5 Best Shade Trees for Austin

5 Best Shade Trees for Austin

Austin--as well as the rest of Texas--has been cursed with abominable weather this past year. We had an unusually cold winter, skipped spring entirely and then endured a Summer from Hell--80+ days of over 100-degree weather and no real rain since April. This has really taken a toll on our Austin landscapes, and our mature shade trees will likely continue to take a beating if we don't get more rain. If you're in the market to replace or add a shade tree or two to your landscape, here are some of the best ones to consider for our area. I rated these "best" because of their toughness, attractiveness and rate of growth. (Note: when looking for a quality tree, bypass the fast growers and opt for medium-to-slower growth rate instead. Fast growers usually produce weak wood--not safe or long-lived.)
  1. Monterey Oak: (Quercus polymorpha) Also known as Mexican white oak, it's not a glamour girl kind of tree but it offers a medium growth to 30-40' tall with a spread of up to 40'--just a solid, good quality shade tree for your landscape. It's got medium dark green leaves that will shed a bit in the spring as new leaves come out. Give it deeper soil and lots of sun--you'll be happy with this one.

    photo by dandbtreecompany.com

  2. Bur Oak: (Quercus macrocarpa) This is a huge tree in every way--grows up to 70+ feet, large leaves and ginormous acorns. Give this one plenty of room and lots of sun! Although it prefers deep soils, it's adapted to our Austin-brand of soil (which means "not necessarily good")--and it's drought tolerant, deer-resistant and attracts butterflies and other wildlife. Score!

    photo by windbreaktrees.com

  3. Lacebark Elm: (Ulmus parvifolia) Although not native to Texas, the lacebark elm has a lot of fans in this area. It grows up to 40+ feet at a relatively fast rate, is disease-resistant and has beautiful peeling bark. The leaves will turn a lovely chartreuse color in the fall before falling off for the winter. It'll take a bit of shade and has average water needs--although I suspect it's fairly drought tolerant once it's established. Important for all of Texas right now!

    photo by everclearelm.com

  4. Cedar Elm: Ulmus crassifolia) If you're looking for a shade tree that offers up some fall interest, this could be the tree for you. Cedar elm grows from 30-50' and has gorgeous buttery yellow leaves in the fall before they shed in the winter. It'll take a bit of shade, is very drought tolerant, and doesn't complain about our shallow rocky soils. Many of my friends consider this one of their favorites.

    photo by ci.austin.tx.us

  5. Texas Ash: (Fraxinus texensis) This is the only Ash that's appropriate for Texas, so please for the love of God, don't confuse it with the awful Arizona ash! This ash grows from 30-50' tall, needs sun and good drainage and will shed its leaves in the winter. It's relatively long-lived and provides food and cover for wildlife. Great choice for Austin homeowners!

    photo by wildflower.org

There are many more native/adapted shade trees that are recommended for Austin--check out the City of Austin's Grow Green guide for additional information and suggestions for native and adapted trees, shrubs and perennials. We live in a relatively harsh growing environment--do yourselves and your landscapes a favor by only using plants that do well here!

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  1. says

    Pretty good tree choices, Jenny P. I was unaware the Texas Ash was that different than the “awful” Arizona Ash, esp with that fall color…I’ll have to learn that one! Of course, I have a soft spot for the oaks, and I agree w/ your friends on Cedar Elm.

    Oaks might not be glamour girls because they are manly:-)

  2. says

    Oh yeah–the Texas Ash is a good option here. The Arizona Ash is used frequently here by builders because it grows so quickly, but it’s very short-lived because of the weak wood. It’s on everyone’s list of “trees to not plant.”

  3. Archer Hadley says

    I am currently working with the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center for my Eagle project and what I am doing is locating and marking where there are Texas ash trees. Later next month I will send teams of 2-4 people to collect 20% of the seeds. I have located 18 different trees/ sites but it is very difficult and if any one may know where I might find more would you please contact me at rhadley@victorymed.com.
    Thank you.

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  6. Robert says

    I can’t believe you do not have the Montezuma Cypress (which is a close relative of the Bald Cypress but does not have the knees and is drought tolerant) at the top of your list. It is immune to virtually all disease and extremely long lived. It may be the perfect tree for this area. Sadly, it is also under utilized even though it is also a fast grower.


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