Picking a tree for our yard


Hello master gardeners, my wife and I need some help! We would like to plant a shade tree in our yard to give some afternoon shade on our deck and yard. Our yards soil I would describe as clay and on the wetter side. We would like to plant either in the front left corner of our deck or beside the garage on the shady corner. We are looking for a native deciduous tree that has non invasive roots and is medium to fast growing and one we can trim the lower canopy branches. What do you think? In the back of our yard there are 3 white spruce 4 emerald cedars and a Japanese maple. Our yard faces west so the sun tracks over the left side of this photo. There is a large 80’ tall silver maple in the yard north of us.


Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners.

It is great you want to plant a tree, as we need all the trees we can get!  Even better that you wish to plant a native tree.

There are many trees that don’t like “wet feet” and those are prone to developing fungal or other diseases.  One example is the native Eastern Redbud which could develop verticillium wilt or other problems in wet conditions when it is stressed. In your case it is best to choose the “right plant for the right location”.

See here for native trees recommended for wet conditions:  Ontario Trees and Shrubs – Wet Areas Habitat [ontariotrees.com]

Another option is make the soil where you intend to plant the tree less wet.  You could  install a French drain or some other method of draining water to a different area of your property (into a rain garden or bioswale, for example).  If you are somewhat handy and/or able-bodied, much of this work can be done yourselves but if not, a landscape contractor should be able to help.

We’ve previously published this link to rain gardens:  A complete guide to building and maintaining a rain garden

Here’s one about French drains (my spouse installed a similar one in our backyard several years ago – the water drains into an underground gravel pit and gets filtered down into the water table):  French drains [Bob Vila].

And here’s a YouTube video about bioswales and rain gardens and the differences [the short answer is that the bioswale usually collects overflow water, rain or otherwise, in some sort of depression (often a ditch) which then makes its way into a municipal sewer (however, the water is cleaned and filtered first by plants, gravel, landscape fabric, etc.).  A rain garden is similar but stays wet for longer and you’d plant water-loving plants that can use the water and tolerate “wet feet”:  Rain Gardens and Bioswales: From Basics to Installation [K. Mousseau, OSU Land Stewards; Oregon State University Extension]

If you do install some kind of system to drain off water, your tree choices will be wider.

We’ve answered questions before about planting trees in general and also planting native trees for various conditions.  Within the links below, you will find another link to our guide about planting a tree for life – it offers advice about how to plant a tree and then take care of it.

Picking a Native Tree

Picking the right tree

Hope this information is helpful.