12 Best Landscape Trees to Add Shade to Your Yard

How to Achieve Color for All Seasons

dogwood tree
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One is sometimes asked, "What do you think the best types of landscape trees are for a yard?" In the present piece, that question is answered by picking twelve of the best for temperate regions. But the trees in the list below do not appear in a ranked order. Instead, the order is based on the seasonal interest they provide. Let's begin with those valued for their spring display and end with autumn trees, plus those that offer visual interest in winter.

Indeed, the goal is not simply to have a collection of great specimens in the yard, but rather to have at least one specimen per season that will add pizzazz to your landscaping.

Landscaping Trees for Spring

  • Magnolia Trees
    Spring is for flowers. We have the rest of the year to fuss over the foliage of a tree, the novelty of a tree's bark, or the pattern in which its branches grow. But when the snow recedes and life returns, we want color–and lots of it. That is one reason why we forgive the glorious golden chain tree for being a one-hit wonder. Its critics point out that it is useless outside of that short period of time during the spring season in which it blooms. We would push back by saying that your favorite holiday, too comes only once a year, but does that mean you shouldn't celebrate it?
    Nothing furnishes color quite like flowers, whether on annuals or perennials, on shrubs or on trees. Any well-planned yard will contain at least one flowering landscape tree of exceptional beauty. Magnolia trees are among the showiest specimens. While star magnolias often bloom earlier, saucer magnolias provide a larger bloom.
  • Apple Trees
    You do not have to be a farmer to want to grow apple trees in your yard. It is about more than just the fruit: Apple trees are beautiful bloomers in their own right. The fruit is a bonus. If you do not care about growing edible fruit, then crabapples will serve your purposes better. A type with rosy-red flowers that reaches a height of 20-25 feet is Malus x 'Centzam' (Centurion), which can be grown in zones 4-8.

Landscaping Trees for Summer

  • Japanese Maple Trees
    Some of the Japanese maples, too, are versatile, but in a different way: They are great "autumn trees" not only in autumn, but also during the summer season. That is, they display the vibrant colors we associate with fall foliage when most other trees still bear green leaves.
  • Maidenhair Trees
    Maidenhair trees (Ginkgo biloba) are delightful in both summer and fall, due to the delicate and interesting shape of their leaves, whether they be green (summer) or golden (fall).

Landscaping Trees for Fall

  • Sugar Maple Trees
    The Japanese maples may be precocious, giving you "fall foliage" in summer, but some of the maples native to North America or Europe are equally beautiful as autumn trees, and they are larger; for example, the sugar maples (Acer saccharum). Their greater size allows them to fulfill another task of landscape trees: providing shade in summer. The imposing dimensions of these plants also help accentuate their fall color. In this article we look at some types of maples that, even on a cloudy fall day, will light up the yard like giant torches.
  • Red Maple Trees
    The problem with the wild "red" maple trees (Acer rubrum) is that their fall leaves do not always turn out red. If you want color that you can count on, select a cultivar, instead. One is 'Autumn Blaze.'

But maples by no means have a monopoly: Many types of trees offer autumn splendor

Landscaping Trees for Winter

  • Blue Spruce Trees
    We have addressed the role of landscape trees in providing visual interest in the yard for spring, summer and fall. But what about winter? When the colorful fall foliage is gone, do your specimens have anything left to offer? Yes, they do -- if you have selected them wisely. When Old Man Winter darkens your doorstep, it is time for the evergreen trees to shine. For instance, why don't you take your cue from the holiday season and plant those Christmas classics, blue spruce trees?

  • Dwarf Alberta Spruce Trees
    Also popular as evergreen trees is another kind of spruce, the dwarf Alberta spruce. You will often see them used in pairs to flank the entryway to a house for a formal look that strives for balance. Because dwarf Alberta spruce trees will remain relatively small for a number of years, people sometimes treat them (at least initially) as container plants.
  • Arborvitae Trees
    Arborvitae does more than just look pretty year-round. This evergreen is widely planted to create "living wall" privacy fences to screen you from the prying eyes of nosy neighbors. If you are looking for something of an intermediate size, try 'North Pole' arborvitae.
  • Nellie R. Stevens Holly
    Another tree that offers winter interest and is planted to form privacy screens is the 'Nellie R. Stevens' holly. This one is evergreen, too, but with a twist: It is considered a "broadleaf" evergreen.
  • Birch Trees
    But not all landscape trees planted for winter interest bear evergreen foliage. Some just have interesting branching patterns or an unusually pleasing bark. Birches are examples of landscape trees with the latter quality.