The Best Shade Trees for the Southeast


On a steamy hot day, it's nice to find a shady spot where you can relax and cool down. In the Southeastern United States, with its long hot summers, finding a shady spot is particularly important. If you intend to plant shade trees at your Dixie home site, some of best species include willow oak, Shumard oak, sweetgum, red maple or live oak, each of which is a native tree.

Willow Oak

  • Willow Oak (Quercus phellos) grows across the entire Southeast, from Eastern Virginia to Southeast Texas. Reaching a height at maturity of about 80 feet, willow oak is frequently planted as a street tree and shade tree. Because of the large spread of the branches, willow oaks should be planted in large open areas, such as parks or school campuses. A nutrient-intensive species, willow oaks fare best if planted in moist alluvial soils with a high concentration of organic matter.

Shumard's Oak

  • Shumard's Oak (Quercus shumardii) or Shumard oak is a large tree, capable of reaching a height of nearly 100 feet. The tree grows well across the entire Southeastern region. With a broad open crown and straight trunk, it is also frequently planted as a street, because of its high tolerance to urban air pollution. The USDA also recommends the tree as a suitable shade tree for parks, home sites and highway median strips.


  • Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), sometimes called American sweetgum, is a very large shade tree indigenous to the Southeast. If there is already one growing on your property, and you have the patience, it may well reach 140 feet in height. Well known as a shade tree, in the autumn the changing leaves of the sweetgum transition from dark scarlet red to dusky orange before finally turning bright yellow. The tree is easy to identify with its distinctive star-shaped five-pointed leaves.

Red Maple

  • Red maple (Acer rubrum) is a fast-growing hardwood well suited to the Southeastern United States. According to Mississippi State University, a red maple is an excellent shade tree choice, as its compact crown produces abundant shade beneath its boughs. Red maple is not picky about soils, growing well in either dry upland soils or moist areas. In the fall, the leaves of the red maple turn a brilliant scarlet red. A mature specimen will grow to about 90 feet in height.

Live Oak

  • If you reside along the Gulf Coast, an excellent shade tree and a living symbol of the "Old South" is the majestic live oak (Quercus virginiana). And while the trees are relatively short, growing to a height of only 50 feet, their dense broad crowns make them an ideal landscaping choice if shade is your desired goal. The tree has earned its name because it does not shed its leaves, making it ever green. Live oaks grow best in sandy well-drained soils.

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