shade trees for cooling

Think Spring: Plant Shade Trees Now for a Cool Summer


Snow on the ground notwithstanding, spring is coming here in Chicago and with it is a golden opportunity to plant trees.  And why wouldn’t you want to?  Having trees in your vicinity means cleaner air, cooler temperatures and better spirits as well as, potentially, money in your pocket.  A 2009 Auburn University study found that houses with 50% cover by light shade or just 17% heavy shade reduced their energy costs by more than 10% saving more than 30 dollars per month on energy bills.

Sidebar: You can get even more from planting an edible fruit tree with a recommendation from our post Friday Favorites: Fruit Trees in Chicago, and in your backyard.

Now is the Right Time to Jump on your Shovel!

The best time to plant trees in your yard is when they are in their dormant stage – after they’ve dropped their leaves for the fall but before new buds pop out in spring.  Winter, in the midwest, means ground frozen too hard to dig in.   Planting in fall is the second best solution, but it sets a delicate young tree up for a long cold period when water can’t get to its new roots (if you do plant in fall, extreme watering is the name of the game).  So, for best results, plant right now, in the spring.

How to Keep your Cool with Yard Trees

  • Shade the House:

If you want to use trees to shade (and cool) your house – consider the locations carefully before you start digging.   You’ll want to bear in mind both the estimated height of the fully grown tree (not the cute little sapling) and the sun angles at key times of day and seasons.  Since you’ll want cooling shade in mid and late summer, planting trees to the south of your house won’t do much good – the shadows will be nearly straight down and nowhere near the house.  Instead aim for maximum effectiveness by shading the west side of the house from the killer late afternoon heat and delaying the morning temperature hike from eastern sun.

“Plant deciduous trees so they will shade east-facing walls and windows from 7 to 11 a.m. and west-facing surfaces from 3 to 7 p.m. during June, July, and August. Trees with mature heights of at least 25 feet should be planted 10 to 20 feet east and west of the house,” according to the USU forestry extension program’s helpful website.

  • Shade the Cooling Equipment

You also want to plan shade for your AC unit if you have one. “Shading of an air conditioner can increase its efficiency by as much as 10 percent.”  Make sure not to plant too closely (within 2-3 feet) since they also need air movement for best functionality.

  • Shade the Yard

You can drop your local temperature without shading your house at all by keeping sunlight off your hard paving surfaces as well.  Planning shade trees for your sidewalk and driveway (especially if its blacktop) or the road in front of your house will have a significant cooling effect.  Picture the heat waves rolling over a parking lot in summer – that’s what you DON’T want to happen.  Masses of exposed hard surface baking in the sun is a big contributor to the Urban Heat Island effect which temperatures in the city 1-5 degrees above the surrounding area each summer.

How to Plant Your Tree

Here is our favorite info graphic on correct tree planting procedure for those who prefer pictures to words, curtesy of Instant Shade landscaping in our friendly neighbor state of Michigan.

Doesn’t that Incorrect example tree look sad?  Keep your new tree happy by:

  • Digging a hole as deep as your root ball and at least twice as wide
  • Removing ropes and burlap from the top half of the root ball
  • Protecting and stabilizing the little tree with loose wrappings and a stake outside the root ball

how to plant a tree

Or … Get the City to Plant Your Shade Trees 

The Chicago of Chicago has a long (but not exhaustive) list of trees that are good planting choices for our region here which is a good place to start when choosing your own yard trees for planting.  Or  you can also contact the city by calling 311 or their website to request a parkway tree planting in your right-of-way area.