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It’s too hot for gardening, time to start thinking about where to plant shade trees

A well-planned shade tree (or two) is welcome anytime, but especially in summer heat.
A well-planned shade tree (or two) is welcome anytime, but especially in summer heat. Associated Press file

We’re not working much in the garden in late July. Just seeking shade and trying to stay cool. If your garden lacks sufficient shade now when temperatures are at their highest of the year, this is the time to decide where you’ll be planting shade trees this fall.

September and October are the best months to plant trees in our climate zone, but the angle of the sun and the direction of the shade cast by trees in the fall months is different than in the hot summer months. If you’re hoping to plant trees that will eventually shade your hot south-facing patio in July and August, you’ll need to find the right spot now.

Take a long pole (a rake or a broom will do) into your garden at the time you’d like to see shade – maybe early morning on the east side of your house by your bedroom, or outside the west-facing kitchen window in late afternoon. Check the angle of the shade cast by the pole to make sure that shade will fall where it’s needed. Mark that spot with a stick so that you can find it in September.

When looking for that right spot, make sure that the tree(s) will be planted at least 12 feet away from structures including garages, sheds and houses. You don’t want tree roots to undermine foundations and you’ll want to provide enough space for roots to become solidly established.

Tall-growing trees should not be planted underneath power lines, since they will require constant pruning to keep branches from touching the lines.

Make sure that a water source is available for the tree. Lawn sprinkler water does not provide deep irrigation; the water from the sprinklers only penetrates 3 to 4 inches deep and tree roots usually lie about 12 inches deep. You’ll want to be able to install several drip emitters, soaker hoses or bubblers for the tree.

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a tree for your landscape. Your favorite trees may not be suitable for your space. Are you hoping for dense shade from an evergreen redwood? their canopy will reach 30 feet wide at maturity and they’re better suited to cooler coastal climates. Do you love the lacy look and fall color of Japanese maples and would love to make one the focal point outside your south-facing living room window? some types of Japanese maples will burn in direct sun.

The Fresno County Master Gardeners have compiled extensive lists of trees suitable for our climate. The four lists (evergreen, deciduous, small and ultra small trees) are downloadable from the Fresno County Master Gardeners’ website, www.ucanr.edu/sites/mgfresno. The comprehensive information includes size at maturity, shape, fall color, flowers and fruit, allergens, possible litter and invasive root problems, disease and pest resistance, and water needs. Take the lists with you when you’re shopping for new trees.

Here’s something else you should do before buying a tree: Plan a visit to the Clovis Botanical Garden, 945 N. Clovis Ave. They’re open Wednesday-Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The CBG is a water-wise demonstration garden with many gorgeous mature drought-tolerant and native trees that might inspire your tree choice. (My favorite is the large, beautifully-shaped palo verde).

Send Elinor Teague plant questions at etgrow@comcast.net.