Top 10 Shade Trees for Your Wisconsin Yard

A friend asked me, “Would you rather have a water fountain or a shade tree?” I picked the shade tree without hesitation. While both will refresh you on a hot day, a shade tree takes it further by making your yard vibrant and attracting cute animals like squirrels.

Fortunately, Wisconsin boasts an array of beautiful and resilient shade trees suited to its climate.

Among the abundance, I’ve curated a list of ten standout trees known for their quality shade and unique characteristics.

Best 10 Shade Trees in Wisconsin

  1. Bur Oak

    Source: Justin Meissen

    The Bur Oak is one of the most durable shade trees in Wisconsin. Plant it anywhere, and it will grow just fine. You can’t expect less from a Wisconsin native tree.

    Like me, you may be fascinated by its two-colored leaves—green on top and whitish on the underside.

    It is rarely affected by drought, fire, pollution, and pests, which means reduced maintenance on your part.

    The tree usually grows to 100 feet with a shade width of about 75 feet.

    However, the Bur Oak grows acorns, which means two things: wildlife presence and nuts on the lawn.

    Average Mature Width: 3 to 4 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8

    Also called: Mossycup Oak

  2. Ginkgo

    Source: Sunroofguy

    A tree with a pyramidal shape symbolizes resilience and adaptation. That’s true about the Ginkgo tree. Although not a native tree, it has naturalized and can grow in almost any soil.

    During autumn, its leaves turn a captivating bright yellow. Trust me, the sight will be irresistible to anyone.

    Around this time, the female tree also drops its fleshy, strong-scented fruits, which can be a messy sight. If this bothers you, you may opt for the male tree instead.

    To restore your lawn’s beauty, you can clean up the debris yourself or hire professional tree service experts to do it for you.

    Under ideal conditions, a Ginkgo tree can live for thousands of years.

    Average Mature Width: around 4 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9

    Also called: Maidenhair

  3. Sugar Maple

    Source: James St. John

    As a true Cheesehead, you’ll agree that the best shade in Wisconsin is under a Sugar Maple tree.

    This accolade may or may not be related to its status as Wisconsin’s official state tree.

    This tree takes time to grow; I advise that you go for another tree if you require a shade urgently. If you stick with it, the rewards abound: It will grow nearly 150 feet tall with about 50 feet of foliage and live for hundreds of years.

    It also produces sap that you can process into maple syrup.

    Average Mature Width: up to 4 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8

    Also called: Rock Maple

  4. Weeping Willow

    Source: Garry Knight

    If you like activity in your yard, I recommend the Weeping Willow. How it dances at the slightest of breezes is a mystery of nature.

    It’s one of the fast-growing deciduous trees. Because its growth may be aggressive, it’s best to plant it away from houses and walkways.

    You’ll also need to prune it regularly as it grows and after storms.

    After pruning, ensure you dispose of the yard waste properly.

    Average Mature Width: 1 to 3 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 3 to 9

    Also called: Babylon Willow

  5. Kentucky Coffee Tree

    Source: F. D. Richards

    A member of the bean family, the Kentucky Coffee Tree is a top Wisconsin shade tree. It grows tall and wide to provide ample shade and unique foliage.

    Its rose-like fragrance and sturdy constitution make it a delightful addition to any landscape.

    It also bears pods that require occasional cleanup to maintain your yard’s beauty.

    Average Mature Width: 2 to 3 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8

    Also called: American Coffee Berry

  6. Northern Red Oak

    Source: Katja Schulz

    A familiar sight in Wisconsin yards, the Northern Red Oak stands tall and proud, reaching over 40 feet.

    Thriving in sunlight and well-drained soil, it boasts stunning red foliage in Fall and sustains local wildlife.

    Its quality wood means it’s not just a shade provider but also a valuable resource for making furniture and fences.

    Average Mature Width: 2 to 3 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 4 to 8

    Also called: Common Red Oak

  7. Red Maple

    Source: Willow

    With its vibrant red hues year-round, the Red Maple adds color to any yard. Adaptable to various soil types, it grows up to 60 feet tall and sustains wildlife with its fruits and leaves.

    It is a long-lived tree that is easy to maintain, offering decades of shade and beauty.

    Average Mature Width: about 6 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 3 to 9

    Also called: Common Scarlet Maple

  8. Northern Catalpa

    Source: Ali Eminov

    The Northern Catalpa has established its roots in Wisconsin yards despite being a non-native tree. It can reach over 80 feet, while its heart-shaped leaves grow up to 12 inches.

    The Northern Catalpa requires space and regular pruning to grow well.

    Average Mature Width: 4 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 4 to 8

    Also called: Hardy Catalpa

  9. Shademaster Honeylocust

    Source: Plant Image Library

    This is one of the trees that offers a light shade. It can grow up to 50 feet with a similar spread.

    During its growth period, the lower branches require pruning to create space under the tree.

    It’s not picky with soil and tolerates drought and pollution.

    As an added benefit, its extensive root system can also protect your yard from erosion.

    Average Mature Width: 2 to 3 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8

    Also called: Thorny Locust

  10. American Sycamore

    Source: Famartin

    At over 100 feet with a similar spread, the American Sycamore is one of Wisconsin’s largest shade trees. It commands attention with its size and beauty.

    It’s a rugged tree that can tolerate extreme weather and pollution. Under ideal conditions, it can live for hundreds of years.

    Average Mature Width: 10 to 14 feet

    Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9

    Also called: Buttonwood

What is Wisconsin’s native shade tree?

Wisconsin’s favorable climate means it has many native shade trees, including Red Maple, northern red oak, and American Sycamore. Their distinct features can be helpful when designing your landscape.

Building your Wisconsin shade garden: Final thoughts

Wisconsin is a state with heavy forestation and over 11 billion trees. So, your tree options are numerous.

Before you build a shade garden, properly prepare the site — from knowing the planting seasons to using the correct planting techniques — to ensure your trees thrive for generations.

Alternatively, you can hire tree service experts to recommend suitable trees for your yard and perform routine maintenance.