What are the best trees for privacy, shade, and your yard in general? Such questions are well worth asking, since not all flora are created equal. For instance, certain trees are yard maintenance nightmares. Other trees give and give—keeping you cool under the hot sun, shielding you from nosy neighbors, bearing fruit, and sprouting flowers—the list of benefits goes on and on!
Curious about which trees top landscapers’ lists? The first step is to identify your area’s planting zone, so you know what’s most likely to survive and thrive. These zones, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are based on the average minimum winter temperature. With respect to your planting zone, here are some recommendations to help you pinpoint the best trees for shade, privacy, and your yard in general.
Best trees for shade
The mighty oak, shown in the photo above, is your go-to for shade in nearly every planting zone in the U.S.
“Oaks provide extensive, deep shade due to the density of their leaves,” reports Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping in Los Angeles.
Both oaks and sycamores can cool the air beneath their canopies by as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, she notes.
For homeowners in zone 6 and warmer climates, look to flowering dogwood, shown in the photo below, and white spruce, says Burt DeMarche, president of the LaurelRock Co., a landscape architectural firm in Wilton, CT.
“Dogwoods are great native understory trees that provide a splash of color, with pink or white spring flowers and burgundy red fall foliage,” he says.
Are you more into evergreens?
“White spruce is one of the most tolerant evergreens, with a heavy cone in the top branches throughout the fall and winter, which gives it a very Alpine feel,” he adds.
Best trees for privacy
The conical Leyland cypress trees, shown on the right in the photo above, can create lush cover between homes for privacy.
“These fast-growing trees can grow 3 feet in a year and thrive in zones 6 to 10, which is a large part of the U.S.,” explains Chris Lambton, a landscaping expert on “Lawn & Order” and host of “Yard Crashers.”
Other options include American holly evergreen, with beautiful red berries in winter, green giant arborvitae, and Japanese holly, which grows compactly and is an excellent tree for screening.
DeMarche is also a fan of the green giant, shown in the photo below.
“It makes a terrific hedge at 6 to 25 feet tall, plus its deep, green foliage has a uniform, luxurious sheen, and it’s deer-resistant,” he points out.
Best trees for front yards
Want a real showstopper tree for your front yard? First, consider the space and available light, as well as the architecture of the home and the impact you’re trying to achieve, says Aoyagi.
If you have a large space, try a sycamore, shown above, which meshes well with many architectural styles and across many climates.
“In small spaces, I recommend the Western redbud, palo verde or desert willow [shown in the photo below], which have extended bloom times and pretty leaves—particularly redbuds, which range from green to bright red and burgundy in the fall,” she adds.
Or try a Japanese flowering crab apple, with red buds that turn pink and then white before dropping, says DeMarche. “This tree attracts birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds.”
The tricolor European beech is also a stunning tree in the yard, he adds. “It sits beautifully as a stand-alone feature in an open space with green and white variegated foliage.”
Best trees near the house
Upright European hornbeams (shown on the left in the photo above) work well as an anchor at the corner of a house in zones 6 and warmer, says DeMarche.
“Its narrow form when young eventually morphs into a teardrop shape that can readily be sheared to maintain an overall size of 10 to 20 feet,” he notes. “It also makes a great statement within foundation planting and is care-free with regard to insects and diseases.”
Other colorful trees in this category include the easy-care ivory silk Japanese lilac (shown in the photo above), which sports bright flowers in June, and the serviceberry, with small, edible fruit and blue-green leaves in the fall, says Craig Jenkins-Sutton, president of Topiarius.
Best trees and shrubs for landscaping
“The Japanese stewartia (shown in the photo above) is the perfect foundation tree, topping out at 8 to 18 feet in maintained landscapes,” says DeMarche. “Its large, camellia-like white flower in June and July provides spectacular display and is followed by a rich mix of scarlet, pink, purple, orange, yellow, and green foliage in the fall.”
And don’t forget sizable shrubs and bushes with your tree mix. Lambton’s favorite landscaping flowers are hydrangea for its gorgeous blooms all summer and into the fall, and rhododendron for its variety of colors and early spring blooms.