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Extension > Garden > Yard and Garden > Tough trees and shrubs for tough sites

Tough trees and shrubs for tough sites

Gary R. Johnson, Mike Zins and Marc Shippee

Successful landscapes begin with the selection of plant materials appropriate for the site conditions. This fact sheet is designed as a reference guide to woody plant materials that tolerate tough sites. Recommendations are made for trees and shrubs that survive better than others in the following soil and site conditions: poorly drained soils, droughty soils, alkaline (high pH) soils, compacted soils and sites exposed to deicing salts. Detailed descriptions for each of these conditions are provided on the next page. The map shows the six major ecoregions in Minnesota.

Minnesota's Ecoregions

  1. Southeast
  2. Central
  3. Northeast
  4. North Central
  5. Northern Tallgrass Prairie
  6. Southwest

Tough site categories

Poorly Drained Soils. A well-drained landscape soil should drain a 24-inch column of water in 24 hours or less. To determine if your site is well-drained, conduct a percolation test by augering or digging a hole 24 inches deep. Fill the hole with water and allow to drain completely. Fill the hole with water a second time soon after the first filling is completely drained. The second filling should take 24 hours or less to completely drain. If the hole still contains water after 24 hours, it is considered poorly drained . . .to some degree.

Droughty Soils. These soils are characterized by excessively rapid percolation rates (24 inches of water drains in a few minutes or less), and a low organic matter content(< 1%) that can be determined by a lab soil test.

Alkaline Soils. An alkaline soil will have a pH greater than 7.0. Most trees perform best in acidic soils(< 7.0) to slightly alkaline (7.5).

Compacted Soils. This is primarily a problem with fine-textured soils (clays, silts). Compaction may be gauged with a penetrometer or with a digging spade. If a spade easily penetrates the soil to a depth of two spade blades (about 18 inches), the soil is not compacted. If the hole needs to be dug with a pick axe, it's a compacted soil. Soil compaction will result in stressed plants, performing less than ideally and more likely to suffer from secondary problems such as diseases and insect pests.

Deicing Salts. Deicing salts damage plants in two forms: accumulation of deicing salt run-off in the landscape soil, and drift of deicing salt spray. Salt spray damage is the most widespread and troublesome in Minnesota. Trees and shrubs within 60 feet of high-use roads are most at-risk for this type of damage.

Native trees and shrubs are coded 1 - 6, following their name, to match the ecoregion/s where they are native. Bold lettering indicates an evergreen species. Y= yes, I= intermediate, S= sometimes.

Large trees (over 60 ft.)

Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) 1 2 3 4 Y
Black Maple (Acer nigra) 1 6 Y Y Y
Red Maple (A. rubrum) 1 2 3 4 6 Y S Y
'Green Mountain' Sugar Maple (A. saccharum 'Green Mountain') 1 2 3 4 5 6 I Y
Silver Maple (A. saccharinum) 1 2 3 4 6 Y Y I Y I (spray)
Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) 1 2 3 4 6 I
River Birch (B. nigra) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y
Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Paper Birch (B. papyrifera) 1 2 3 4 6 I Y I
Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis) 1 2 3 4 6 I Y
American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) Y
Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) I Y Y Y
Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y Y Y
White Ash (Fraxinus americana) 1 2 I I Y Y
Green Ash (F. pennsylavanica) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y Y Y
Ginkgo (Gingko biloba) Y Y Y Y
Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) 1 6 Y Y Y I
Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) 1 2 3 4 5 6 I I Y Y (soil)
Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Tamarack (Larix laricina) 1 2 3 4 Y Y Y
European Larch (L. decidua) I Y Y
Norway Spruce (Picea abies) Y
White Spruce (P. glauca) 1 2 3 4 5 I I Y
Colorado Spruce (P. pungens) 1 2 3 4 5 Y
Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) I I
Red Pine (P. resinosa) 1 2 3 Y
London Planetree (Platanus x acerifolia) I I I
Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y Y I
Bigtooth Aspen (P. grandidentata) 1 2 3 4 5 6 I I I Y
White Oak (Quercus alba) 1 2 4 6 I Y (soil)
Swamp White (Bicolor) Oak (Q. bicolor) 1 2 4 6 Y Y Y (soil)
Northern Pin Oak (Q. ellipsoidalis) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y
Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Bur Oak (Q. macrocarpa) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y Y Y I (spray)
Eastern Pin Oak (Q. palustris) Y I Y
Red Oak (Q. rubra) 1 2 3 4 6 Y
Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) Y Y Y
White Willow (Salix alba) Y I Y I
American Linden (Tilia americana) 1 2 3 4 5 6 I I Y Y
Littleleaf Linden (T. cordata) I I Y Y
Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) 1 2 3 Y
American Elm (Ulmus americana) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y Y Y I

Medium trees (26-50 ft.)

Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
White Fir (Abies concolor) I I
Hedge Maple (Acer campestre) I Y Y Y
Boxelder (A. negundo) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y Y Y
Norway Maple (A. platanoides) I Y Y
Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) I I Y Y
Black Alder (Alnus glutinosa) Y I Y Y
White Alder (A. incana) Y I Y
Gray Birch (Betula populifolia) Y Y I
Turkish Filbert (Corylus colurna) I Y Y
Cockspur Hawthorn (Crataegus crusgalli) I Y Y Y
Downy Hawthorn (C. mollis) 1 6 I Y Y Y
Blue Ash (Fraxinus quadrangulata) I I Y Y
Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) 1 I Y Y Y Y
Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Butternut (Juglans cinera) 1 2 3 6 Y Y
Eastern Red Cedar (J. virginiana) 1 2 4 5 6 I Y Y I
Common Mulberry (Morus alba tatarica) I Y Y Y Y
Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) 1 2 3 4 5 6 I
Amur corktree (Phellodendron amurense) Y Y
Black Hills Spruce (Picea glauca densata) I I I Y
Black Spruce (P. mariana) 1 2 3 4 Y Y Y Y
Serbian Spruce (P. omorika) I
Jack Pine (P. banksiana) 1 2 3 4 Y Y
Swiss Stone Pine (P. cembra) Y Y I
Austrian Pine (P. nigra) Y I
White Poplar (Populus alba) Y Y I
Quaking Aspen (P. tremuloides) 1 2 3 4 5 6 I Y I
Common Chokecherry (Prunus maackii) I
Pin Cherry (P. pensylvanica) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y I
Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus) Y
Chinkapin Oak (Q. muhlenbergii) Y Y
Black Willow (Salix nigra) 1 2 3 4 6 Y I Y
Laurel Willow (S. pentandra) Y I Y
European Mountainash (Sorbus aucuparia) Y Y (spray)
Showy Mountainash (S. decora) 1 2 3 4 Y I I Y
Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) 1 2 3 4 Y I Y
Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila) Y Y Y I

Small tress (under 25 ft.)

Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Amur Maple (Acer ginnala) S Y Y Y I
Tartarian Maple (A. tartaricum) Y Y Y
Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) 1 2 3 4 6 I Y (spray)
Speckled Alder (Alnus rugosa) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) I Y Y
American Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) Y
Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) 1 2 3 4 5 6 I I
American Smoketree (Cotinus obovatus) I Y
Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) Y Y Y Y
Chinese Junipers (Juniperus chinensis) Y Y Y
Amur Maackia (Maackia amurensis) Y Y
Crabapple (Malus sp.) Y Y Y
Prairie Crabapple (M. ioensis) 1 Y
Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata) Y
Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Waferash (Ptelea trifoliata) Y Y
Ussurain Pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) Y Y
Peachleaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y
Pekin Lilac (Syringa reticulata) Y Y Y Y
Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata) Y Y Y Y

Large shrubs (12-20 ft.)

Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Korean Barberry (Berberis koreana) Y Y
Siberian Peashrub (Caragana arborescens) Y Y Y Y
Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) Y Y Y Y
Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo) I Y Y Y
Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y I Y Y
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y I Y Y
Scarlet Elder (Sambucus pubens) 1 2 3 4 5 6 I Y
Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) I I Y Y I
Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y I Y

Medium shrubs (6-12 ft.)

Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
False Indigo (Amorpha fruticosa) 1 2 4 5 6 Y
Russian Peashrub (Caragana frutex) Y Y Y Y
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) 1 2 Y I Y Y I
Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y Y Y Y
Redosier dogwood (C. sericea) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y I Y Y I
American Hazel (Corylus americana) 1 2 3 4 5 Y
Beaked Hazel (C. cornuta) 1 2 3 4 5 Y
Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) S I Y Y Y
Eastern Wahoo (E. atropurpureus) S I Y Y
Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Common Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) 1 2 Y
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) 1 2 3 4 Y
Savin Juniper (J. sabina) Y Y Y I
Tatarian Honeysuckle (L. tatarica) Y Y Y
American Fly Honeysuckle (L. xylosteum) Y Y Y
Mockorange (Philadelphus sp.) Y
Common Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) 1 2 3 Y Y Y Y
Cherry Prinsepia (Princepia sinensis) Y
Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) Y
Rose acacia (Robinia hispida) Y
American Elder (Sambucus Canadensis) 1 2 3 4 5 6 Y
Silver Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) 5 6 Y Y Y Y
Ural Falsespirea (Sorbaria sorbifolia) Y
Vanhoutte Spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei) I Y Y Y Y
Chinese Lilac (Syringa x chinensis) Y
Tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima) Y Y
Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) Shrub forms Y I Y Y
Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) 1 Y Y
Wayfaringtree Viburnum (V. lantana) Y

Small shrubs (under 6 ft.)

Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) 1 2 3 5 Y
Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocapa) 1 2 3 S Y Y Y
Japanese Barberry (B. thunbergii) Y Y Y
New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) Y
Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) Y Y
Cotoneaster sp. Y
Daphne (Daphe x burkwoodi 'Carol Mackie') Y
Dwarf Bush-Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) Y Y Y
Leatherwood (Dirca palustris) 1 2 3 4 6 Y Y
Common Juniper (Jumiperus communis) 1 2 3 4 5 6 S Y Y Y I
Shore Juniper (Juniperus conferta) Y Y Y I
Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) Y Y Y I
Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum) Y
Sakhalin Honeysuckle (Lonicera maximowiczii sachalinensis) Y
Common (Scientific) Name Ecoregion Poor Drainage Droughty Alkaline Compacted Salt
Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) Y Y (spray)
Bush Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) Y Y Y I
Western Sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) Y
Sandcherry (P. pumila) Y
Skunkbush Sumac (Rhus trilobata) Y Y Y I
Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum) Y Y I
Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa) Y Y
Bumalda Spirea (Spiraea x bumalda) Y Y
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) S Y Y Y Y
Coralberry (S. orbiculatus) S Y
Lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) Y I

Authors:
Gary R. Johnson is an associate professor of urban and community forestry in the Department of Forest Resources, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota.
Mike Zins is an associate professor of horticulture in the Department of Horticultural Sciences, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota.
Marc Shippee is the city forester for Blaine, Minnesota.

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