Skip to main content

Some Favorite Trees for Minnesota Landscapes

Trees contribute a great deal to any and all landscapes -- shade, structure, a canopy “ceiling”, protection, wildlife habitat -- and fall is an excellent time to plant trees. Sunlight is less intense and temperatures are cooler which reduces transplant stress.

Usually there is more rainfall as well (Note: if rainfall is scarce in your area, see "Water Wisely" under Planting and care for Trees and Shrubs).

Looking for new trees for your landscape? Shop for locally-grown trees as they will adapt to and perform well in their new surroundings.

While the following list of recommendations doesn’t nearly cover all the trees available for Minnesota landscapes, these trees are some good options. 
True North Kentucky Coffeetree

True North™ Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioica ‘UMNSynergy’) A male selection, so no messy pods. A member of the Fabaceae (legume) botanical family, disease resistant and tolerant of heat, cold, wind and dry soils with high pH. Good tolerance to both deicing salt spray and run off. Yellow fall color. A University of Minnesota introduction. Height: 50-70 ft. Spread: 25-35 ft. Full sun. Hardy to zones 4-9.

Summertime amur maackia (Maakia amurensis ‘Summertime’) A University of Minnesota introduction and one of our best performing, brownfield site trees. Typical of the members of the legume family, it’s tough as nails, can live in very poor (but well-drained) soil and still look good. Height: 15-20 ft. Spread: 12-15 ft. Full sun. Zones 3-8. 

First Editions® Matador™ maple (Acer x freemanii ‘Bailston’) Hybrid of silver and red maples. Adaptable. Symmetrical upright form, deep red fall color that comes later and stays longer. A better-built cousin to Autumn Blaze® maple. Height: 40-45 ft. Spread: 20-40 ft. Full sun. Zones 4-7.

Silver Queen silver maple (Acer saccharinum ‘Silver Queen’). Yes, a silver maple! Like all maples, shallow roots are still an issue. A cultivar of our native, this silver maple is very well built, site tolerant and about ⅔ the size of the species at maturity. Great shade tree if given plenty of room (i.e. don't plant it on a boulevard). Height: 50 ft. Spread: 40 ft. Full sun. Zones 3-7.
Heritage river birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’). Exfoliating bark that ranges from tan to almost white. Resistant to bronze birch borer. Tolerant of wet, poorly drained soils. Requires soil pH 7.2 or less. Height: 45-50 ft. Spread: 30-35 ft. Full sun. Zones 4-8. 

Eye Stopper™ corktree (Phellodrendron lavalelli ‘Longenecker’) Male selection. Bright yellow fall color and seedless. Corktree is very site tolerant, with moderate tolerance to deicing salt spray and run off. Female trees seed heavily and are on the invasive plant watch list. Full sun. Height: 40 ft. Spread: 35 ft. Full sun. Zones 4-7.

Majestic Skies™ Northern pin oak (Quercus elipsoidalis ‘Bailskies’). Red spring foliage changes to dark green in summer and a deep red in fall. Symmetrical form makes this plant stand out in any landscape. A very well-built tree that requires minimal developmental pruning. Height: 60 ft. Spread: 45 ft. Full sun. Zones 3-8. 

Accolade® elm
Dutch elm disease-resistant elms. Two Asiatic cultivars are Accolade® (Ulmus 'Morton', height 50 ft, spread 40 ft) and Triumph (U. ‘Morton Glossy’, height 60 ft, spread 40 ft). Both have very good form and growth rate, are easy to maintain and have the best disease resistance of DED-resistant elms. Two other species and varieties suitable for Zone 3 (and 4) with pretty good resistance are Prairie Expedition (U. americana ‘Lewis and Clark, height 60 ft, spread 40 ft’) and Discovery (U. davidiana var. japonica ‘Discovery’, height 30 ft, spread 40 ft). Full sun. To minimize another Dutch elm disease epidemic, elm varieties should never represent more than 5% of the total tree population and never planted closer than 60 feet from each other.

Northern Acclaim® thornless honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis ‘Harve’) An NDSU introduction, this seedless variety and the last of our recommendation from the legume family is a tough urban tree featuring bright green foliage that changes to gold in the fall. Pyramidal form. Provides filtered shade -- one of the best shade trees to grow if you also value a healthy lawn beneath it. Height: 50 ft. Spread: 35 ft. Full sun. Zones 3b-6.

Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) Best performing urban tree from Arbor Day planting records dating back to 1995. Large form with heart-shaped leaves and bunches of fragrant, white orchid-like flowers that form long green pods. Tolerant of a wide variety of soil types. Height: 60 ft. Spread: 40 ft. Full sun. Hardy in zones 4-6. 

American larch or tamarack (Larix laricina) A deciduous conifer, larch have clusters of short bright green needles that turn golden and drop off in autumn. Grown in full sun, this under-utilized tree performs well in wet to mesic (a.k.a. normal) soils. Tolerant of deicing salt spray. Height: 60 ft. Spread: 30 ft. Full sun. Hardy in zones 2-5.

Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) Reliably hardy in zones 2-9, this deciduous tree is one tough cookie, and does well in just about any type of soil as long as it's not a swamp. Foliage turns gold in fall, and birds love the black berries. Corky, knobby bark is interesting year-round. A good urban tree and wildlife plant. Height: 60 ft. Spread: 60 ft. Full sun.
Dakota Pinnacle® Asian white birch

Dakota Pinnacle® Asian white birch (Betula platyphylla ‘Fargo’) Developed by NDSU, this is a medium to small graceful white birch. Striking narrowly pyramidal form. It will succumb to bronze birch borer, so keep it well-watered, plant in a garden bed to avoid compacted soil, and mulch the root zone. It’s worth the extra work. Height: 35 ft. Spread: 12 ft. Full sun. Hardy in Zones 3a-7.

Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) Cottonwoods are very large, dramatic trees with shiny, delta-shaped leaves and deeply ridged bark. However, the female trees produce sticky seed buds and masses of downy white “cotton” that clings to window screens, gathers in gutters and seems to be everywhere! Enter the male Cottonwood -  an under-utilized, large quality tree without the cottony seed. One of Minnesota’s most ubiquitous trees and a favorite for nesting eagles. Height: 100 ft. Spread: 75 ft. Full sun. Hardy in zones 3-9. Buy from a reputable nursery source.

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) Highly recommended for zone 4 and especially southeastern  MN. A Minnesota native, this plant features large, flat curving plates of peeling bark (hence its common name) and produces edible nuts (excellent wildlife value). Hard to get large sized trees in nurseries. Check with a local native plant nursery. Height: 80 ft. Spread: 50 ft. Full sun. Zones 4-9.

Serviceberry, Juneberry, Saskatoon berry, Shadblow (Amelanchier speciosa). Not planted enough, this small tree features white spring flowers, purple to black edible fruit (rivals blueberry), red fall foliage and soft gray bark. Height: 25 ft. Spread: 25 ft. Developed for fruit production, the shrub form Regent (Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’)  is an excellent addition to a home landscape (height 6 ft, spread 6 ft). Tolerant of various soils. Full sun to partial shade. Zones 2-7.

Concolor fir
Concolor fir, white fir (Abies concolor) Minnesotans fell in love with the Colorado blue spruce - then it came down with needlecast disease. Enter the concolor fir - a great substitute for people bemoaning the loss of their blue spruce yet not wanting to manage a troublesome fungal disease. Soft, fragrant and blue-ish foliage. Pinkish-tan upright cones. Height: 50 ft. Spread: 20 ft. Full sun. Zones 3-7.

White pine (Pinus strobus). The white pine is a fixture in northern boreal forests. Fine feathery needles, irregular dramatic form especially when mature, and large sticky cones. The white pine attracts many kinds of wildlife and should be planted with plenty of space to stretch out its branches. Prefers moist, acidic, well-drained soil. Moderately tolerant of soils with a slightly higher pH. If white pine blister rust is a problem in your landscape area, choose the disease-resistant variety Patton’s Silver Splendor (Pinus strobus ‘Patton’s Silver Splendor’). Height: 80 ft. Spread: 40 ft. Full sun to light shade. Zones 3-7. 

Authors: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator in horticulture, and Gary Johnson, professor, urban forestry

Print Friendly and PDF