Weeping Willow OR Autumn Fantasy Maple

L Lake
May 31, 2019

Hi all,

Pretty soon, we will be planting the shade tree of our yard, which is currently just a featureless lawn. I'm torn between two trees, as both seem to have their pros and cons. I'd like to ask for your opinions on them, but first, an intro on the property to give you an idea of the space.

The property is 130ft (on the east and west sides) by 65ft (on the north and south sides). The house takes up a third of that space and is on the northern edge of the lot. I plan to plant this tree on the South Eastern edge of the lot to provide shade to the rest of the yard in the morning but allow sun in the afternoon (I'm planning for a lot of sun loving plants.)

I'd ideally want a picturesque tree that provides dappled shade, isn't too large (about or less than50ft tall) and grows quickly. Now to the trees:

The weeping willow was my first choice, but it seems as though there are a lot of horror stories about having these trees in a suburban setting. I like it's picturesque weeping growth and the dappled shade it provides, but I don't think the shallow roots will be good for a yard where I plan to plant many perennials.

Next is the Autumn Fantasy Maple. I've heard many good things about this tree, but my main worry is that it will create too much deep shade. I assume this can be alleviated by keeping the tree well pruned, but as I haven't had to deal with this kind of tree before, I'm just working on assumption.

The dream option is a large Japanese Maple, but these trees grow way too slowly, sadly.

What do you think?

Comments (14)

  • PRO

    I'm wondering where you are discovering your trees. The name 'Fantasy' sounds like a plant that would seen in one of those advertising supplements to the Sunday paper ... one of those ads that touts an amazingly long list of a plant's unbelievable attributes ... but mysteriously neglects to mention any of its bad habits! If "fast growing" is one of the attributes, there is usually a host of bad habits that come along with it. I don't know 'Fantasy' but it is a hybrid and it sounds like silver maple is one of its parents. Silver maple is a fast growing trash tree. I don't think i'd want any of its "children," even if the other parent was of a good blood line.

    And as you heard, weeping willow is another tree with a lot of bad habits. A problem with it bigger than its water-seeking roots is that it is also very trashy, dropping all kinds of dead wood litter. It's good for at the back of a large property where it can be enjoyed from a distance, not near where anyone walks.

    Be wary of stated tree sizes. That is an average size at X-number of years out and it is often very different from the final, full grown size. I'm not sure why you case so much if the tree gets large. it's what's happening at the bottom of the tree that has a greater effect on the homeowner.

    Most maples produce VERY dense surface root structures and many times, it's impossible to grow grass close to them. But there will be some groundcover that can grow in it.

    What are the main attributes you're looking for in a tree? Where are you located?

  • L Lake

    I'm located in Boston, MA, so a zone 6. The reason why I don't want the tree to get too large is that I plan on planting a lot of sun loving plants in my yard, and I don't want something that will cover the entire area in deep shade. Another option I may look to is planting more medium sized/dappled shade trees rather than just one large tree. Maybe something like a few birch trees, japanese maples, crabapples, etc, though that might get expensive quickly.

    Regarding the fantasy maple, it seems like it's an improvement to the Autumn Blaze Maple. Here's a link to one of the sellers:

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    If you like the idea of a birch, then I'd suggest a river birch, Betula nigra. They grow moderately fast, can get plenty large for your needs (40-70') and provide dappled rather than heavy shade. And river birch is resistant to the birch borers and many of the other issues that plague birches. I like them in clump form but single trunked forms are equally attractive with shaggy, peeling bark. And they are much easier to underplant than many other tree species.

    The Freeman maples (of which Autumn Fantasy is one cultivar) are really quite excellent trees in the right circumstance but they do provide pretty heavy shade and like most species of maple, very difficult to garden under.

    And just put the weeping willow out of your mind!! It is not advised for any standard suburban property for a variety of reasons.

  • skmom

    You might like a thornless honey locust, or even a grouping of them. I have some on my property (planted before we were here) and they give lovely, dappled shade, and are easy to plant around because the roots are not difficult to work around like a maple can be. They’re less messy than a willow or a maple as well.

  • PRO

    I would not deduce from the link you provided that 'Fantasy' is "an improvement to" 'Autumn Blaze' Maple. "Fast growing," to me, is usually a negative. In my view, most trees grow fast enough. Those labeled "fast growing" usually get out of bounds too fast, have weaker wood, are trashy, or have some other quality that is undesirable. Not alway. But often ... especially if it is touted in an advertisement. It's better to read/find out about trees in horticultural summaries of them, which are much closer to the truth.

    IMO, the mix-of-trees scheme does not sound as nice (sounds busier looking) as one good tree.

    Again, what attributes (besides size) are you looking for? That is one way to narrow down the list of potential trees that fit the bill.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    I would not be overly concerned with any maple advertised as 'fast growing'.......most of the larger species are. Once established, 2-3' of annual growth is common. And Freeman maples offer the best attributes of both parent species. The fast growth and site adaptability of the silver maple combined with the strong structure, uniform shape and excellent fall color of the red maple. They are extremely popular trees for good reason and are often used as street or parkway trees in addition to use in residential landscapes.

    But as noted, they do produce dense canopies that can provide heavy shade. And they have a lot of surface roots that makes growing much of anything underneath them difficult.

  • beesneeds

    I would skip the weeping willow. I live in a rural area that once long ago a neighbor someone thought planting it by the pond was picturesque.. And decades later the stuff invades everywhere not heavily maintained. It's the normal natural nature of the tree.

    I have to imagine in a suburban area this could be worse, lol.

  • whaas_5a

    Autumn Fantasy has excellent lateral branching and maintains a central leader. It will be decades upon decades before you get deep shade unless you have a high quality moisture tententive soil. Good choice for a shade tree but not the best long term solution to garden under.

    This one is 10 years old.

    I’d offer up a yellowwood based on your needs. You’ll have to pick one with good branching structure.

    if you want something a bit larger Kentucky coffee tree is a delight to garden under and offers mostly dappled shade - same as yellowwwod.

  • ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

    i bought my first house with 2 HUGE willows ... lived there 10 years ... and sold the house with 2 willows ...

    i have nothing good to say about them .. other than they look great in a park.. golf course.. or someone elses yard ... lol ..

    im not quite sure on your measurements.. but im not sure you have space for one ... i would not plant one within 50 to 100 feet of the house.. as they tend to drop large branches in bad storms ...

    and.. btw ... you couldnt get a shovel in the ground under them.. if you wanted ... but that would be decades down the line if you are planting a babe ...

    there are so many better heritage trees ... that are not problematic ... i highly recommend oak ... [trees that in 100 years ... will still be there.. and gorgeous .. and not a problem]


  • mad_gallica

    How about a willow oak? I ended up with one last summer, and they are rather neat.

  • rogerzone6

    Willows are messy as has been stated, Maples are hard to garden under, but probably not for several years and Oaks will drop bushels of acorns. If you don't want the tree to get too large, consider the Birch or maybe a white pine, which you would have to limb up eventually.

  • HalloBlondie (zone5a) Ontario, Canada

    My first thought after reading your question and further info was to suggest a sunburst locust. It will not create deep shade, has interesting foliage & will not be overly large for your yard. However, I do not grow one and am not aware of any potential issues with these trees. Going to your local tree farm or nursery would probably give you a lot more options to consider and practical advice.

  • PRO

    Honeylocust can be nice for growing grass below. But lack of shade is also one of their drawbacks. I cannot be under one without sunglasses because it is too bright.

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