Stay Cool This Summer

Create Natural Shade

Some of the prettiest, most effective sources are trees, shrubs, and plants. If you live in an area without mature trees, this may not seem like a viable option, but with a little patience and time, it's not hard, experts say. Their best advice:

Child going down slide

Chris Eckert

  • For the fastest shade, try vines. Build an arbor or a pergola over your patio or part of your backyard, and then grow pink jasmine, wisteria, trumpet vine, or grapes on it, says Eric Liskey, a horticulturist and deputy editor at Parents' sister magazine Better Homes and Gardens. It doesn't have to be a pricey project; you can build a small one yourself for a few hundred dollars.
  • Ask local experts for advice. Eucalyptus, American linden, coast redwood, red maple, pin or red oak, and lacebark elm are all great shade-tree varieties, but whether they'll grow for you depends on where you live, Liskey says. Your best bet? Call a local nursery or an extension agent, a public employee who's an expert on agriculture and gardening, and ask which native trees thrive in your area. (Find your state's Cooperative Extension office at
  • Avoid "fast-growing" trees. Trees advertised that way, such as silver maple, poplar, and princess, are usually weak-wooded, so their limbs break off easily -- possibly putting children at risk, explains Michael Glassman, a landscape designer in Sacramento, California. They also tend to have shallow, invasive roots that can damage your patio or playset. Better trees take at least five to ten years to provide any significant overhead shade.
  • Block the afternoon sun pronto. Trees and large shrubs planted to the south and west of the areas where you spend time will provide coverage from the afternoon sun almost immediately, Glassman says. His favorite varieties include Chinese pistache, ginkgo, crape myrtle, golden raintree, fruitless olive, and bay laurel.

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