It’s the perfect storm that wiped out inventories and created a shortage of trees across the country. And now that the economy is in recovery and building has picked up, demand has increased as well. What do you tell customers who are eager to plant? That patience is a virtue, yes, but that there are alternatives. If they’re willing to consider a tree that might be a bit different from what Grandma and Grandpa had, there’s hope.
Perhaps they’d like a few of the trees we feature here.
Variously called Turkish hazel and Turkish filbert, Corylus colurna has proved its value as both shade and street tree. Growing 40 to 50+ feet tall with a spread of 40 to 50 feet in zones 4 to 7, Turkish hazel is drought tolerant once established, but newly planted trees require consistent moisture. It develops a bold pyramidal shape that’s pleasing in both summer and winter, and its corky, mottled bark provides ornamental interest in all seasons. Bark on mature trunks may flake, revealing the rich, orange-brown tones of the inner bark.
Rugged, toothed, bright to medium-green leaves offer a slight yellow fall color but, like the flowers, the display appears to be insignificant. Edible nuts, however, appear in clusters of three to six; these are covered by husks. While they’re edible (best roasted), they’re not the filberts of mixed nut fame. Squirrels, however, favor them.
The stately tulip tree (sometimes called yellow poplar) bears distinctive foliage and flowers, making it a standout among shade tree selections. Broad, squarish, mitt-like leaves—up to 8 inches across—remain glossy green until fall when they turn golden yellow. The yellow and orange, cup-shaped flowers emerge in spring, and although their unique appearance is impressive, blooms often can be hidden by the dense foliage. Flowers are followed by brown, scaly, cone-shaped fruit, each of which bears winged seed.
Tulip tree is hardy in zones 4 to 9 and performs well in moist, organically rich soil. It suffers few insect or disease problems, and is resistant to rabbit and deer browsing. Give it a lot of room to grow; reaching about 60 to 90 feet with a spread up to 50 feet, this attractive tree provides plenty of shade.
We think of rubber trees as denizens of the tropical rainforest, but hardy rubber tree performs admirably in the cooler zones 4 to 7. It’s easily grown in a wide range of soils, preferring average, welldrained soil, and it does best in full sun but will tolerate light shade. Topping out at about 60 feet with a spread of nearly 50 feet, Eucommia provides ample shade for residential, commercial and park locations. It’s often used as a street tree, earning thumbs-up for urban performance in municipalities from New York City to Seattle, Philadelphia to Denver.
The foliage resembles that of elm (thus the specific epithet) and remains fresh and attractive all season, although fall color is insignificant.
Hardy rubber tree is native to China, but it may now be extinct in the wild.
Hop hornbeam (hophornbeam tree; ironwood) is a U.S. native, found in eastern North America and Mexico and hardy in zones 3 to 9. It’s a smaller shade tree, growing about 25 to 40 feet tall with a spread up to 30 feet, but it provides a good bit of shade in landscape and urban settings. Graced by sharply serrated, oval to lance-shaped leaves reminiscent of birch foliage, Ostrya virginiana is easily grown in average, medium, welldrained soil and is drought tolerant once established.
As with many shade trees, hop hornbeam’s flowers are not especially showy, but the male catkins persist throughout winter. Female catkins, however, are followed by pendant clusters of seed-bearing pods that closely resemble the fruit of hops (Humulus)— thus the common name.
Tilia americana and T. cordata
Lindens lead the way when it comes to versatile and hardy plants, useful for providing shade in zones 2 to 8, depending on the species. T. americana often is recommended for shade in residential and park settings, while T. cordata has been suggested as the better choice for urban locations. Various cultivars may perform well in either situation.
American linden, also known as American basswood, is known for its fragrant yellow to white flowers in spring, followed by nutlets attached to narrow, bract-like, strap-shaped wings that can extend up to 5 inches long. Both the fragrance and the nutlets distinguish this tree among other shade specimens.
Large leaves are ovate and dark green, turning a pale green to pale yellow in fall. American linden grows 50 to 80 feet tall with a spread up to 50 feet.
Tilia cordata (little leaf linden) also features pale yellow, fragrant flowers in spring and produces nutlets similiar to those of its cousin, American linden. Shiny, dark green, heartshaped leaves are slightly smaller, growing to about 3 inches long. Hardy in zones 3 to 7, little leaf linden has achieved popularity in urban conditions, where it tolerates a wide range of soils. And like T. americana, T. cordata is drought tolerant once established.
Shortages likely will persist for a few years, and finding exactly what the customer wants may test your patience. But with good planning, creative thinking and persistent sourcing, you’ll find substitutes that fit the fill.