As the days continue to grow warmer, it’s time to start thinking about your lawn and landscaping again. Whether you are looking to create a bit more privacy in a well-loved backyard space, or want to add some shape and movement to your front yard, planting trees can be as effective as putting up a fence or displaying colorful potted plants. A few low maintenance trees or shrubs can be a great way to add privacy, shade, or beautiful colors to any space all year round.
Unfortunately, many popular shady trees can also come with messy seeds, fruits, berries, or pods that drop to the ground. Cleaning up the litter can be time consuming and labor intensive. Before planting, it’s important to understand the habits of trees at all times of years – when or if they flower, drop leaves, change colors, and when they grow.
Any tree that provides a good amount of shade is most likely going to drop its leaves at some point in the year, so there is really no such thing as a no-maintenance shade tree. However, we’ve got 9 trees that may require some raking but will not have you constantly picking up droppings all year long. In terms of shade trees, these are some of the cleanest, least messy around.
Maple trees are ideal for providing shade and shape to any yard. Red maples, in particular, are gorgeous all year round but especially in the fall when their leaves turn radiant shades of yellow, red, and orange. Though these leaves will eventually fall and require some raking, red maple trees do not have any fruits or flowers with seeds that will fall.
Red maples are fast growers and will grow anywhere from 40-70 feet so be sure you have the space for them. It is a hardy tree that tolerates most any conditions so they can be grown almost anywhere in the country. For the amount of shade they provide, the once-a-year raking is a good trade-off.
Flowering dogwoods are another extremely popular tree mostly because of their gorgeous flowering blooms in spring. But they are also beloved by homeowners because for a shady tree, there are quite low maintenance.
Flowering dogwoods do have berries that grow in the fall but they are very small and are a favorite of birds so there is generally little to no mess from them. They grow well in full sun with partial shade and well-drained soil. The ideal hardiness zones to grow dogwoods are 5-9 making them popular no-mess shade trees in many parts of the country.
Raywood ash trees do not have any seeds and do not flower but they do grow to provide ample shade. Their green leaves turn beautiful shades of purple and crimson in the fall and though they will drop and require raking, the Raywood ash is not considered messy. They are fairly tolerant, adapting to any soil type and moisture level. They grow best in hardiness zones 6 -9 and can grow up to 35 ft.
Many other varieties of ash trees can drop seeds and become quite messy so be sure you to ask about this specific variety if your main focus is to avoid a mess.
As the name suggests, fruitless mulberry trees will not litter your yard with troublesome fruits or berries. They do offer ample shade, with a dense canopy, and can grow to a height of 30 feet and a width of 45 feet. They are fairly hardy and can tolerate moderate drought making them a good option for most homeowners. Their ideal hardiness zones are 3-9.
Fruitless mulberry trees only need periodic trimming, though if you are concerned about keeping a fairly uniform shape, they may need to trimmed and pruned more often (especially in the early years of growth).
The American hornbeam is not as popular as some other shady trees but is still a good choice when trying to balance shade versus mess. As part of the birch family, in winter, its distinctive bark can look quite pretty. This rounded tree has unique ridged green leaves that turn yellow, then red, in the fall. It’s a slow growing tree that can grow up to 35 feet tall but generally keeps more of a narrow, tidy top.
It is another great shade tree from most of the country as its ideal hardiness zones are 3-9. It is quite tolerant of both sun and shade but will need watering in very dry or warm conditions.
If you like the look and function of elm trees but hate the mess, try a Japanese zelkova. These often overlooked shade trees would be a great addition to any yard. These trees can grow tall and wide so be sure you have the space for them (up to 70 feet tall and 50 feet wide). Their leaves turn beautiful shades of yellow, red, and even somewhat purple during fall, while the bark can sometimes peel to reveal orangish patches in winter.
Japanese zelkovas are quite tolerant and grow best in hardiness zones 5-8. You will need to rake their leaves when they drop but they do not have seeds or other messy droppings.
The most common variety of magnolias, the southern magnolia, is notoriously messy. Beautiful but messy. If you love the look of these iconic trees but do not want to deal with the mess, try the sweetbay magnolia variety.
These evergreen shade trees are one of the few that retain their leave throughout the year. (Though they will periodically drop old leaves and some when in bloom.) Unlike the southern magnolia, the leaves are not shiny and have a lighter shade on the backside so when the wind blows, the tree shimmers just a bit. Sweetbay magnolias can grow to 50 feet and as wide as 30 feet. Their ideal hardiness zones are 5-9.
Fruitless Olive Trees
Growing in a slightly less universal hardiness zone (8-11), if you live in a warm climate, fruitless olive trees can be an excellent choice for shade without the mess. These trees can grow up to 30 feet tall and nearly as wide with great shape (similar to traditional olive trees) and full canopy.
Unlike traditional olive trees, these fruitless olive trees require little care once established. They need full sun and soil with excellent drainage but can be drought tolerant. They prefer hot, dry summers and mild winters.
Another good choice for those who live in warm climates (zones 10 or 11), is the fern pine tree. Don’t be fooled by the “pine” in its name as this variety offers ample shade with minimal mess. These trees have skinny green leaves that droop from long branches offering a pretty and unique shape that will stand out in any yard.
If you are looking to create more shade in your yard but are dismayed by the mess caused by many popular shady trees, consider one of these under the radar varieties that offer the same function without the headaches.