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7 Best Shade Trees for Idaho to Plant in Your Yard Today


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Idaho is a mountainous state, which, although situated in the north of the US, isn’t quite as cold as you’d imagine, thanks to the regulating effect of the Pacific ocean.

The temperature variations in the state are largely dictated by the altitude, which varies between 710 ft at the lowest point and 12,662 at the highest.

A large part of southern Idaho is in the Great Basin Desert, which includes parts of California, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah, in what’s known as a high desert. Needless to say in these areas, shade is vital for comfortable living.

Whilst growing in Idaho can be a challenge due to the short growing season, low rainfall (12 inches a year in desert areas), and high winds, it’s not impossible. There are plenty of hardy trees that can function as shade and as nursery trees for more delicate species.

Be sure to check the hardiness map of Idaho before deciding what to plant.

7 Excellent Shade Trees that Grow Well in Idaho

1. American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

The American Sycamore is a fast-growing tree that’s popular for landscaping across the country. It’s capable of putting on 6 ft of growth a year and quickly creates a dense canopy that provides shade quickly.

The leaves are large and palmate, turning golden in the fall, which can block out the harsh summer sun and let in the winter warmth after the leaves have been shed. Winter reveals the smooth white patchy bark providing interest throughout the seasons.

The American Sycamore is an adaptable tree, suited to warm and cold climates. It grows in just about any moist soil.

Other Common Names: Eastern Sycamore, Sycamore, Buttonwood, Buttonball Tree, American Plane Tree, American Sycamore, Water Beech, and Occidental Plane Tree

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 75-100 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: April

2. Chinese Pistache (Pistachia chinensis)

chinese pistache
Image by David Prasad via Flickr

The Chinese Pistache Tree is a popular landscaping tree thanks to its durability and unbeatable colors of oranges, reds, and yellows when other trees are entering dormancy. The rounded canopy is full and consists of thin and slender, fern-like leaves which are bright green in the summer.

Chinese Pistache Trees are popular in urban areas thanks to their high tolerance for pollution, and smog. They can also withstand heat, drought, and poor, rocky, or sand-based soils.

Other Common Names: Chinese Pistachio

Growing Zones: 6-10

Average Size at Maturity: 25-35 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: April – May

3. Superior Hybrid Poplar (Populus deltoids x Polulus nigra)

The Superior Poplar is a fast-growing shade tree that’s capable of putting on 8 ft of growth a year. It features a distinct oval shape beloved by many. The leaves are dense and green, blocking out the summer rays when planted strategically, and as they’re deciduous, they will let in the much needed winter sun to keep your home cool.

The Superior Hybrid Poplar features symmetrical growth and the most sought-after traits of its parents.

Other Common Names: Hybrid Poplar

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 20-30 ft wide

Flowering Season: Early spring before the leaves emerge

4. Red Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

red japanese maple
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The Red Japanese Maple features head-turning shades of red in the spring, burgundy in the summer, and scarlet in the fall that are sure to stand out in your neighborhood. When the leaves are shed in the winter the bark is revealed with its tones of red and black. It’s easily pruned into your desired shape, making it perfect for any sized yard.

The roots of the Red Japanese Maple aren’t disruptive, meaning those with less space need not worry about causing damage to infrastructure. They are adaptable and hardy trees that require little maintenance and provide a lot of year-round interest on top of the shade they offer.

Other Common Names: Japanese Maple, Palmate Maple, and Smooth Japanese Maple

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 15–20 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide

Flowering Season: April

5. Heritage River Birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’)

heritage river birch
Image by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr

The Heritage River Birch is popular thanks to its hardiness, attractive peeling bark, and its use as a source of shade or privacy screen. It’ll grow in wet and dry conditions, with some mild tolerance to flooding and drought, as well as a high tolerance to strong winds.

It’s also aesthetically pleasing throughout all the seasons making it perfect for homeowners who want to make the most of their yard.

The River Birch looks good planted alone or in groups for a more natural appearance.

Other Common Names: River Birch, Black Birch, and Water Birch

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 25-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

6. Green Vase Zelkova (Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’)

The Green Vase Zelkova is a shade tree that offers year-round interest in the landscape. Spring and summer see the tree covered in dark green, oblong leaves, whilst the cooler weather of autumn unleashes rusty, coppery hues.

The Green Vase Zelkova grows in an attractive vase shape, as the name suggests, and the dark grey bark exfoliates to reveal a rich orange color underneath, meaning the tree can be admired in the winter season too.

The Green Vase’ Zelkova is drought tolerant too, making it suited for desert areas of ID. It’ll also tolerate urban pollution and is resistant to many common diseases and will grow in almost any type of soil.

Other Common Names: Saw-leaf Zelkova

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 60-80 ft tall and 40-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring with the emergence of the leaves

7. Willow Oak (Quercus phellos)

willow oak
Image by Bruce Kirchoff via Flickr

The Willow Oak is a fast-growing shade tree with a vibrant green color in the spring and summer, changing to shades of reds and yellows in the fall. It’ll tolerate poorly drained areas, so maybe suited for those low-lying areas of your property where water tends to accumulate.

The Willow Oak gets its common name from its foliage which resembles that of willows and its ability to grow in moist areas. However, the Willow Oak is not a willow at all but a member of the Red Oak Family. It’s simultaneously beautiful and resilient, making it a solid multifunctional choice of tree for ID gardeners.

Other Common Names: Willow Oak

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Sustainable Shade

Growing trees is the most ecological way at providing shade for your home. Trees help retain moisture in the landscape, leading to increases in biodiversity by providing habit for other species to flourish.

Furthermore, aquifers are refilled through rainfall but need tree roots to get the water to them. As Idaho is a mountainous terrain including high deserts, this is particularly important in the area.

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