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High Five For Cooler Healthier Landscapes!

High Five For Cooler Healthier Landscapes!

By Nancy Buley, Communications Director, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.,
Photographs courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Summer’s here and it’s HOT! In this kind of weather, we salute the role of big shade trees in cooling our homes, our neighborhoods, and our city streets. They cool our communities while delivering a suite of environmental and health benefits. A handful of reasons to plant trees like the “high five” featured below begins with the most obvious. 

Big shade trees: (1) increase property values, (2) provide essential health and emotional benefits, (3) convert CO2 to oxygen and scrub the air of harmful particulates, (4) manage stormwater onsite and reduce runoff, and (5) reduce energy costs via direct shading of your home and surrounding hardscape. Their shade cools sidewalks, driveways, streets and rooftops, thereby reducing overall neighborhood temperatures by several degrees. 

A second high five is merited when toting up the collective value of big shade trees: (1) sheer beauty and magnificence, (2) support of pollinators and wildlife, (3) contribution to crime reduction, (4) influence on higher test scores among student learners, (5) the nurture of friendlier neighborhoods.

These benefits and more are supported by solid scientific research that has taken place over the past several decades. Good starting points for your exploration of the many benefits of trees are Green Cities: Good Health and TreesAreGood.org.

If you have room for a large shade tree, your local independent garden center can guide you through the steps to choosing a top performer for your landscape. Your city’s urban forester, University Extension Service, or nearby botanical garden might also be helpful in suggesting trees that will thrive in your area. To help you get started in your quest for cool shade, here’s our “high five.”

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The parent tree, from which all Espresso Kentucky Coffee Trees are descended, grows in Davis, California, where it was planted in the early 1960’s.

Espresso Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus ‘Espresso-JFS’)

Arching branches of this North American native tree give it an elm-like form. Large, frond-like fans of leaves, composed of small, bluish-green leaflets, provide filtered shade and give it a tropical feel. Fall color is a rich, mellow yellow.

Espresso and Prairie Titan® are male selections that bear none of the big seed pods that can be messy if planted near patios or other hardscapes. These cultivars are highlighted in a Garden Rant post that outlines the fascinating history of the species. This long-lived and highly adaptable tree is tolerant of heat, drought, cold, and acid to alkaline soils. Mature height and spread are approximately 50’ x 35’. The story of Espresso Kentucky Coffee Tree’s multi-decade journey to introduction and distribution to communities across North America is told in this article featuring the parent tree (pictured), which was planted more than 50 years ago in Davis, California.

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Emerald City® Tulip Tree is very symmetrical in form. Tulip-like flowers appear among the deep green leaves in late spring.

Emerald City® Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera ‘JFS-Oz’)

Tall and relatively narrow for a tree of its height, this soaring beauty reaches a mature height and spread of approximately 55’ x 25’. A refined cultivar of our handsome North American native tulip tree, it presents a slightly compact canopy that’s a predictably better fit for cityscapes than trees grown from seedlings of the variable species. Tulip-shaped yellow flowers with orange centers complement the deep green, glossy foliage that turns bright, clear yellow in autumn.

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Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) shades a nearby home and cools the surrounding pavement.

Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)

Don't be fooled by its name! While well adapted to poorly drained sites, swamp white oak handles drought equally well. Though in the wild it is found most often in low lying, moist bottomlands, it is adaptable to a wide range of urban growing conditions.

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GardenSMART Article Image

American Dream® Oak leaves are darker green and glossier than is typical of trees grown from seed. Fall color is rich buttery yellow, turning to tawny brown as winter arrives.

American Dream® Oak (Q. bicolor ‘JFS-KW12’)

American Dream is a new cultivar that offers improved disease resistance and canopy density plus a predictably broadly pyramidal form and a mature height and spread of about 50’ x 40’. Its upright, symmetrical branches sport large, lustrous, deep green leaves that are thick and glossy, with wavy margins. After turning buttery yellow in autumn, these broad, handsome leaves mature to rich tawny brown and remain on the tree late into the season.

An Array of Elms

Shade lovers can choose from a wide array of elm cultivars developed in the decades since Dutch elm disease swept across the continent. Some are towering American Elm selections that survived the disease, and other fine options are found among the Lacebark Elm cultivars. Others are hybrids of American, Asian and European species.They come in many shapes and sizes and all offer resistance to insects and disease. Check with your local experts to discover the best performers for your area. Here are two to consider:

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The parent tree of Colonial Spirit® Elm helps cool the home and the neighborhood where it grows.

Colonial Spirit® Elm (Ulmus americana ‘JFS-Prince II’)

Dark green leaves that glow rich yellow in autumn brighten the arching limbs of this symmetrically vase-shaped tree. Branch structure is strong and manageable in the nursery and the landscape, where it may grow to a height of 65’ and spread of 50’ as it matures to present a classic American elm shape. Selected by the historic Princeton Nurseries of New Jersey, it has proven tolerant of Dutch elm disease.

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Young Emerald Sunshine® Elms grow quickly to cast cool shade. 

Emerald Sunshine® Elm (Ulmus propinqua ‘JFS-Bieberich’)

A good fit for smaller scale landscapes where a towering, broad-spreading elm won’t fit. This smaller scale tree develops an upright, vase-shaped form as it grows to a height of about 30’ and a spread of about 25’ as it reaches maturity. Strongly textured foliage emerges with red tints and matures to a deep, rich green. Fall color is a rich bronze yellow. Selected as a superior-performing seedling originating from seeds collected in China, it proved heat and drought tolerant while growing up on the arid plains of western Oklahoma. It is resistant to Dutch elm disease and phloem necrosis and has shown good resistance to the feeding of elm leaf beetles.


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By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers

As summer transitions to fall, one plant that will still be in its glory is bracteantha “Granvia Gold.” Delilah has written a great article about this plant. click here to read.


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