The 6 Best Trees for Parking Lot Islands at Your Memphis, TN or Northern MS Commercial Property

Michael Hatcher

Apr 27, 2020 11:32:55 AM

Imagine you’re a tree, and you just found out you get to live on an island.

Woo hoo! Tropical breezes! Warm sand! Crashing surf! You might even have coconuts!

Actually, it’s a parking lot island. Car exhaust. Trampling feet. No water. 


Well, let’s make the best of it. Maybe you’ll at least be one of the best trees for parking lot islands. 

Let’s see.

The Challenges of Island Life 

Parking lot islands aren’t the best environments for trees.

  • They’re hot and sunny, especially here in the mid-South. 
  • Car exhaust adds an extra layer of damaging pollution
  • Parking lots don’t have easy access to irrigation.
  • Constant foot traffic beats plants down.
  • Tiny parking lot islands have little room for tree roots to stretch out, and the soil underneath is compacted and lacking nutrients.

But Parking Lot Islands Love Trees 

Trees are great for parking areas for lots of reasons:

  • Customers and tenants love parking under a shade tree to keep their car cool. 
  • Trees help break up that big expanse of hot asphalt with cool, attractive greenery.
  • Trees help prevent soil erosion and reduce stormwater drainage problems.
  • Trees add oxygen to the environment, and buffer wind and noise.

But not just any tree can stand up to the rigors of a parking lot.

The best trees for parking lots shouldn’t drop debris or have low-hanging branches that would snag pedestrians, scratch vehicles, or obstruct views.

They should be sturdy, drought tolerant, and shouldn’t need frequent pruning or spraying. 

What works? Stephen Shikle, landscape designer at Michael Hatcher & Associates, shares his top 6 best trees for parking lot islands. 

1. Zelkova

This tree boasts pretty branches for a great winter silhouette and dark green leaves that turn soft yellow, orange, and russet in autumn.

Zelkova tree

It’s also a great tree for the urban landscape, as it has a high tolerance for wind, pollution, drought, and compacted soils.

2. Ginkgo

The fan-shaped leaves of Ginkgo trees turn gold in fall, so this ancient tree is a pretty parking lot perk in autumn.

Ginkgo tree

It’s also drought-tolerant and resists pests. 

Its canopy will spread to 30 to 40 feet wide, so it will offer shade that customers love on hot sunny days.

Just make sure you use a male version, as the female drops fruit in the fall. 

3. European Hornbeam ‘Fastigiata’ 

Dark green leaves fade to yellow in the fall. Fun fact: this tree’s wood is so solid it was reportedly used by the ancient Romans to make chariots.

European Hornbeam tree

We prefer SUVs today, so why is it one of the best trees for parking lot islands?

Its dense foliage offers welcome shade. It’s drought tolerant; resistant to pests and diseases; needs little or no pruning. 

It will grow in full sun or light shade in almost any well-drained soil, from dry and rocky to wet. And its roots are able to expand even when surrounded by curbs and sidewalks. 

What’s not to love? 

4. Shademaster Honeylocust

This graceful, vase-shaped tree has light, airy leaves that offer pretty, dappled shade on hot summer days and turn golden in the fall.

Honeylocust tree

It’s a sturdy tree, growing well despite air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and drought.

Its branches grow mostly upright and won’t droop. It needs little pruning.

5. Lacebark Elm

Lacebark elm is tall, graceful, and shady with a beautiful bark pattern.

lacebark elm tree

It’s much less susceptible to Dutch Elm disease and other pests than other elms.

It can tolerate the often compacted soil of parking lots, and the trampling feet of customers. 

6. Bur Oak

This majestic tree offers dense shade, great for those customers and tenants who circle for 20 minutes hoping for a cool parking spot.

Bur Oak tree

It’s happy in urban areas that typically have air pollution, poor drainage, compacted soil, and drought. 

It needs little pruning and adapts to all types of soil. 

Even though it’s a big tree, its roots usually stay below the soil surface and don’t lift sidewalks or curbs.

The Best Trees for Parking Lot Islands: An Important Choice

You don’t want to work with a commercial landscaping company that will plant any old tree on your parking lot islands.

Less experienced landscape companies can cause you real headaches. 

They might plant the wrong trees that drop messy berries or debris. Suddenly your lot is filled with tree litter and your customers’ cars are a mess.

They might choose trees with weak branches that could topple in a wind storm and damage cars or hurt pedestrians.

Do you want to deal with those kinds of complaints? Or the expensive maintenance that comes from planting the wrong trees?

The Best Trees for Parking Lots? Trust Hatcher

Here at Michael Hatcher & Associates, we love a good challenge, and that includes your picky parking lot.

We know the trees that can stand up to the tough conditions. We have great ideas for sturdy native plants for these challenging spots, too. And we have great solutions for the water management issues that often pop up in parking lots.

Ready to make your parking area shine? Talk to one of our commercial landscaping experts today! We’ll meet at your property, create a custom plan, and get you on your way to enjoying a beautiful, worry-free property.

Get Started

Image sources: zelkova, Ginkgo, european hornbeam, honeylocust, lacebark elm, bur oak       

Michael Hatcher

Written by Michael Hatcher

Michael Hatcher is Founder and Chairman of Michael Hatcher & Associates.