Shade Trees as a Smart Financial Investment

You read that right. Shade trees.

One of our plans for the spring is to plant a shade tree or two on the southwest side of our home. These trees won’t be very large now, but in several years, they will grow to a reasonable size, providing some nice shade on summer days when our children are about ten years old or so.

Originally, we decided to do this purely for aesthetic reasons. Both Sarah and I grew up in the country in houses surrounded by trees. We sat under them to read on nice spring days. We climbed them. We used tire swings hanging from lower branches.

In short, we loved the trees around us and want trees around us now. We have a few small trees in our yard, but they’re all of the very slow growing variety, so we decided to plant a couple fast-growing varieties to balance it out.

What surprised me is the number of ways in which these shade trees will pay for themselves over the years.

Energy savings A shade tree on the south or west side of your home can trim $25 a year off of your energy bill. It works for the same reason that you feel cooler in the shade in the summertime. Large trees block the sun’s rays from reaching your home, making it easier to cool your home during the hot summer months.

Increased property value A healthy, well-maintained shade tree in the yard provides additional value to your property. The Christian Science Monitor reports that trees add 7% to 25% to a property’s value merely by being present. If you plan to sell in ten years or so (as we do), a fast-growing shade tree can really add to the value of your home.

Increased composting and mulch For us, those fallen leaves are golden. We’re proud composters and leaves compost beautifully, turning fall rakings into spring nutrition for the garden and lawn. Much of the nutrients provided by leaves comes from deep soil, far below the level of grass and garden, so it’s much more than merely recycling the same nutrients.

Reduced mowing area Once the tree is planted and appropriately bordered, the tree reduces the square footage of mowable space in our yard. While the change is a small one, it’s a small one that’s repeated thirty or forty times a year for a decade or so. That adds up to gas, oil, and wear savings on the lawnmower.

Sap Our primary choice for a fast-growing shade tree is a red maple, which has the secondary benefit of producing delicious sap in the early spring before it buds. That sap, when boiled down, becomes amazingly delicious maple syrup, which can be stored for use throughout the year. Although this is more of a “hobby” choice, it will save us from buying syrup for our waffles and pancakes.

These items exclude the tertiary benefits of having a tree in your yard: aesthetic appeal, shade, environmental benefits (trees clean the air), and so on.

Yes, trees add work to the equation. I’ll be out in the yard raking and storing leaves in the fall, which is certainly a time cost, since I could be doing other things. Yet, quite often in the fall, I spend multiple days doing winterization tasks anyway, and as my children grow, these are the types of tasks that easily become family tasks.

If you own your own home, consider planting a tree. It’ll end up being well worth it in the long run.

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  1. J says:

    I wouldn’t count on the maple syrup savings anytime soon … maple trees generally are tapped only when they are around 40 years old.

  2. Vicky says:

    I live in Central Florida, and I can’t tell you enough how much I love my trees.

    I have 7 trees around my house. 3 of them are so large, I get absolutely no direct sunlight hitting my windows. Ever.

    My electric bill has never been over $150. (In fact my highest bill was in December, when it was actually below freezing 2 or 3 nights in a row, and I had to use the heater!)

    The downside is that I can not garden – no sun means… no sun! I have hardly any grass in either the front or back yard, and I have to constantly keep up with leaves and keeping the branches trimmed correctly.

    The plus side is that I have an amazing tire swing. :) For me, no kids! Mwa ha ha..

  3. Todd says:

    I love my mature shade trees, but they are quite expensive. I pay a couple hundred dollars per tree for trimming/shaping every five or six years, and I’ve had some unexpected expenses like tree roots ruining my sewer pipes and cracking the cement in my driveway and sidewalks. They are beautiful though and definitely worth the couple thousand dollars in maintenance they’ve cost me over the past 11-12 years.

  4. Pop says:

    Anyone have good resources on how to choose one? Sometimes I’m worried that a tree will give me shade, but drink up a lot of water or stain the walls of my home with fallen leaves, or grow roots that crack the foundation, etc.

  5. Hannah says:

    There is more than just extra raking involved when you plant trees next to your house. You have to be extremely vigilant about trimming branches if you want to protect your roof from damage. If you don’t have the equipment, knowledge or confidence to do it yourself, you could end up spending a lot more on the maintenance than you will save in energy costs.

  6. Susan says:

    I have wonderful memories of my childhood where I climbed in the branches. We lived in the country and never raked the leaves – they just blew away or were mulched by the mower the following spring. They had been planted far from the house and did not require trimming.

  7. Jeanne says:

    Be sure to do some careful planning and consult with some experts on tree planting. Many communities have cooperative extensions that will consult with you for free. We have a large property with many mature trees. The owners who planted them approximately 30 years ago planted them too close to the house. Yes we get shade, but we also get leaves in the gutters, roots that have put large cracks in our sidewalks, driveway and garage. We had some big expenses to cut down trees that were too tall and dangerously hovering over our house. Trees are lovely, but they do require maintenance. Also check about trees that are prone to disease in your area.

  8. Shannon says:

    Like Hannah said, if you’re planting a tree b/c you’ll save money or make money, you’re making a very poor choice. Trees can be VERY expensive to maintain and cause destruction (what if you have super-heavy winds etc); believe me, I know this first-hand.

    Get a tree if you like trees and want to have a tree – don’t get a tree to save $25/yr in energy bills.

  9. Kai says:

    The savings you may get from having one less metre square to mow will be negated by the frustration and extra time trimming and going around the tree.
    Not that the nice benefits of a shade and climbing tree aren’t worth it, but I wouldn’t count mowing among them. Give me an open square with grass and no obstacles any day.

  10. Maureen says:

    Tree roots can also encroach on sewer lines – a nasty problem! I love the shade from my 5 maple trees but can no longer plant a vegetable garden due to lack of light. Maples also suck up a lot of nutrients and moisture.

  11. If you join The Arbor Foundation for $10, you can get 10 free trees! I’ve bookmarked this for when we have our own property. :>)

    I’m curious about the maple syrup, Trent. I hope you update us on that!

  12. Noadi says:

    A mature maple tree will only produce enough sap (about 10 gallons) to make 1 quart of syrup and it’s a labor intensive process. So it’s a nice thought, however a friend’s parents tap their trees but they have a couple acres of them and barely produce enough to stock their farm stand. Stop trying to justify the shade trees, the saving are modest and possibly outweighed by the maintenance costs, it won’t add that much to your property value. Shade trees are lovely and provide an increase to your quality of life in excess of their cost and that’s important.

  13. lurker carl says:

    Select the species and variety of those trees carefully. Also consider leaves, twigs, fruits and seeds that that the trees will produce and drop. Some trees are unacceptably messy for a residental neighborhood. The few dollars they save in the short term will cost you thousands when they need removing.

    Fast growing trees have weak structure and short-lived tendencies. You’ll get some decent shade within a few years but they’re likely to sustain significant storm damage. And such trees will become liabilities in about 15 years as their life cycle ends.

    Don’t trust the nursery label attached to the tree. The label is a selling tool and will not disclose negative aspects, just some basic planting instructions and highlights of desirable traits.

  14. Gretchen says:

    Fast growing just means more likely to fall on your house.

    You have to be kidding about harvesting sap from one young tree, too.

  15. Henry says:

    You’re dreaming on that maple syrup deal. It takes about 10 gallons of sap to produce a quart of syrup. And the red maple has a short window to harvest the sap, and a bad taste if you don’t get it at just the right time.
    I suspect that, along with ‘reduced mowing area’ were just meaningless words scribbled off to pad space in this post.

  16. Josh says:

    I am all for trees and think this is a great article but I disagree on your point about reduced mowing area. If anything, trees will cause to you use more gas/effort to go around them than a wide open space would. Of course, I think the benefits of a tree more than negate that. When I am ready to buy a home one of the requirements is that mature trees already exist on the property. I cannot stand new development without a single tree in the yard.

  17. brad says:

    anyone else think its funny that the ‘christian science monitor’ is used as an authority for quoting how a tree affects property value?

  18. Jane says:

    Having just spent a couple thousand dollars in the past year removing dead and compromised trees in our backyard, I can’t agree with the money saving aspects of shade trees. It would be better to buy a house that is shaded by someone else’s tree. We live in the city with small lots, so this is possible. That way, if something happens, they have to pay to remove it.

    Oh, and we decided not to buy one house based solely on the gumball tree in the front yard. Sure, it provided nice shade, but they are such a pain! I’m dying for our neighbors to cut down the mimosa tree that encroaches on our property, leaving its annoying weeds everywhere.

    Trees are beautiful, but they require maintenance. They are not stress free. And they are certainly not all created equal.

  19. Rachel says:

    There is no way you will supply your family with maple syrup from one tree. This was a family business of ours for years, and there is no way one tree will suffice. Not to mention the amount of work involved to get the scant syrup you might actually make. Not worth it, I promise.

  20. Nicole says:

    If you’re in the South, Crepe Myrtle also provides shade and can be less expensive (read faster growing) than a similarly sized tree. And it has pretty flowers.

    We put some in in front of our house and it has made the temperature in our front room much more bearable in the summer. Even the fan and full a/c couldn’t do much with the direct sunlight and the crepe myrtle is nicer than keeping thick drapes closed all the time.

  21. Stephan F- says:

    If you think you don’t get a enough sun for a garden you might want to reconsider. For example a packet of squash seeds says they need full sun, but if you look at the leaves they are huge.

    Huge leaves are good at gathering the dappled sun under trees. And they do just fine under the trees.

    Talk to some locals or google permaculture and you’ll find all kinds of great info.

  22. Steffie says:

    If you live next to a neighbor with trees, hope that they are good neighbors. We live next to an absentee landlord, very large trees, lots of leaves and no maintenance. Every winter I look out at the snow and ice building up and wonder if this is the year for disaster. Yes, we have tried to make suggestions but to no avail. I even offered to split the cost of trimming, no response. I have one small crab apple tree in my yard, I keep it because it is pretty in the spring, not for the apples. I insulated the house for warmth.

  23. Crystal says:

    The trees around Houston caused the majority of the damage during Hurricane Ike. We were lucky that our China Berry is a stubborn old man and that the Crepe Myrtle I had planted was rooted deep enough not to fly away.

    I agree that shade trees are nice, but make sure you avoid as much hassle as possible…too many foundations are ruined because a maple is small when you plant it and huge 20-30 years later.

    On the other hand, I loved climbing trees when I was a kid. Watching the squirrel in our China Berry tease my dogs is really fun too. Good luck!

  24. Nick says:

    @17 Brad: The Christian Science Monitor is a well-regarded independent newspaper with a strong international focus. Don’t let the name fool you. Fox News is easily more fundamentalist than the reporters at the CS Monitor. I believe they have one or two articles in the Editorial that are devoted to Christian Science topics, and I’ve never read one. Most of the paper is straight news, and most of it original reporting.

  25. anna says:

    My house has 3 50+ year old trees in my yard and several neighbors trees on each side covering my house. While these trees may save in energy costs by shading my house they also bring:
    17 lawn bags full of gumballs & leaves every fall
    Walnuts cover my front yard that must be cleaned
    Twice a year I must clean my gutters
    Not being able to grow any grass in my backyard because it doesn’t get any sunlight
    An extremely dark interior because sunlight can’t enter

    The trees look really nice except for in the winter but I would most of the time gladly pull them all out to not deal with all the other hassles they bring to my yard.

  26. Gretchen says:

    Anna, why don’t you harvest those walnuts for fun and profit?

    Kidding. We have a walnut tree and I shelled a few this year. HUGE pain for the nut the size of your pinky fingernail.

    For the record, I’m protree. I just think the reasons in this post are, for lack of a better word, lame.

  27. Michael says:

    Wouldn’t some good fruit trees would be more financially beneficial?

    A pair of semi-dwarf apple trees should give you a nice fall full of apples, and let you can plenty of apples for the winter and into the spring again. Pear, cherry or stone fruit trees would probably give you an even higher return (since those fruits are more expensive).

    Semi-dwarf trees could even provide enough shade to be beneficial if you have a 1 story house (they get 15-25 feet tall) and place them appropriately.

    If you do go for apple trees, be sure to get two of them, and make sure the two you get can cross-pollinate. Also, don’t expect apples till they have been in the ground for 3 or more years.

  28. Anne KD says:

    Our house is surrounded in front by several hickory trees. I love having the hickories- except for two wheelbarrows full of catkins in the spring, and a front yard covered in hickory nuts starting in September. The black walnut in back spits out nuts, though every fall there are ads in the local paper asking to collect black walnuts- someone else would come get them. The squirrels don’t get all the nuts and with that many nuts you can’t walk barefoot. The previous owner took down 5-6 trees that were too close to the house. I’m very thankful for this because now we don’t have to deal with it. Fruit trees may be the better bet for you, Trent.

  29. Nick says:

    All of the reasons in this post except possibly the increase in home value are nothing more than justifications for purchasing trees because you like them.

    You can’t honestly think that you will save enough money or make money (as the title implies) to justify the costs of a tree? One broken window or busted pipe negates all your savings for decades.

    You’re buying the tree because you want the tree… which is FINE by the way, but I think it’s a bad idea to sell it as a SMART financial investment.

    That could lead people into a very sticky situation. (pun intended)

  30. jim says:

    Just don’t plant the trees TOO close to your home. Previous owners of my home made that mistake and its going to cost me a lot to fix it sooner or later.

  31. anna says:

    @ #26 Gretchen, Thankfully there is a couple who come by and pick up all our walnuts at least once a week once they start falling, for free, so they can sell them. They are still a hassle though especially if I don’t mow immediately after they pick up walnuts.

    I’m all for trees, I just would not have selected the ones I have, leaves are bad enough but add in gumballs, walnuts & acorns!! I think anyone putting in trees should consider the downside to them, even fruit trees attract wild animals, (birds squirrels & worms) that will probably consume or at least ruin most of your fruit before you can enjoy it.

  32. Jackie says:

    If you don’t have AC (AC is rare and a luxury item in some parts of the country), trees aren’t going to save you on your cooling bills. (Without AC, many people don’t have cooling bills!) Increased comfort yes-Energy savings, not much.

  33. Henry says:

    I’m with you Nick! You said it!

    I’m for trees and love them. We cleaned up when I was a kid if one was hit by lightning or wind and it died, we had them insured. That is about the only financial gain you could get from having a tree.

    But don’t push trees as a way to save or make money. It’s not going to happen on a little plot in the subdivision.

  34. chacha1 says:

    I would lean more to the fruit trees in Trent’s climate, too. They *are* fast-growing, they are beautiful, and most of them are available in varieties that won’t get over 20 feet tall, so they won’t present much of a threat to the house even in the worst winter wind.

    Of course, they are messy. Oh well! Country life is not necessarily about manicured lawns. If I ever have my cottage in the country, you can bet I won’t be wasting time, money, fertilizer, water, and mower fuel on a lawn.

    Side note: if we all had better insulation and shade trees, we might not need to use so much A/C.

  35. Henry says:

    I hope you consult your neighbor if you plan on putting in a red maple over their driveway, if you wind up putting it on the southwest side. I’d salt your lawn and kill that tree the first year I was sweeping spinners off my porch and drive, not to mention being tracked in the house. I don’t know why anyone would plant that tree anywhere near their own house, let alone inflict that kind of misery on a neighbor. Those spinners are the most miserable debris to sweep off sidewalks.

  36. Brittany says:

    “For the record, I’m protree. I just think the reasons in this post are, for lack of a better word, lame.”

    Well said. This was indeed a pretty lame post. Just buy the tree because it’s important to you. Don’t you often warn against these exact kinds of pseudo-justifications?

  37. IASSOS says:

    @Pop, tree suggestions: actually negative ones. Black walnut trees are beautiful but very messy, and because of the nuts they attract squirrels. I like the seedless ash, but now there is the emerald ash borer. Fruit trees are messy, although I like to walk around my neighborhood and pick crabapples in winter when they are edible. Oak trees are beautiful but also attract squirrels because of the acorns.

  38. Henry says:

    Didn’t Trent plan to sell the house in ten years or so? If so, there will be no energy savings, *possibly* an extra 7% when he sells, leaves suck for compost, and there won’t be that many of them for several years, and the little dab that do fall will probably be eaten by the mower or wind up on the neighbors porch, and we’ve all agreed the mowing area and the maple syrup points are a joke.
    With all of that on the table, if I didn’t like trees, this post would persaude me to not install a tree if I had only those issues to base a decision on.

  39. Alex says:

    As a landscape architect I’m decidedly pro-tree. However, choosing the right tree for your property is a little more complex than “it will give us shade and syrup”. Acer rubrum is too large a tree for the average property and many homeowners make the mistake of planting such trees in too close promixity to the house, resulting in the damage to foundation and roof mentioned by others above.

    As far as syrup production goes, red maples are a lousy choice with half the sugar content of sugar or black maples.

    And if you’re planning on planting something under that red maple, be prepared to choose and pay for the right kind of shade-tolerant shrubs and plant them at the same time you plant the maple, because you’re not going to get anything to grow under it once it’s established, unless you’re willing to dig into the root system and risk harming the tree.

    All in all, a poor choice for the average property. They are beautiful trees but not one I would recommend to most residential clients. At the very least, give up the idea of syrup production and plant one of the smaller A. rubrum hybrids.

  40. Pat says:

    Oak leaves never seem to compost down. Maple leaves are best mowed over and sucked up with the bagger attachment before adding to the compost pile. Black walnut stain, though if you want to get into dying your own wool, etc they could be a thought. But Trent, buy the biggest tree you can afford. If you are already considering selling in 10 years you want those trees to look good (mature trees sell a house!), course if they are big enough you would also get some enjoyment out of them. We had 8 trees moved/spaded from our corner lot and put up closer to the house in 1995 and even they took a good 10 years to grow to climbing size (they are maples by the way).

  41. Aaron says:

    Be sure to check out a sycamore. Great tree!

  42. Kari says:

    I thought I was protree -I keep mine trimmed & have the weak ones taken down. Last year my 2006 PAID for car was TOTALLED by my neighbors tree AND the tree was left in MY yard to be dealt with. All claims went thru MY insurance. This past Christmas we spent 36 hours with no electric since my NEIGHBOR’s backyard tree came down in an ice storm & took our MY power lines….more tree debris for ME to take care of in the spring! NO MORE TREES IN THE YARD of any variety! I will also be paying to take down the remaining tree on MY NEIGHBOR’S property (since he won’t) so I can avoid more tree damage in 2010!

  43. Mike Collins says:

    My yard is full of trees as our house backs up into a wooded area and a small pond. When we moved in we needed to get a lot of them trimmed or taken down because they were overgrown and out of control. One was so close to the house that when we opened our bedroom window the branches would shoot inside.

  44. Wow–I never really loked at planting a tree as an “investment” but it really makes sense.

  45. sjw says:

    I’m glad others commented on the difficulty of using a single maple for sap. However, I don’t think anyone mentioned that the energy costs to boil down that sap to make syrup would likely negate any savings from “reduced grass area”.

    Remember with maples that you will likely be pulling up dozens of seedlings every year.

    The other thing is to make sure the type of maple you get has deep enough roots. My neighbours both have maples, albeit roughly 90 years old, and we can’t grow anything in the front yard that isn’t in a container because the ground is roughly 40% root.

  46. Alan says:

    Besides 1 tree not being enough for syrup, no one seems to have noticed that red maples aren’t used for syrup. It’s the sugar maple.

  47. Lorrie says:

    A local nursery here in Raleigh advertises on the radio that “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.”; barring that, there’s no time like the present!

  48. Liz says:

    We planted a Globe Willow in our backyard about 19 years ago. The trunk became damaged and dead due to reflected sunlight from out storage shed. Still, it was nice shade while the tree lived. Now we need to borrow (not buy) a chainsaw to take out the skeleton.

  49. Geoff Hart says:

    A few thoughts on trees (speaking as a forester by training):

    First and foremost, before you plant a tree anywhere near your house, call the local arborist (there may be one working for the city) and ask whether it’s a good choice for your area. Some species are banned by cities because they cause problems for the city (they may spread like weeds or have other problems), others are infamous for growing roots into your foundation and water pipes and sewers, thereby causing huge amounts of damage (poplars and willows in particular). Others are particularly fragile and tend to fall down a lot; that more of a concern up here in Canada, where winters are awfully hard on trees.

    Needless to say (thus doubly worth saying), don’t plant the tree anywhere near electrical or telephone wires unless you’re willing to keep pruning it away from them. And don’t prune around wires unless you know what you’re doing; dangerous stuff, and you’d be surprised how many folk get electrocuted every year in this way. (Enough so that our local electrical utility sends out annual reminders.)

    Depending on the space you have and your local climate, consider planting a fruit tree or two. Most have lovely flowers in the spring, and if you’re a frugal reader of this newsletter, they provide a nice crop of fruit you can harvest once they’re old enough to bear fruit. You can also just plant pretty trees like mountain-ash and cherry that do nothing more than attract and feed birds. That’s a nice perk. Some of these trees will also grow large enough to shade your house.

    fwiw, you’ll spend a lot of time boiling if you really did plant a _red_ maple (Acer rubrum) for syrup. What you want is a _sugar_ maple (Acer saccharum). All maples produce sweet sap, but it’s most highly concentrated in the sugar maple, meaning less boiling is required. Also, don’t ever boil maple sap in the house unless you’ve got an amazing ventilation system. The steam usually contains a ton of sugar, and when the steam condenses, you end up with sticky residue everywhere. When I was a teen, some neighbors tried this, and ended up with annual ant infestations for several years running, requiring an annual visit from the exterminator until the sugar absorbed into their wood paneling became sufficiently dilute the ants lost interest.

  50. matt says:

    What a garbage post, from someone who doesnt have a clue. Trees are expensive, they are a huge pain in the rear, Branched fall on your roof, roots encroach and destroy foundations, sidewalks, etc. Fruit trees are worse. You will never get enough maple sap out of a single tree to do anything with, thats a pipe dream for certain. Trees become diseased, they get insect infenstations, tons of things to go wrong, and if they are providing shade they are in an area where they can and will fall on something they will damage. Its not a matter of if but when. Huge ice storm in the midwest last year took out the garage roof. Windstorm a few months ago took out the garage door. I dont cut my trees down because I like them, but if you think they are anything but the royal pain they really are youre dreaming.

  51. Gretchen says:

    Fruit trees for actual edible fruit are a lot of work, a lot of pruning, and probably a lot of chemicals.

  52. Milk Donor Mama says:

    I’m not so sure I agree with you. My house on a city lot has numerous trees, including pine, sugar and red maple as well as others. The maples have terrible root systems that mess up the terrain of the yard, making it difficult to mow and they are easily tripped over. The roots got into our sewer line and we had to have serious maintenance with a sewer snake and then ongoing maintenance with copper sulfate to dissolve any roots that grow into the sewer line. Tree branches near your house can cause damage if weighted down with ice or snow- this has also happened. Trees often require trimming- another cost regardless of if you do it yourself or hire someone. In my city, we are charged for yard waste pickup and yard waste must be put into large brown bags that have to be purchased- can’t use trash containers. Burning leaves or other tree debris is illegal here. And don’t forget the pests- ants, squirrels, etc.

    I also enjoy trees but there are downsides to having them right next to your house!

  53. Jill says:

    I agree with all the people urging good research before planting anything. I live in hurricane territory in a town that was a turpentine plantation back in the 1930s. The tree farmers then planted large numbers of shortleaf pine because it grew fast and din’t require fire to spread new trees like the native longleaf pine does. But the shortleaf pines are very intolerant of wind to the point of tipping over in moderate tropical storm force winds.

    Flash forward to the 1990s and Hurricane Opal, which according to neighborhood history, severely damaged or took down 25-30% of the shortleaf pines in my subdivision. Per a neighbor that lived in the area at the time, our future house had 30+ pine trees go fdown in that one. Then in 2004, Hurricane Ivan took out another 25-30% of the same species in the area. We ended up paying about $2500 to get the shortleaf pine off our garage roof and the remaining shortleaf pines yanked from our front yard after the storm, and then more replanting trees with better wind tolerance in the yard. (live oaks do fairly well as long as you’re vigilant about trimming dead branches)

  54. Tammy says:

    There are no trees in my yard…but my neighbors on both sides have trees right along the property line that dump all their fall leaves in my yard. I’d chop them all down if it was my choice, and at the very least I’d like them pruned…but they are not my trees. On one side we have a big silver maple, which are messy and prone to falling over. On the other side, we have a line of black locust trees, which are possibly the messiest trees I’ve ever seen. There is always some kind of tree debris in our yard at any time of the year. I love the shade, but our grass doesn’t grow well and we only have limited space for our vegetable garden.

    My mom planted apple and pear trees 20 years ago and we are just in the past few years beginning to get good pears…the apples still turn out rather little and sour.

    I think trees are good for shade and for looks…otherwise they are a huge time and money investment.

    PS if you are researching trees that grow well for your state, check your state’s agricultural extension website. Ohio has a nice list of trees that grow well here, as well as trees to avoid. (Surprise! Silver Maple and Black Locust are on the list of trees to avoid!)

  55. t says:

    I tend to believe that shade trees (especially large ones) lead to foundation and structural problems. Tree roots can pull a lot of water from your soil.

  56. Kevin says:

    If you live in a suburban neighborhood, check with your city ordinances before planting trees. Certain species of trees are not allowed for residential cultivation, and it would suck to buy an exotic $300 tree only to learn it’s not one of the “approved” species and must be removed.

    Also, certain trees have very aggressive root structures that seek water relentlessly. If you plant too close to your home and the roots find your foundation’s weeping system, say goodbye to your foundation (and tree).

  57. STL Mom says:

    If you are going to spend hundreds of dollars on decent-sized trees, I would agree with Mr. Hart that you should hire an arborist first. You can get a lot of information from your local extension agent or botanical garden, but I think it is worthwhile to spend the $100 bucks or so to get a personalized assessment of your property. The arborist can recommend specific trees and, perhaps more importantly, advise you on where to plant them to avoid the problems that so many other commenters have experienced.
    Careful planning makes a big difference. For example, our previous home had two sweet gum trees in the yard. They were planted in a sloped area of the yard that was covered with ivy and bushes, so very few of the gum balls ever had to be picked up. Unlike many people, I enjoyed my sweet gum trees because they created very little extra work in that location.

  58. Lily says:

    Trent, for all the negativity on here, you’ve got people writing – 50 comments so early!

    I live in Vegas – not known for it’s trees. So I can only live vicariously through these comments.

    Hopefully, one day I can have a big lot with a couple of laying hens, a goat to milk, a dog, a garden, and several fruit trees.

  59. sewingirl says:

    Good Grief. You’re a smart man, you want a tree, plant a tree!

  60. Robert says:

    It’ll take a few decades to pay off, but a shade tree is certainly a good financial investment. Also, it’s something a family can share and watch grow. Plant the tree with your spouse and kids and watch it grow as the family gets older. When the kids are reaching retirement age, they’ll see the tree and remember when they planted it. It’ll become a living family heirloom.

  61. Kat says:

    I recall reading somewhere that most species of maple can indeed be tapped, but the best is from sugar maples, not red, black, striped or silver maples. Sugar maples produce the sap from which the famed maple syrup of Vermont, NY and Ontario is made.

    As others have pointed out, it takes around 10 gallons of sap to produce 1 qt. of syrup. And the process is highly energy intensive (the sap has to be boiled for hours) and produces a ton of steam. So it’s not something you’d probably want to do in your house. Old farms had “sugar houses” for this job.

    I think fruit or nut trees might be a better option if you’re looking for a harvest to go with the shade. Nut trees produce without you having to do anything except share with the squirrels.

  62. SLCCOM says:

    Sweetgum trees dump round balls with prickly exteriors that can cost big bucks to remove from canine throats, too.

    A neighbor has a trash tree that is constantly seeding my lawn and garden with suckers that are impossible to get rid of short of hiring a lawn service to treat the yard all year long.

    Hmmm. Salt, huh? Actually, it is far too late for that since the suckers and roots take on a life of their own.

  63. Larry says:

    nice idea…but we bought a house in the past 2 years and had to have our one tree pruned $600.00 worth of pruning, and the tree will need this about every 5 years. As a Home inspector trees are often planted way to close to a house causing damage to roofing and possible moisture damage in general. shade trees are great..just pick a slow growning type and give it plenty of room to grow.

  64. Two Dozen says:

    Speaking as someone who planted Bradford pears in front of my house and a sugar maple behind it, I regret the decision. The Sugar maple was wonderful for the first ten years, but since it was planted in the middle of a ten year drought it shallow rooted and when the rain came it shifted, towards the neighbor. The Bradford pears suck up all the nutrinents in the front yard, they have to be pruned up at the trunk every spring, older trees are prone to splitting at the crotch during thunderstroms, crashing into your roof, they stink of sex 10 days during the spring and they are a highway for any critter with nails.
    They are pretty in the spring and summer.

    Two problems with fruit trees. You usually have to plant two, one to fruit and one to pollinate. Then there is the constant spraying. Don’t believe me? Check out the seed catalogs and how they play up the self pollinating and sprayless varieties.Not to mention late frosts killing the buds, or no bees in the spring or the trees just up and dropping their blossoms. Not to mention that if the harvest looks good, here comes the critters.

    And admit it, how many of you have fallen out of trees? Heck, we left our youngest son with the grands and got a panicked call two hours later. Turns out he started pioking figs and was on the roof and scared to come down.

    Trees are an investment the same way in ground pools raise the value of your house. Yeah, right

  65. Two Dozen says:

    And I forgot to mention that one of the neighbors trees lost a branch in a thunderstorm and knocked a hole in the roof and a cousins car was crushed by a tree limb during a hurricane.

    So Trent, tell me how my BBQ grill is a smart investment and I will tell you how my wifes sewing machine is a smart investment.

  66. Kaye Swain says:

    Thanks for an interesting article. I love trees around the house, even if they are sometimes messy and have to be pruned. They cool the house and yard, give wonderful shade for grandchildren and grandparents to enjoy in the hot summer and help shade the house as well. But, as many writers have mentioned, research is vital.

    An invaluable resource, if it’s available, can be a Shade Tree program provided by many cities. It’s definitely worth calling to see if your city or county offers it. The one I participated in gave us two classes with lots of info and advice on the best types of trees for the area, how to plant them, where to plant them, and cautions such how to call to find out where NOT to plant them because of water lines, electric lines, etc. Then they provided each of us with 2-3 free trees and even came out to help us plant them. It was a wonderful program and we learned a lot. :)

  67. DC says:

    Shade trees are definitely an excellent idea for many reasons. To mention a couple, they increase the amount of oxygen production in the air and another is the absorption of carbon dioxide.

    So, thinking about the environmental benefits of planting trees and how it can reduce certain things such as use of a lawn mower, etc. How about using a reel mower (no engine) AND planting some trees! For those who aren’t familiar with how good of a job a reel mower does (considering it’s using only human power), think about giving it a try. Have fun!

  68. Leah says:

    If you do want to make your own maple syrup, see if people/organizations in the area tap trees and end up with too much sap. At the nature center in my town, we gave away quite a bit of sap to volunteers at the end of the season — we had way more than we could boil down in the time we had. We tapped something like 100-150 trees and got a good 30 gallons of sap! It is a lot of work, but it’s pretty fun.

  69. rebecca says:

    We have eight or so trees on our 55 ft wide lot and I LOVE THEM! I love them for the shade (it’s hot in the desert, yo). I love them for the thought of their use (mesquite flour, citrus) even when I don’t take full advantage. They were a major draw in moving to the property (paid more in rent for those mature babies, but waaaay less in cooling costs). I do not mind the cleanup and can do it when we tend the veggie garden. It took decades for them to get into the clay sewage pipes and a quick snaking took care of that! I know they are not just money in the bank, but joy in my life.

  70. Kate says:

    to Gretchen:

    We chose to plant fruit trees for our shade – apple, plum, pear and cherry.
    To be kept healthy, they don’t require any more pruning or other attention than any other shade tree would, and we don’t use ANY chemicals on them. Our cats keep the birds off, and we spray them twice each spring with a mixture of water, dish soap, and powdered borax for insect control – we use the same spray on ALL our trees. So far the only pest problem we’ve had is a family of raccoons who love apples and carry away all the windfalls :-)

  71. alilz says:

    There’s a 40 to 1 ratio for making syrup, so you need 40 quarts of sap to make

  72. tang says:

    This article is supposed to be about a smart financial investment, yet the only places that talk about the cost of putting them in, the time it takes to see the investment pay dividends(such as producing sap and shade), the maintenance costs, and the risk of damage to sewers and roofs are no where to be seen but the comment section.

    It seems to be a very lop-sided argument on why someone should buy a tree. It’s like saying how great of a financial investment it is to buy an expensive car, without talking about the costs. You get the external gratifications, the extra horse power, the nice seats, the nice handling, but don’t sweat the $60K cost that will depreciate right when you get off the lot.

    I am a big fan of The Simple Dollar, but this article is by no way on par with other articles.

  73. Mike says:

    Hi, I like your blog. It is the first time I am on it and I almost spend an hour reading through the post. I must agree with Tang comment. The article is a bit single sided, leaving out maintenance and potential damages to foundations, sewerage. Despite those, there is likely to be an increased insure premium (depending were you live) due storm or tornados, etc.

    So, yes it does increase value, but by 25% sounds to much.

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