This Is the Right Tree to Plant In Your Backyard
Nature loves diversity, which might explain why there's a tree for every situation and every growing condition. Here are 10 species and the sometimes challenging environment they're well suited for.
Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria) grows well in dry conditions. This small tree gets its name from the smokelike flower structures that appear in summer. As if those weren’t memorable enough on their own, some smoketree cultivars have even more ornamental interest, thanks to burgundy, chartreuse or multicolored foliage. Smoketree grows 10 to 15 feet tall, depending on cultivar, and is drought tolerant once established. Zones 5–8.
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a stately conifer for wet conditions (it even grows in standing water). Ironically, it’s also drought tolerant! A fast-growing ornamental tree that grows 50 to 70 feet in height, it looks like an evergreen with its flattened needles—that is, until fall, when the foliage turns orange and eventually drops. Zones 4–10.
Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is a fast-growing tree for cold climates. Accepting of different soils, it can sprout multiple clones, forming a pure stand of trees coming from the same roots. The smooth greenish white to cream bark is almost birchlike in appearance, and the golden yellow fall color is dazzling. Zones 1–7. See some other trees with great fall foliage.
Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) is a Southeastern native that sneers at hot weather. Slow growing at first, it puts its juvenile energy into developing an extensive root system to help it deal with tough conditions. Once the roots are established, it grows relatively quickly to 60 to 80 feet. Longleaf pine features long, dark-green needles and large, spiny cones up to 10 inches long. Zones 7–10.
Black oak (Quercus velutina) is a candidate for sandy soil. Although uncommon in the nursery industry, black oak is easy to sprout from acorns and is right at home growing in sandy soils. Similar looking to the more common red oak, black oak tends to turn yellow or yellow brown in fall rather than red like its brother. It reaches about 50 to 60 feet in height and features black bark and glossy green leaves. Zones 3–9.
Having trouble identifying the type of oak you have? See our guide to identifying tree species.
Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) grows well in clay soil. This small, slow-growing maple only reaches 20 to 30 feet tall. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. Its exfoliating bark is a beautiful copper to cinnamon color that’s especially appealing and beautiful in winter, when fully exposed. And, the attractive maple leaves turn orange to red when they change color in fall. Zones 4–8.
Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is a great candidate for containers. There are many small cultivars with interesting shapes, and they grow slowly, so they’re not always outgrowing their pots. Moreover, the container can be kept on a deck or patio to enjoy during the growing season, then taken to a sheltered location to protect the tree over winter. In addition to interesting shape, Japanese maples offer beautiful fall colors, too. Zones 5–8.
Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is an understory tree for shady areas. All serviceberries are shade tolerant but Allegheny serviceberry is the most shade tolerant of the bunch. A multi-stem small tree, it reaches 15 to 25 feet in height and features fragrant white flowers in spring, edible fruit in summer and pretty foliage in fall. Zones 4–8.
Columnar white pine (Pinus strobus ‘Fastigiata’) is tailor-made for narrow spaces. The species Eastern white pine can reach 80 feet tall, but for tighter spaces, there’s a beautiful columnar cultivar available, growing just 30 to 40 feet tall and 7 to 10 feet wide. It still features the soft, blue-green needles that have made white pine so popular. Zones 3–8.
Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) grows without complaint in windy areas. It’s really not surprising that a native of the Great Plains knows how to withstand windy conditions. The truth is, hackberry knows how to withstand a lot of different conditions, not just wind. It’s also tolerant of pollution and drought, among other things. Hackberry is fast growing and offers wildlife potential with its berries. It grows 40 to 70 feet tall. Zones 3–9.