Who hasn’t thrown a mini-celebration when they scored a shaded parking space at work, school, the park, shopping mall or museum? There is nothing sweeter than coming back to a cool vehicle after going for a run, doing some afternoon shopping or touring around town. We know all too well here in Louisiana just how hot our vehicles can get sitting out in the full sun all day long. It’s downright torture.
The value of shade trees is priceless for many reasons. Not only do they keep our vehicles cool in parking lots, they shade roadways. Shaded roadways can help save up to 60% of repaving costs and improve driver safety, leading to reduced traffic accidents. They also help reduce home energy consumption by anywhere from 8% to 12% in both annual heating and cooling costs while also adding value to your home and property by up to 21%. Who doesn’t want help lowering those summer electricity bills? Shaded lawns also require less irrigation or watering, and that further reduces the water bill.
Trees can also reduce air pollution by removing toxic gases, particulates and carbon dioxide and in return produce oxygen that’s required by living organisms.
On top of that, they can also improve water quality, slow flooding and reduce soil erosion. You need more reasons to love trees? Trees provide wildlife habitat for birds and squirrels, and they are just beautiful to look at. If you weren’t a tree hugger before, you should be now. I am proud to say I am. When my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Simoneaux taught me that plants made the oxygen that we breathe, I made my parents go out that day and buy me my first houseplant.
Spring is still a great time to plant trees, especially those grown in containers. As the nights remain relatively cool and the heat has not been fully turned up, you still have time to get trees established in the landscape. Be sure to water them well during times of low rainfall in the first year.
Before planting, make sure you choose the right tree and proper place for you home and landscape. Take time to envision how this tree will affect the landscape; how it could shade your home, patio and driveway.
You need to consider several things when choosing your shade trees. For instance, where will the tree be planted? Will it be evergreen or deciduous (lose its leaves in fall)? How large will the tree get? How quickly will it grow? How will it affect the surrounding landscape and home as it grows over the years?
Be sure that you call 811 or Louisiana One Call to locate underground utilities before digging, and be sure not to plant underneath utility wires or too close to utility boxes. Avoid planting too close to a pavement, house slab or eaves of houses. How many times have you tripped on uneven, broken concrete pushed up by the roots of large trees? I’ve had a trip or two that I recall, and I don’t mean vacation.
Make sure you consider how large your tree will be not only at full maturity but also after five, 10, 20 and more years. Your considerations should include both tree height and branch spread. A general rule of thumb on spacing away from walls is 10 feet on a tree that gets up to 25 feet tall, 15-foot spacing on 25- to 50-foot trees and 20 feet on trees over 50 feet tall.
For newer homes with young landscapes looking for faster-growing trees to quickly gain the energy savings, consider planting deciduous native trees and locate them on the southern and western sides of your house for the best shade from hot afternoon summer sun. These trees will drop their leaves in the fall, allowing more sunlight to radiate the house with warmth in the winter. If you can choose one with beautiful fall color, such as bald cypress, river birch, yellow poplar, red oak or winged elm, you’ve added even more aesthetic value to your home.
Perhaps one of the most valuable shade trees in the Louisiana landscape is the live oak, with its broad branching structure and long lifespan. Homeowners may not live to see its full grandeur because of its modest growth rate early on, slowing further as it ages. However, generations to come can enjoy its beauty. Do not let that be a deterrent. However, if you suffer from allergies, consider when making this selection that live oaks are among the largest springtime pollen producers and worst allergen culprits to those that suffer from it.
Heather Kirk-Ballard, LSU AgCenter Horticulturist