autumn Gold’ ‘Princeton Sentry’


7. Ulmus americana – American Elm

The Elm revival is here! After decades of devastation from Dutch Elm Disease – new American Elm cultivars have now proven hearty in the landscape for multiple decades. The gorgeous, vase-shaped canopies have small leaves. This keeps leaf litter low and provides dappled shade to the lawn beneath it.

North American Native, Notable Cultivars: ‘Princeton’ ‘Valley Forge’.


8. Liriodendron tulipifera – Tulip tree, Tulip poplar, Yellow poplar

One of the tallest deciduous species in all of North America, and certainly the Mid-Atlantic up to New England. Tulip poplars’ outstanding height creates a high canopy. This canopy casts broad shade at the hottest parts of the day. Its canopy rises as it grows which keeps airflow at ground level. Tulip trees are immensely valuable, as pollinators love their flowers and birds find homes high in their branches.

North American Native, Notable Cultivars: ‘Little Volunteer’ (Dwarf variety for smaller landscapes).


9. Tilia americana – American linden, Basswood

Known mostly for its stately presence as a “park tree”. In addition, linden trees also serve as an amazing food source for honeybees. Its uniform branching and small, heart shaped leaf structure provide dappled shade during the heat of summer. In addition, lush turf grass can grow right up to the bark of the tree. 

North American Native, Notable Cultivars: ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Fastigiata’ (for a more formal, upright appearance).


10. Gymnocladus dioicus – Kentucky Coffeetree

Last but not least, a relatively lesser-known species in the northeast corridor. The Kentucky coffeetree is an outstanding turf grass companion. Due to its late emerging and early dropping leaves, your turf is given the rest it needs in summer, while allowing ample sun in the spring and fall. Its natural habitat is in the American Midwest, where Native Americans and Early Settlers used its seeds to make coffee and other foods. This durable hardwood is an outstanding performer year in and year out.

North American Native, Notable Cultivars: ‘Espresso’. 


There you have it…our top ten recommendations. Now it’s up to you to determine the best trees for turf grass, or let us know what we missed!