Small Leaves, Light Shade; Big Leaves, Deep Shade

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20171230A Gleditsia triacanthos 'Sunburst' oregonstate.edu.jpg

The shade under these fine-leaved honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’) is very light and the lawn grows as well as in full sun. Source: oregonstate.edu

If you want to plant a tree on your property, but don’t want to give up a sunny flower bed or lawn because of the shade the tree will create, consider the following detail: the smaller the tree’s leaves, the more light will filter through; the bigger they are, the less sun reaches the ground.

Therefore trees with tiny leaflets, like honey locust (Gleditsia spp.), black locust (Robinia spp.) and silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) and trees with deeply cut leaves, like  cut-leaved alder (Alnus glutinosa ‘Imperialis’), certain Japanese maples (Acer palmatum dissectum) and cut-leaf birches (Betula pendula ‘Filigree Lace’ and others), let in plenty of light and you can consider the space at their feet as being in very light shade and sometimes, when there are no other obstacles around, the equivalent of full sun.

The opposite is true of trees with very large leaves, like Norway maple (Acer platanoides), basswood (Tilia americana) and red oak (Quercus rubra). They create deep shade, even when they’re young and the shade just keeps getting deeper as they mature. Growing flowers or lawns at their base can be very difficult indeed.

Most other trees have “average-sized” foliage and will give medium shade in their youth, but tend towards deep shade as they mature.

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