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Made in the Shade: Plants

Strategically selected trees provide beauty and long-term protection for your log home.

If you love log homes, chances are you want to surround yourself with trees, both harvested and living. While it’s true that many tree species will take time to grow before you can reap their benefits — for example, plant a black walnut tree now and you’ll get your first yield in about three decades — there are some varieties that will bring advantages within just a few years.

For log cabins and homes, the right tree choice can provide ample shade, protect the logs’ exterior finish from harsh sunlight and enhance energy performance on the inside.

Coupled with improving air quality and creating a more attractive landscape, trees offer a long-term return on investment that’s tough to resist. Here are a few choices to consider:

1. Juniper

With a silvery-blue appearance and a dense, hedge-like structure, juniper makes a nice addition to any log cabin landscape throughout the northern hemisphere. They are highly drought tolerant, so maintenance is minimal, but they vary in size and shape — from tall and columnar to low and spreading — so be sure you research the properties of the variety you’re selecting.

2. Eucalyptus

In warmer climates (zones 8 to 11), eucalyptus is a top choice because it can grow up to 6 feet per year and it smells amazing. Another bonus is that it tends to repel mosquitoes, so plant a couple outside a deck or patio area to keep the bugs at bay. 

3. Norway Spruce

One of the fastest-growing evergreens, this variety is very cold hardy, so it’s great all the way down to hardiness zone 2. It has a classic Christmas tree appearance, especially as it gets taller. In fact, it can reach soaring heights of nearly 200 feet. If you prefer a denser evergreen (maybe as a natural privacy fence), try the Colorado Blue Spruce.

4. Sugar Maple

Though most identified with the upper regions of North America, like New England, Wisconsin and, of course, Canada, if you live in hardiness zones 3 to 8, the fast-growing sugar maple offers all kinds of benefits for you. Not only will this variety give you ample shade, if you’re feeling ambitious, you can also tap it and turn the sap into syrup. Maples are known for their dramatic color changes and gorgeous autumn foliage — just be prepared to rake and don’t plant them against prevailing wind patterns or you’ll be cleaning out your gutters more frequently, too.

5. Weeping Willow

With its graceful profile and growth of up to 2 feet per year, this type of willow is a lovely addition to any yard in hardiness zones 6 to 8. Since it grows well in soggy soil, it’s a top choice for wetter areas where other trees wouldn’t thrive, like near marshes or ponds, for example. Just keep them away from your home’s plumbing lines as the expansive root system seeks water aggressively.

To get the best shade protection, plant trees along the southernmost exposure of your property and about 20 to 40 feet from the house lest you put your foundation or utility lines at risk from root infiltration or subject your walls to potential insect infestation. Willows and poplars should be kept farther from your home than evergreens.

If you have buried gas or electric lines, call your local utility company before you dig so they can come out and mark those lines.

Planting even just a few trees can make a huge difference in your satisfaction with your home, and many log cabin owners tend to plant trees regularly — either annually or every few years — to compensate for the loss of older or dead trees. Plant now and it’s very likely that you’ll see the benefits quickly and for years, even decades, to come.