Finding a shade tree that does not grow tall is difficult, as that is one of a shade tree's chief characteristics. However, a few don't grow especially tall. When limiting your options to trees that do not lose their leaves, there are only a few choices. Go for a broad-leafed evergreen. These trees still drop leaves but not all at once.
The live oak (Quercus virginiana) grows 40 to 50 feet tall with an 80-foot spread. It grows in a wide range of soil types including both moist and clay. This native oak does well in coastal areas and produces acorns serving as food for local wildlife. It is also a host plant for several butterfly species larvae including the white hairstreak. It is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10.
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The laurel or diamond leaf oak is native to the Southeastern United States. There is some controversy surrounding this tree as some botanists group Q. hemisphaerica and Q. laurifolia together, while others treat them as two separate trees. It is a moderate- to fast-growing oak that grows about 40 to 60 feet tall with a slightly smaller spread. It needs a well-draining soil and makes a good street tree. It is not as long-lived as the live oak. This tree is only evergreen in the Southern United States, but it is hardy in USDA zones 6b through 10a.
The holly oak (Q. Ilex) is durable tree that grows between 40 and 70 feet tall with a similar spread. It has dull, leathery, dark-green leaves about 2 inches long. It thrives in moist, well-draining soil but grows in almost any soil type. Regularly water the tree until it becomes established. It is both salt and drought tolerant and tolerates urban conditions. It is hardy in USDA zones 7 through 11.
The Southern magnolia tree (Magnolia grandiflora) is the suitable shade tree if you like flowers, as it produces large, foot-long, creamy-white flowers in the late spring and early summer. It grows 40 to 80 feet tall with a 30- to 40-foot spread. Its large leaves are dark green and leathery. It needs a well-draining soil and tolerates moist locations. It is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 10.
The sweetbay or swamp magnolia (M. virginiana) grows about 30 feet tall in Northern locations and up to 60 feet tall in Southern locales where it is evergreen. Like its relative, the Southern magnolia, it has large leaves and white flowers. Its flowers are only 2 to 3 inches in diameter. What it lacks in size it makes up for in fragrance, as the flowers are lemon scented. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9.