Grow More Trees Please: Using Nature To Beat The Heat In Summer

By Teo Spengler | July 12, 2020
Image by Andrei Stanescu
by Teo Spengler
July 12, 2020

Some gardeners like it hot. I have friends that live farther inland than I do and adore their 90-degree plus summer weather. They definitely grow better tomatoes and more of them than folks on the coast, but that is only one consideration. While some like it hot, I do not. I like keeping cool. Maybe it came from growing up in Alaska, but the “why” matters very little. Any temperature over 75 degrees F. (24 C.) saps my energy and makes me cranky. So, needless to say, I know some important tricks for beating the heat in summer.

Grow More Trees for Shade

Unless you live in the desert lowlands or in one of the polar zones, nature has provided wonderful and beautiful tools for avoiding the summer broil. They are called trees. All you have to do is plant some trees and keep them irrigated to enjoy a cooler summer.

While evergreen trees provide shade all year long, deciduous trees do not. They show off bare branches in winter, leaf out in spring, then, by hot summer days, their canopies are lush and green again. This provides refuge to anyone bent on keeping cool by reducing the amount of sun that hits your skin.

Shade Trees for Your Garden

Trees are not only perfect for sitting under on a sweltering summer day, but they can keep your home and backyard cool too. Just like trees prevent sunrays from hitting you, they can also limit the sunlight striking your home, patio and garden. This reduces the amount of energy that is absorbed and re-radiated into the air. 

But that’s not all. Planting trees in your yard also provides transpiration cooling. “Transpiration” refers to the way trees release water into the atmosphere from their leaves, not unlike evaporation pads used to chill out hot greenhouses. In trees, the water moves from the soil into the tree’s roots, travels through its trunk to the branches, then into the leaves. The water is then released from the leaves in vapor form, cooling the surrounding area.

The “best” shade trees for your garden will depend on your region’s hardiness zone as well as your personal preferences. Since I split time between Southwest France’s Basque Country and San Francisco, California, I have sets of favorites for both zones.

In France, the weather dips down to freezing in the winter and shoots up into the 90s in the summers. My favorite shade trees there are beech, with their white trunks and silvery canopies. I am also fond of the fast-growing willows, paper birches and red oak.

San Francisco’s frost-free climate makes these shade trees improbable. Instead, I plant trees native to the state, like evergreen Monterey cypress trees. My favorite deciduous tree in the area is the imposing California buckeye tree. Both provide excellent shade and thrive on sandy soils.

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  • Susan Feltoe
    Comment added August 22, 2021Reply

    I am inclined to agree with the author. I lived in Zimbabwe and started gardening on 1/3rd acre, with only a few avocado trees. After 30 years gardening, we lived in a mini-forest: beautiful leopard trees with their papery bark and delicate leaves; acacia which withstands dry seasons with thorns and tiny leaves; a ficus benjamina which grew into a very big tree with arching branches and great height; a frangipani with extravagant, prolific pink scented flowers over Christmas; guava trees to feed the birds with fruit; and so many more. It was a great pleasure to me to find shady places for sitting in the heat of summer and to grow tender shrubs beneath them. I have relocated now and miss my trees but I know they continue without me there.

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