The Best Trees for Growing in Northern Gardens

Plant a variety of the best trees to thrive in the difficult climate and soil that is a staple of living in the north to enhance your property.

  • Autumn Blaze Tree
    An Autumn Blaze is stunning in fall with its deep red foliage.
    Photo by Minnesota Historical Society Press
  • Book cover
    “The Northern Gardener” by Mary Lahr Schier is a compilation of tips, techniques, and stories from gardeners over the years about successfully growing plants and flowers in the wretched winters, humid summers, and tough soils of the north.
    Cover courtesy Minnesota Historical Society Press

  • Autumn Blaze Tree
  • Book cover
The Northern Gardener (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017) by Mary Lahr Schier is an A-Z resource guide for reader's wishing to garden in the north that may not have grown up with a garden or family members with green thumbs. Complete with a little history, how-to, and many accounts of trial and error, this book is for anyone looking for information and advice on what to plant and how to do it effectively in a climate that is not the most forgiving. Detailed in this book are the best plant varieties for the climate in the north along with techniques from the past that worked well and continue to benefit gardens today, especially when paired with modern gardening advances.

Small Trees (under twenty-five feet at maturity)

Crabapple (Malus sp.).

Dozens of cultivars of crabapple trees grow well in the North, some as short as eight feet tall, with most in the fifteen- to twenty-foot range. These blossom in the spring, and unless they are bred to be sterile will produce fruit in the fall. Birds love the apples, though you can make crabapple jelly, too, with the tart goodies.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.).

This plant can be grown as a shrub or a multi-stemmed tree. It has sweet white flowers in spring, and fruit forms in June. (Sometimes they are called june berries for that reason.) Service berries can grow in light shade as well as full sun.

Northern strain redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Northern Strain').

Bred at the University of Minnesota, this plant looks stunning in early spring. It can be grown with a single trunk or multiple stems. Prune it only after it flowers.

Hazelnut (Corylus americana).

These nuts are not the same ones you find in mixed nuts or chocolate nut spread: Those trees, sadly, are not hardy in Minnesota. But this North American tree is, and it produces ornamental catkins that hang down all winter, while growing only about fifteen feet tall. You may see some tiny nuts on the tree, though more likely squirrels will get them first.

Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana).

Bark is the main point of interest on this small tree, which is common in forests in southern Minnesota. The bark may break and curl, giving the tree a ragged look. It grows best in moist soil with taller trees nearby to shade it slightly.

Midsized Trees (thirty to sixty feet)

Honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos).

Be sure to get the thornless version of this shapely tree, which is a favorite of arborists. Its tiny leaves grow along narrow stems and fall late in the season. Sometimes you don't even have to rake them.



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