Thursday, May 01, 2008

A VERY Local (and Late) Arbor Day Contest

Our backyard is a tabula rasa when it comes to planting. We have a fairly large city lot with some beautiful perennial gardens around the edges (thanks to the previous owners), a small lilac bush in one corner and one small red maple in another corner. The red maple is growing fast and furious and will be a beautiful tree when it grows up but it's in the northwest corner so it won't do a lot for shading the yard or the house. (It's directly behind Jackson's head in this photo.)
Why do we care so much about shade? Because 99% of our yard is still full-sun. I know, full-sun is a wonderful phrase for gardeners, and believe me, we appreciate it for such. However, come mid-July our yard is scorching; the grass dies, the gardens falters because we don't want to go out and care for them and we never spend any time out there.

We have decided to make some major changes to our yard this year including finally planting a 10'x20' vegetable garden - come what may - and installing a small, brick patio near the porch door with a canvas shade awning for comfort. We also want to plant a tree and that's where you come in.
We have two options, generally, in choosing our tree:

1. A large, beautiful shade tree (like an English Oak hybrid for which I can't currently find a good link) that will grow quickly and provide ample shade for the yard while also shading the west-side of the house, thereby cutting our energy costs significantly (mature height 40'-50').

2. A much smaller ornamental tree (birch, apple tree, etc.) to provide some shade, while leaving some sun for gardening. A smaller tree will not shade the house in any significant way (mature height less than 20').

Dan and I are 50/50 on this (both equally confused, not against each other). We both want SHADE, NOW. But we also both recognize that we may seriously regret the decision when the day comes (10 years or so from now) when we can't grow vegetables anymore. We both want to have a backyard that is ready-for-play for the kids, comfortable for all, and that can produce for us. It is tempting to just sign the credit card slip and buy the big oak now, but is that the right decision? Then there's the question of native vs. non-native and what's appropriate to plant in our area. And what about acorns and things underfoot? I'm not normally such an indecisive person, but this seems like a really big decision to me. It's a TREE.
What would you do? "Full-shade, don't worry, you'll love it when it's finally comfortable in the backyard?" or "Partial-shade to retain some sun for other activities?"

And finally, what kind of tree would you plant? Tabula rasa here, remember. Our soil is average, we have a perfect spot where a tree used to be years ago (just to the left of Jackson in the photo above) and the tree would get the full-sun from which we're trying to hide. Almost anything could grow here.

And because we really want your opinions, let's make it a contest. Please comment here by May 15th. Comments can include just votes on "full-shade" or "partial-shade" or full-on tree enthusiast diatribes about the philosophy of choosing the right tree to plant. Any and all advice is welcomed.

The prize will either be a skein of some of the lovely organic yarns that are becoming increasingly more available in my LYS's or a bag of eco-friendly goodies from the garden store (for the non-knitters amongst us). Indicate in your comment what you'd prefer. You also MUST include your email address in your comment in order to win, since Blogger doesn't share your addresses with me. If I can't reach you, you can't win!

Thanks, in advance, for your help!


allergicmom said...

My vote is for an apple tree because my neighbours have one, and it's so much fun for their kids to pick and eat apples off their own tree. Their tree is only a few years old, so it's shorter than me right now, and makes about 5 apples a year. This could also be the tree that grows with your kids, so that when they're adults, they can remember planting it.

We have two cherry trees and the problem with cherries is that the birds tend to get the cherries before we do, and our kids are too small to climb the cherry tree right now.

Good luck!

Joyce R. said...

We have fought with the previous owners' choice to put two maples too close together in a too small yard. Yes, they grew fast and shaded the house, but now nothing can grow in the back yard because of the shade. We just planted a Korean Mountain Ash in the front yard. It will be 20' - 30' when it grows up, will have lovely Fall color, and the filtered shade will not kill out the grass. I vote for the smaller tree!

Michele said...

yes, I too vote for partial shade in the form of some sort of fruit tree. growing up in the same place as children, I did not appreciate the fully shaded backyard!!
the patio with canvas awning will provide adequate relief with full benefit of still gardening to your heart's content!

LaVerna said...

I say partial shade.the back yard is for playing Mom.I have no idea what I would plant.I am having the same issue with my backyard.I am leaning toward fruitless mulberry trees.

Suzan said...

Funny you should ask. At this moment, I'm working on a canvas awning to shade our brick patio, and we have just settled (hopefully) on a tree for the yard, which like yours is 99% full sun. Completely un-enjoyable in July and August. We are likely going with quaking aspen--tall and thin for partial shade. I don't know if they're native, but they grow well all over Minnesota, love full sun, and grow fast. We fell in love with the look of the tree too, when we saw them in front of a neighbor's house planted in a cluster of three. VERY striking! This weekend we're going to Outback Nursery near Afton--they specialize in native plants and trees.

We also have a cherry tree from previous owners, which we LOVE, (we do get fruit and we do eat it). A word of caution though: cherry tree plus toddler equals LOTS of stained t-shirts.

Jess said...

Fruit tree, definitely.

Knittymama said...

Definitely a smaller tree, fruit or something else. Our yard is way too shady and it makes it tough for the flowers...

April said...

I would say partial shade. We did have an apple tree (quite large, very old and not at all maintained) that we cut down a couple years ago leaving our backyard full sun. We cut it down because we just had mud under the tree (the grass wouldn't grow) and the apples weren't very good for eating. We just had to collect all the apples before they were rotten and attracted bees.

I now have the same full sun issue you do, but our lot is not very big and our backyard is T-shaped. I will be watching your comments. Right now we have an awning to put up for this year, but I am also thinking about other options.

Heide said...

Partial shade. Gardening is an addiction and you'll want to keep adding more and more fruits, etc. the longer that you're there.

Aunt Jenny said...

Partial shade..I would go for the apple tree. We have a large yard in back and in front, both yards have elderly huge apple trees and I manage to still have plenty of full sun area for planting. You can keep them pruned and they are so useful!! And apples are pretty trees too.

Chris said...

Probably something that grows fast and won't cover the entire yard, like the oak would. I'm partial to lindens, myself. ;)

Rebecca said...

After seeing you Saturday, I already mentioned my suggestion of visiting the landscape arboretum to visit trees and see what you'd like.

Apple trees can be some work and unless you know there's one nearby, you might need two to know you'll get fruit. Check out:

This is just a thought, but if you go shade tree route, what about a community garden plot after it got big enough to shade? Anything close to your house?