Shade Trees for Turf Grass
Sean Breckin, AOLCP

It’s fall tree planting season and we want you equipped when looking to plant shade trees for turf grass. You often hear us discussing the value of shading your lawn during the high heat of summer. Although, not all tree species play nicely with grass. When looking at tree species, 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. Take a look at 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 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. 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 saccharumSugar 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 and their sap can be harvested for drinking or boiling down to make maple syrup to smother your homemade pancakes. A national champion is in local Charlemont, MA. Notable Cultivars: ‘Green Mountain’ ‘Inferno’, North American Native.

4. Platanus acerifoliaLondon 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 – this tree truly is 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 – although they can be tricky to establish – 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

The Chinese native first appeared on earth over 290 Million Years Ago!! The beautifully shaped leaves provide outstanding visual interest all season long and turn to bright golden yellow in the fall -making It a year round show piece. 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 proven hearty in the landscape now for multiple decades. The gorgeous, vase shaped canopies have small leaves that keep leaf litter low and provide 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 Poplar’s outstanding height creates a high canopy which 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 – 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 – allowing for lush turf grass growth 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

A relatively lesser-known species in the northeast corridor, Kentucky coffeetree is an outstanding turf grass companion due to its late emerging and early dropping leaves – giving your turf 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’.

When planting shade trees for turf grass, explore your options and recognize the role they can play in maintaining an organic lawn. These species can set your lawn up for summer heat resilience. In addition, explore PJC’s all-natural turf products, or contact us for additional cultural practice recommendations.