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Mr. Smarty Plants - Shade trees for NC

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Tuesday - March 22, 2011

From: Charlotte, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Shade trees for NC
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

What fast growing non invasive tree would be good to plant in a sub-division that could possibly shade my 2 story house? I would like it to have a tap root system so that it is strong in windy conditions. I was thinking poplar, what is your suggestion?

ANSWER:

This is one of those good news/bad news situations. Trees that grow quickly tend to have soft wood and be short lived.  When forest takes over an open space, it gains a foothold with pioneer species trees that grow quickly but die off as the slower growing, long lived trees mature.  Poplar trees are one of those short lived trees so we would not recommend planting them in your suburban situation.

Although trees are generally divided into two groups by root type—tap root trees (such as oaks, hickory, walnut, conifers) and lateral, or fibrous, root trees (maples, ash, cottonwood)—this distinction is most evident as seedlings or saplings. Once the tree is planted and begins to mature, the distinctions between the root types become less pronounced. Then, the depth and lateralness of the roots is greatly dependent on the soil condition. Highly compacted soils, soils with low oxygen content and soils where the water table is near the surface are not likely to produce a strong tap root. Their roots are more likely to be lateral and located very near the surface with the majority of the roots located in the top 12 inches of soil. Also, it is important to realize that the spread of the roots can be at least 2 to 4 times greater than the drip line of the branches.  Whether or not your tree holds fast in a high wind situation is more dependant on how healthy it is and how quickly it can establish a solid root system, be it tap or fibrous in nature.

If you choose a tree that is native to your area, you won't have to worry about it being invasive.  It evolved in your ecosystem in balance with the other living organisms.  So the bottom line is you can have a tree that is fast growing OR you can have a tree that will shade your two story house (and not fall onto it during a windstorm).

To begin the plant selection process, visit our Native Plant Database and do a Combination Search selecting North Carolina (state)/tree (habit) and your light and soil conditions.  You can also select the size you are interested in.  It will generate a list of trees native to North Carolina that would be suitable with links to detailed information pages.

Sorry we cannot be more specific and give you a list of possibilities. There are no trees that will meet your requirements exactly so you will have to make some compromises.  We recommend you look around your subdivision to see what other people have planted and consult with a local nursery.  You can then check our database for more information about the trees they recommend before you make a decision.


 

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