Best Shade Trees To Plant In Raleigh, NC

By Tree Expert Codey Stout
Published On

Wondering which shade trees to plant in Raleigh?

North Carolina is the ideal place for growing any kind of shade tree or fruit tree due to its fertile soil and coastal regions.

In this article, we cover:

  • The best shade trees to plant in Raleigh (The city of oaks)
  • The importance of growing native species in North Carolina
  • How a tree growing professional can help you flourish in the Piedmont area

And much more!

Best Shade Trees To Plant In Raleigh, NC(1)

Read below for professional recommendations regarding which shade trees to plant in Raleigh.

What Are The Best Shade Trees for Raleigh?

There are several varieties of trees that grow extremely well in Raleigh and the greater North Carolina area. These shade trees thrive in Raleigh because of the moderate weather and the fertile soil. Planting one of these could bring beauty and shade to your home for years to come!

Red Maple (Acer Rubrum)

Red maple trees are indigenous to both the Americas and Europe and are a popular choice for bringing shade to areas in Raleigh. With the capability to grow up to over 120 feet tall, most maple trees stay within 40-70 feet in height.

The maple tree is tolerant to many different soil conditions but prefers a well-drained, slightly acidic soil.

Maple trees are extremely cold hardy (from zones 5 to 9), and some maple tree varieties even reach down to zone 3. Utah State University estimates that there are over 100 species of maple trees.

Red Bud

Known also as the Cercis canadensis, the Red Bud is a tree native to the Raleigh area, and its purple flowers are some of the first to bloom during the springtime in North Carolina.

The Red Bud reaches heights of up to 20-30 feet and prefers a neutral pH soil type. Because of its shallow root system, it takes careful precision to successfully grow, and planting them at the proper depth is a must.

Starting out as a multi-stemmed plant, the Red Bud grows best as a tree if the surrounding stems are removed to leave one center stem.

The ‘Hearts of Gold’ cultivar of the Red Bud is an especially beautiful and smaller variety that you may want to consider the next time you go to plant shade trees in Raleigh.

Crape Myrtle

Also known as Lagerstroemia, the Crape Myrtle is a gem of the south and thrives in most parts of North Carolina.

Ranging from 3-12 feet in height, the Crape Myrtle is an extremely attractive flowering tree/plant that some say enhances the pleasant effects of summer in the south.

As far as planting goes, the Crape Myrtle requires full amounts of sunlight, and you’ll want to plant certain cultivars like the ‘Acoma’, ‘Hopi’, or ‘Natchez’. Watch out for powdery mildew when inspecting old Crape Myrtles, but the younger plants are said by NC State to be disease resistant.

Oak Trees 

Quercus, or oak trees are perhaps the most popular and sensible option for shade tree planting in Raleigh. In fact, there are so many majestic oak trees in Raleigh that it’s called the city of Oaks.

One of the most prominent and beautiful oak trees grown throughout the south is the Live Oak, or Guercus Virginiana. The Live Oak can reach heights of up to 60 feet, but a more impressive growth happens for its horizontally growing branches, which range up to 120 feet wide.

Another beneficial attribute of oak trees is their acorns. Although the acorns from oak trees shouldn’t be eaten raw due to their toxic tannins, they can be boiled or ground into flour, or extracted into oil.

We recommend growing oak trees in Raleigh to help the natural biodiversity flourish. It’s also notable that oak trees were prized in the days of early America for boat building, and many furniture and hardwood floors today are made of oak because of its rock-hard and long-lasting surface.


Also known as Populus deltoides, poplars are very similar to Cottonwood trees, and they are also native to North Carolina making them a great planting choice.

Poplar trees in North Carolina require large amounts of sunlight and moist, well-drained soil to flourish. NC State recommends a pH level of 4.5-8 which means that the poplar is relatively tolerant to a wide range of pH soil levels.

Poplar trees are relatively short-lived with soft wood, and you’ll likely find them growing close to rivers and streams as well as other naturalized woodland areas.

Fun fact: Magazine paper is made from poplar wood because of its brittle consistency.


The American Arborvitae is a native evergreen tree that can grow to heights of 40-60 feet and widths of 10-15 feet at full maturity according to the Arbor Day Foundation.

Arborvitae evergreens are advantageous to plant because of their incredible wind-breaking ability (they thrive when planted 3 feet apart), and homeowners, you could also plant a set of arborvitae trees along a property line instead of building a fence.

The arborvitae isn’t picky about the consistency of soil because it will grow in sandy or clay ground, but it does prefer a more acidic soil when it comes to pH levels.

The arborvitae’s fan-like leaves can be pruned and trimmed to a plethora of different shapes without harm, and we should also note that this tree provides nesting areas for beautiful birds like robins, finches, and grackles.

Birch Trees

This native deciduous tree prefers acidic soil and sandy or rocky soil and is known for being extremely resilient in extreme heat and flooded conditions.

NC State advises not to prune birch trees during the winter because they will bleed excess sap. Also, watch out for problems like leaf miners, aphids, and birch skeletonizer as they can damage the trees beyond repair. Some varieties of birch trees found in North Carolina include:

  • Little King
  • Heritage
  • Duraheat
  • Royal Frost
  • Dickinson
  • Statechamp
  • Summer Cascade
  • Shiloh Splash

Other Shade Tree/Large Tree Options for Raleigh?

The list goes on and one and the right tree depends on your personal preference. You might try Hawthorn (they produce red berries), Hickory, Leyland Cypress, Flowering Dogwood, Magnolia, River birch, Tulip trees, and additional trees that you might find in your local garden center.

What Are The Key Factors For Successful Shade Tree Growing In Raleigh?

Choosing the right tree to plant is only part of the battle though, because there are several other factors that can impact tree growth in Raleigh such as the pH of the soil, the plant hardiness of the area, and a few other key considerations.

Without these considerations, your tree could face an uphill battle once it’s been planted, resulting in disease or death. If you notice issues with your tree, don’t hesitate to contact our Raleigh tree specialists as soon as possible to give your tree a fighting chance.

With that in mind, let’s walk through the other factors that contribute to a tree’s health and vitality.

pH Levels In The Soil

The acidity or alkalinity of the soil you’re planting in plays a huge role in how well trees grow. Before you plant a specific shade tree, purchase a soil pH level test, and test the planting site to determine whether or not that specific tree is suitable for the area you’re looking to plant in.

Plant Hardiness Scale

It’s extremely vital to be aware of the USDA plant hardiness scale when planting shade trees in Raleigh since the ground does reach freezing temps during the winter time.


Each shade tree variety requires a certain amount of space for proper growth. Research your specific shade tree and its space requirements before planting on your property.

What Is The Importance of Growing Native Shade Trees?

Growing native shade trees on your property in Raleigh is the best thing you can do for the local ecosystem.

See the North Carolina Native Plant Society’s page on recommended native species for a complete list of trees and plants that should be grown in place of non-native or invasive species. Below are some additional reasons why growing native in Raleigh is the way to go:

Preserve Biodiversity

Planting native shade trees in Raleigh guarantees the greatest wildlife benefits because birds, insects, mammals, amphibians, and other animals thrive off of native trees.

Prevent Flooding

Did you know that native shade trees grow stronger root bases that prevent and reduce the volume and velocity of stormwater?

Reduce Overgrowth Costs

Avoid the expensive cost of removing overgrown invasive species by planting native shade trees.

Lower Surface Temperatures

The best part about shade trees is their ability to create a comfortable environment during the summer months. Plant native shade trees on your property in Raleigh to help enhance your quality of life during the summertime.

How Can A Tree Growing Professional Help?

Hiring a tree professional grower who is familiar with the Raleigh area can be invaluable to your property.

We highly recommend consulting a professional before planting on your property if you’re unsure or inexperienced, even for low maintenance and small trees. Here are some ways a tree professional can help keep your property shaded:

Tree Monitoring

It never hurts to hire a tree pro to help you impeccably cultivate fruit trees on your property, and this especially applies to all you vacationers who leave for more than a week at a time.

Peach, plum, and pear trees require extra care, so it’s in your favor to hire some help if you’re into these juicy fruits.

Fertilizing/Soil Testing

The quality of the soil is huge when growing fruit trees, and a tree professional from the Raleigh area knows just how to correctly test the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Your other option is to purchase a soil pH level testing kit off of Amazon or at your local tree nursery.

Tree Permits/Appraisals

Tree services take care of tree permits so that you don’t have to. For example, trees in the public right of way (in between the sidewalk and the road) are technically public property, so you likely need a permit for pruning and removing certain trees.

Tree pros can also give you accurate appraisals for tree removal and maintenance–be sure to get multiple bids for tree removal and monitoring for the best price.

That being said, don’t skimp on quality when hiring a tree care professional. Companies with four and five-star Google reviews like Tree Triage are likely the best choice when seeking tree help.

See the city of Raleigh’s Tree Impact Permit page for more details.


Correct tree pruning is vital for maintaining a healthy tree. For example, if you cut off a large branch too close to the tree’s trunk, it leaves the tree substantially more vulnerable to disease and infestation.

We recommend consulting a professional like Tree Triage to give you advice on how to properly prune your specific trees in Raleigh.

Planting and Transplanting

Use a professional’s know-how to properly plant shade trees on your property to give them the correct growing conditions for the many years to come. Even if you don’t hire a professional for planting and transplanting, you should still refer to educational sites about performing the work correctly.

For example, proper drainage, spacing, and correct pH levels in the soil drastically impact the effectiveness of how well your tree will grow in the Raleigh area. If you’re planting yourself, we recommend searching how to correctly plant or transplant the specific variety you’re working with.

Lastly, try planting smaller Azalea trees underneath shade trees because of their beautiful appearance and excellent shade tolerance. Good luck!

Meet Your Tree Expert

Codey Stout

Codey Stout is the operations manager for Tree Triage and has years of experience removing trees. His expertise has been featured in publications like Yahoo, The Family Handyman, Homes & Gardens, and many more. The only thing Codey likes doing more than removing intrusive trees, is removing unsightly stumps.
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