8 Lush Shade Trees That Will Thrive in Indiana

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Written By Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

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Home » Indiana » 8 Lush Shade Trees That Will Thrive in Indiana

Heat and sunlight can be harsh in the middle of summer, even in states like Indiana which only fall under USDA hardiness zones 5 and 6.

IN residents enjoy a humid, subtropical climate with warm summers, so homeowners looking for a break from the summer sun (and a chance to reduce their electricity bills!) should consider planting a shade tree.

These trees will shield you and your home during the hottest days of the year. Here are eight of the best shade trees for Indiana.

8 Shade Trees For Indiana Summers

1. Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Northern Red Oak
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The northern red oak is an attractive and hardy oak tree that will add charm and utility to your IN landscape. Its lush light green foliage turns to brilliant shades of red as fall descends, and its broad crown, which is as wide as it is tall, provides plenty of shade in summer. It is also used as a street tree and is a common sight in public parks throughout Eastern North America.

According to the Yale University Nature Walk, the northern red oak has an average lifespan of 200 years, with some living as long as 400! For gardeners who want a legacy shade tree for their children and grandchildren to enjoy, this oak is a promising candidate.

These trees do not face any serious pest and disease issues and rarely need to be pruned due to their naturally neat and symmetrical growing habit.

Other Common Names: Eastern Red Oak, American Red Oak, Mountain Red Oak

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-60 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

2. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple
Image by mirabelka is very busy via Flickr

With its stunning bright red fall foliage, the red maple is a true showstopper in any environment. Its elegant branching structure, textured bark, and red spring flowers add further ornamental appeal. But beyond its use as a specimen tree, the red maple is also a popular choice of shade tree, with its lobed leaves providing plenty of cover from the sun.

Red maples also help to sustain local wildlife, attracting pollinators with their flowers, and providing food (via their fruits, seeds, and sprouts) and shelter to various species of birds and mammals.

This particular maple tree is relatively low-maintenance, with adequate watering being its only major requirement – pruning and fertilizer are usually unnecessary. Otherwise, it prefers to be planted in moist, acidic, well-draining soil in a location with full to partial sun exposure.

Other Common Names: Scarlet Maple, Trident Red Maple, Soft Maple, Carolina Red Maple, Drummond Red Maple, Swamp Maple, Water Maple, Curled Maple

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 feet tall, with a 30-50 foot spread

Flowering Season: Early Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

3. Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Quaking Aspen Collage
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, for Tree Vitalize

Named for the unique way that its leaves are rustled by the slightest breezes, the quaking aspen is a classic symbol of American flora. These trees have a rounded growth habit, distinctive heart-shaped leaves, a tall, straight trunk covered in white bark, and bright yellow fall foliage.

Quaking aspens do make a lovely shade tree, as well as an effective specimen tree or woodland grouping. Just keep in mind that it can propagate itself via its seeds and suckers, and it grows quickly. IN gardeners intent on using the quaking aspen as a shade tree will need to put in extra work to stop extra weedy aspens from taking over.

These Aspen trees are not fussy about soil type – an average quality loamy, well-draining soil is all your quaking aspen needs to take off. For best results, however, use rich, moist soil and make sure to plant in a location will full sun exposure.

Other Common Names: American Aspen, Golden Aspen, Mountain Aspen, Trembling Aspen, Trembling Poplar, White Poplar, Popple

Growing Zones: 2-6

Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 feet tall, with a 20-30 foot spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

4. American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

For a truly exceptional shade tree, consider the American sycamore – one of the largest and longest-living native trees in North America! It has an irregular crown and peeling bark, and its enormous canopy will provide ample shade for your property. It can also be used as a focal point in a large, open area of the landscape.

The sycamore can grow to 100 feet tall in optimal conditions, and just as wide. IN gardeners need to ensure that they have plenty of space in an area clear of pavement, building foundations, and any underground infrastructure that might be disrupted by the sycamore’s extensive root system.

American sycamore trees are tolerant of air pollution but unfortunately susceptible to multiple pest and disease issues, which will require an extra level of maintenance to keep your trees healthy and thriving. They can be planted in a wide variety of soil types and pH levels.

Other Common Names: Sycamore, American Planetree, Buttonwood, Water Beech, Western Planetree, Western Plane, Occidental Plane, Buttonball Tree

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 75-100 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Mid to Late Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

5. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Are you struggling to find a shade tree that can grow in an area with poor-quality soil? The hackberry may be the tree you’re looking for! This large deciduous native can grow in virtually any soil type and pH range. It can tolerate partial shade, strong winds, salt spray, drought, short periods of flooding, and air pollution. It is a hardy tree in the truest sense.

Of course, the hackberry is most often used as a shade tree, but it is also frequently planted as a boulevard tree according to the University of Minnesota Extension. Its fall colors may not be too impressive but it does offer textured bark, small spring flowers, and edible red fruits.

Plant this highly adaptable tree in a wide open area on your property, and water weekly in its first year. Once established, the hackberry can be left to its own devices, with little need for watering, pruning, or fertilizer.

Other Common Names: Common Hackberry, Northern Hackberry, Nettletree, Sugarberry, Beaverwood

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-75 feet tall, with a 25-40 foot spread

Flowering Season: Early Fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

6. Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum)

washington hawthorn
Image by F.D. Richards via Flickr

One of the most ornamental varieties of hawthorn trees is the Washington hawthorn, a late-blooming tree prized for its white blossoms and dark, glossy foliage. Its textured bark, bright red berries, and red and orange fall foliage add extra seasonal appeal.

IN gardeners with less space on their property should consider the Washington hawthorn as an effective and compact shade tree. They can also be planted as a specimen tree or in groupings as a dense privacy screen. These screens can even double as formidable fences, due to the sharp thorns that adorn their branches.

Washington hawthorns are hardy and disease-resistant, with a particular resistance to fireblight which has a damaging effect on most hawthorn varieties. These trees need to be planted in a location with full sunlight, but can otherwise thrive in a wide range of soil types and pH levels.

Other Common Names: Hawthorn, Thorn Apple, Thornapple

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 25-30 feet tall, with a 20-25 foot spread

Flowering Season: Late Spring to Early Fall

Available at: Nature Hills

7. River Birch (Betula nigra)

River Birch tree
Image via Nature Hills

The multi-stemmed, deciduous river birch is a choice option for native shade trees in Indiana, and throughout the United States. It is the most planted birch tree in the country, and its spreading canopy and lustrous leaves provide cool, dappled shade in spring and summer.

But the river birch isn’t just an efficient tree – it’s also an outstanding ornamental due to its bark, with its tan outer layer which peels away to reveal cinnamon and salmon-pink inner bark. This lovely feature provides visual interest in every season, which is an appealing prospect for stark Indiana winters.

It is also a highly adaptable plant, known for its propensity for growing in wet areas where other trees would struggle to survive. For this reason, it is often grown in damp areas of the landscape, particularly near rivers, ponds, or swampy locations. While it can grow in dryer areas, it prefers cool, moist, and acidic soil.

Other Common Names: Black Birch, Red Birch, Water Birch

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 25-50 feet tall, with a 25-35 foot spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

8. Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

Northern Catalpa
Image by cultivar 413 via Flickr

A native tree that is beloved throughout the US, the northern catalpa is an eye-catching deciduous tree with large, heart-shaped leaves and a handsome but irregular open-growing habit. In spring it produces fragrant white flowers and in fall and winter, it is decorated with large seed pods.

The catalpa is commonly used as an ornamental shade tree due to its spreading canopy and showy leaves and flowers. It is also fast-growing, which is ideal for gardeners who want shade established as quickly as possible.

While it is a truly lovely native tree, the northern catalpa has some downsides – its wood is weak and brittle and may break easily during stormy weather. Its flowers and seed pods can also cause quite a mess when shed, so keep the catalpa away from walkways and driveways. These trees also reproduce prolifically, so some maintenance is required to stop them from taking over your yard.

Other Common Names: Catawba Tree, Cigar Tree, Western Catalpa, Hardy Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 feet tall, with a 20-40 foot spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

Beat The Heat With These Excellent Shade Trees

Shade trees are an oft-overlooked landscape tree, but are highly useful in the long term. Consider an easy-growing native like the hackberry, or a stunning classic ornamental such as the red maple – whichever one you choose, you’ll be grateful once the summer heat kicks in!

For more lovely and useful trees that you can establish quickly on your property, check out these fast-growing trees for the Indiana landscape.

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Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

Shannon has always loved looking after trees and plants since as long as she can remember. She grew up gardening with her family in their off-grid home and looking after her neighbor's plant nursery. As a child she also participated in native tree replanting, and as an adult has volunteered in reforestation programs in northern Vietnam. Today, she puts her horticultural efforts into tending her vegetable and herb gardens, and learning about homesteading and permaculture. When she’s not reading, writing, and gardening, she’ll be out fishing and foraging for edible flora and fungi in the countryside around her home.

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