When you’re outside in the summer, a shady tree is the next best thing to an icy drink. Temperature in the shade runs about 15 degrees lower than adjacent unshaded areas. Shade trees near your business and home cast the same umbrella of cooler temperatures on the buildings. The result is less strain on your air conditioner (meaning lower bills) and less sun beating on the windows. Late fall is the best time to plant shade trees, and early fall is the time to decide which trees you should plant where.
Trees serve different purposes in the ecosystem and in your yard. You can find shade trees that provide food for birds and butterflies, interesting silhouettes, and color in a sea of green leaves. Slower growing, hardwood trees like oak and ebony can provide shade for hundreds of years. Faster growing trees, like the orange-flowered royal Poinciana and Hong Kong orchid, put out wide canopies in a few years but are cold sensitive. Across the Valley, tree growers, garden centers, landscapers and tree care companies are ready to advise and assist you in having a shady summer 2017. Whether you choose adapted exotics like jacaranda or more native trees like mimosa and Texas persimmon, get ready to make shade. Brownsville, Edinburg and McAllen now have urban foresters who know that trees contribute to lower temperatures, cleaner air and an enjoyable quality of life.
It takes time
Shade trees take four to five years in the field to reach marketable size, said Mary Beth Simmons, general manager of Simmons Oak Farms Wholesale Nursery. Since 2002, the grower has expanded to 120 acres and 36 tree species, 13 of them known for shade. “Trees make a big difference in the temperature of surrounding areas. Look at the radiant heat in huge parking lots with no trees,” she said.
In choosing your shade trees, consider the size of your property and what you want from your trees: natives that attract birds? Summer flowers? You can choose from desert willow, burr oak, Monterrey oak, cedar elms, mesquites and Montezuma bald cypress. Remember that longer living trees tend to be slower growing.
“Live oaks perform so well and look so good most of the year that everybody wants them. The downside is there are so many of them,” she said. If an oak disease or pest arrives, it could devastate the landscape. Nevertheless, a tree’s life span depends on how well it compartmentalizes injuries caused by broken limbs and pests.
Great accent shade trees include Texas mountain laurel, the new thornless paloverde and wild olives (never plant where people walk). But Simmons has her favorites. “I love royal Poinciana and kapok trees,” both being fast growing with eye-catching flowers.
The tree farm grows rows of 179 trees in soft mesh Rootmaker bags that encourage straight trunks. “We hand dig them because of the bag. If you have the option, wait until November to February to plant trees.”
“When it gets hot, the demand for shade trees goes up. That’s when you really notice the difference with shade,” said Delana Darling who runs Stuart Place Nursery with her husband Billy. The Fan-Tex ash, a grafted tree, has sturdier branches and a longer life span than the once-popular Rio Grande ash, which is good for about 25 years. “Monterrey oaks are excellent shade trees with much fewer acorns than live oaks. And they are faster growing and keep more of their leaves than burr oaks.”
For variety, Darling recommends the Hong Kong orchid, a grafted tree which has no seeds to clean up under its wide canopy. Also available are sea hibiscus, golden shower tree, mango and avocado trees.
“Even if customers don’t ask about tree care, we try to teach them. We look at it from a simple point of view: if they’re successful, we will be successful.”
Jon Klement of Southern Landscapes said the shift to growing trees in containers is a great improvement over the days when most trees were balled and burlapped. “With containers, it’s easier to establish them so they won’t go into to shock.”
In landscaping with trees, the most important consideration is the space. “They can get quite large,” Klement said, advising that shade trees should be no closer than 20 feet from a building. Keep about 50 feet between trees because the branches are going to spread. “The live oak is the best overall tree for our area, but for smaller yards, the Monterrey oak is a good option.”
If you want shade, don’t postpone planting trees, Klement advised, even though late fall is the best time to plant and get trees established. The longer you delay, the more time will pass before you have shade. He cautioned that trees need protection from people. “Keep mowers and weed eaters away from the trunks,” which can be damaged beyond salvation.
He recommended the native ebony and anacua for their dense shade and usefulness for birds. For ornamental beauty, he favors crepe myrtle which can reach 20 feet tall.
When people want to move a tree in their yard – because the tree has grown too large next to the house or because an addition is going up, they call Gulf Coast Contractors Inc. The company, which has three different tree spades (90 inches to 30 inches in diameter), provides mechanical tree relocation to individuals, businesses, government entities and school districts, according to Charlie Crockett, operations manager.
Gulf Coast took on the task of relocating 200 sabal palms (some 100 years old) at the Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve when the border wall was built. They moved oak trees with trunks 15-17 inches in diameter from River Bend Resort when IBWC ordered the levee cleared. The trees found a new home in a nearby subdivision. PSJA school district had them remove 200 trees from a school during construction and two years later they re-installed them.
“We get calls to find a big tree for people who want shade now and not have to wait for 20 years,” Crockett said. “They give us characteristics, like tall and not fat or classic lollipop with high round canopy.” The company has a tree farm with larger specimens and also sources large trees. After root pruning and reducing foliage by up to 50% to cope with moisture loss, large trees can be moved professionally with high success rates, he added.
September 2016 cover story by Eileen Mattei