We Texans observe Texas State Arbor Day on the first Friday of November. With our wicked hot summers, it’s kinder and often smarter to plant young trees in the fall so they can become established before summer’s searing heat. However, National Arbor Day is always observed the last Friday of April.
With that in mind, we offer a round-up of the best shade trees for Houston.
Selecting trees most suitable for the Texas climate will help provide the best chance that new trees are able to tolerate diseases and pests and stay healthy. Plus, shade trees protect human skin from sun exposure. And with skin cancer on the rise, it’s imperative people know how to keep trees healthy, so they can keep us healthy, too.
Arborists at The Davey Tree Expert Company recommend these top 10 large-canopied trees for the greater Houston area. These trees are hardy, tolerant of urban and suburban conditions, low-maintenance and able to endure drought conditions.
1. Shumard oak offers a beautiful fall show, with leaves turning from fire red to red-orange. It prefers full sun and will grow to a height of 40 feet to 60 feet at maturity. (Zones 5-9)
2. Nuttall oak, like most oaks, is tough yet stately. Best of all, this oak isn’t as common as other varieties, making it an unusual tree to plant. It can grow up to 100 feet tall at maturity. (Zones 5-9)
3. Overcup oak grows in a uniform, oval shape, minimizing the need for pruning. It grows to a height of 45 feet to 70 feet at maturity. (Zones 5-9)
4. Sawtooth oak is a fast-growing tree with jagged tooth-like leaves, hence its name. It grows to a height of 40 feet to 60 feet at maturity. (Zones 5-9)
5. Swamp chestnut oak, despite the name, does not like wet roots. It prefers well-drained soil and is even able to grow in dry areas. It grows to a height of 60 feet to 100 feet at maturity. (Zones 5-9)
6. Monterrey oak is a native oak tree and is sometimes called a netleaf oak. It’s beautiful as well as resistant to oak wilt and has very few problems. As a medium-sized oak, it grows to a height of 40 feet to 60 feet at maturity. (Zones 6-9)
7. Live oak is, of course, a Southern classic and is often seen draped in Spanish moss. Live oaks can live to be hundreds of years old. It grows to a height of 40 feet to 80 feet at maturity. (Zones 7-10)
8. Bur oak makes a great urban tree as it tolerates pollution and heat stress well. It grows to a height of 70 feet to 80 feet at maturity. (Zones 3-8)
9. Bald cypress is a pyramid-shaped conifer that is both sleek and tough. It has the unique ability to thrive in swamps and Texas’ dry climate. This tree grows to a height of 50 feet to 70 feet at maturity. Be warned: It does lose its needles in the winter. (Zones 4-10)
10. Cherrybark oak provides food for many wildlife species. It grows to a height of 60 feet to 110 feet at maturity. (Zones 5-9)
There are other excellent native and non-native ornamental trees (Mexican sycamore, for example) that can also withstand tough Texas conditions. Your local arborist can help you select the right tree for the right spot.
Once the right tree is selected, Davey arborists suggest these tips for ensuring trees are well watered.
- The best time to water is in the morning.
- Water slowly and deeply. Use a sprinkler, drip hose or garden hose on a gentle trickle, near the base of the tree, allowing water to soak eight to 12 inches deep.
- Only water the area under the tree’s branches, known as the drip zone. Avoid directly irrigating the trunk.
- To make sure you’re not overwatering, place an empty soup can near the tree inside the sprinkler pattern and run the sprinkler very slowly over several hours until two to three inches has collected in the can.
- Spread mulch in a wide circle, no more than three inches deep, around the tree to conserve water. Mulch should be pulled back from the trunk of the tree like a donut, not like a volcano. Recommended mulches include wood chips, shredded leaves, pine needles and compost.