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Canopy vs. Understory Trees - Official Website of the Town of Windermere, Florida

Canopy vs. Understory Trees

From the Fall 2020 Gazette, written by Tree Board member, Leslie Brabec.


We thought it might be helpful in yard planning strategy to look at these 2 broad categories of trees to better understand placement and usage. That should make it easier to figure out what type of tree you want at the next Treebute tree give-away. This information comes from a great old hand out from the Florida Urban Forestry Council (circa 2005) that was given out at an old Treebute. So, thank you previous Tree Committee members!

First of all, we are very lucky here in the town of Windermere to have so many great old canopy trees. A great way to start planning is to do a drawing of your yard with measurements.  This will help you plant the best tree in the best location for size. Now, put in any existing trees and their type. Canopy trees are the taller trees that provide a large amount of shade. They come in a variety of heights, shapes and provide different patterns of shade.  Having a plan will allow you to figure out exactly what you want to shade and what time of day you want the shade.  Also make sure you know where the rising and setting sun is during winter and summer.  All the canopy trees need to be at least 30 feet away from power lines.  Additionally, if you want solar panels on your roof now or later you will want tall trees to be well away from those as well as your foundation, septic tanks, drain fields and water lines.  We are not saying you should eliminate any tree that is already there, just be aware as you plan new ones.  Please note that these are not all the canopy trees available.  The differences in shape, type of shade/canopy and deciduous or evergreen can give you choices to have exactly what you want in the place you want it. Just please make sure that the full-grown height AND the width is accounted for.

Oak, Live60’-80’H   60’-120’ WSpreading canopyOpen broken shade
Oak, Shumard60’-80’H   40’-50’WSpreading canopyDenser but deciduous
Red Cedar, Southern30’-40’H   23’-30’WUpright and SpreadingDense, good screen
Red Maple35’-40’ H   25’-35’WUpright and roundedDeciduous, color
Sycamore75’-90’H   60’-70’WUpright and spreadingDeciduous, pretty bark
Magnolia, “Little Gem”40’-50’H   15’-20’WUpright and narrowColor in leaf & flowers
Magnolia, Southern60’-80’H   30’-40’WUpright, pyramid spreadingBig fragrant flowers
Magnolia, Sweetbay40’-50’H   15’-25’WUpright and narrowSmaller fragrant flowers



Now we will take a look at understory trees. As the name implies these are generally smaller trees that can sometimes grow under a canopy tree if they need shade. However, there are understory trees that do well with sun. Again, there are a variety of shapes such as multi trunked or single trunk and also the shape of the foliage itself. Some have lovely flowers and some have fruit for wildlife or people.  Most of these trees can be between 10’ and 20‘ from the power lines (depending on the height and or spread of the tree itself). They can also be closer to foundations or other structures. Here is a small sampling of these possibilities. If you are planting a tree under a large existing canopy tree, please be careful of the roots and plant a smaller understory tree.

Crepe Myrtle10’-30’H   15’-25’WLow and spreadingSun and lots of colors
Fringe Tree15’-20’H   10’-15’WLow & slightly spreadingSun and vanilla scented flowers
Loquat20’-30’H   15’-25’WLow, spreading, denseSun to partial shade, yellow edible fruits
Plum, Chickasaw12’-25’H   12’-20’WLow and spreadingSun to partial shade, white flowers in spring
Privet, Japanese12’-20’H   15’-25’WDense crown, rounded, multi trunkedSun to partial shade, white flowers in spring
Redbud20’-30’H   15’-30’WSlightly spreadingNeeds afternoon shade, bright pink flowers
Wax Myrtle15’-20’H   15’-20’WLow and spreadingSun to partial shade, fragrant & blue berry
Weaver Dogwood20’-30’H   10’-15’WLow &slightly spreadingShade under oaks & white spring flowers



There are so many beautiful trees available for our area. The hard part is picking just the right ones for our individual yards. These are just ideas to get you started. After you get the trees laid out, you can add the bushes and flowers. Have Fun!

Treebute 2021 will be different this next year. We will still have a tree give-away and are working to make it safe for all our wonderful town residents. Please watch for updates on our Town Website, Facebook and Town App.