The Q&A Archives: shade/small area

Question: I have a patio home and the rear of the home faces west. We have a very small covered porch (6x13) and the yard extends 25 ft to a 6ft. high decorative concrete wall. The entire back lawn will be covered in pavers but I want to plant either trees or shrubs that will add height to block the afternoon sun. Our landscaper has suggested planting white birch but I am concerned the tree roots will eventually destroy our pavers. Is there a fast growing, upright shrub that will provide shade and look decorative against this wall. My goal is to provide shade, not hide the wall as it is decorative. Your professional opinion is greatly appreciated. By the way, I live in western Kentucky.

Answer: Your yard offers several challenges in plant selection. First off, I hope the pavers are loose laid so water can percolate down through them into the ground, so that the plant's roots will have access to moisture. (Most trees and shrubs have a root system at least as wide as their branches, and often much wider.)Also, keep in mind that pavers will hold and reflect heat from the afternoon sun making your yard somewhat like an oven in the summer and potentially adding to the heat stress on your new planting. This can also cause sun scald during the winter. If your reasoning for the pavers is to reduce maintenance, you might want to consider using a living groundcover instead, simply because it would be cooler in the summer. I too would be concerned about a white birch due to the surface roots as well as due to the heat, this is a tree that hails from the north and does not do well in extreme summer heat. In my opinion, too, it is also far too large at maturity for your small space. Instead, I would suggest an ornamental crabapple. There are modern cultivars with good disease resistance, they are relatively fast growing, and are deep rooted and able to handle many different kinds of growing conditions. There are also some that hold their apples all winter so there is no messy fruit drop, and there are cultivars in a range of mature sizes as well. I would also suggest you work with your county extension and/or local professional nurseryman to identify trees that would thrive in the location based on a more detailed understanding of your planting area and your design goals, then make your final choice. Best of luck with your project!

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