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Recommended trees for southeast Minnesota: An ecosystem approach

Gary R. Johnson and Katie M. Himanga with Technical Adviser Gerald L. Jensen

Trees shade and cool us in the summer, protect us from cold winter winds, supply us with clean air to breathe, beautify our communities and provide habitat for wildlife. Selecting the trees that will survive and grow into healthy urban forests requires a thorough analysis of the planting site and a careful match of the trees to that environment.

The Recommended Trees series recognizes that Minnesota is an ecologically diverse state. For this series, the state is divided into six major ecological regions, each with characteristic soils, precipitation patterns, topography, and natural vegetation. Recommended trees for each region perform reliably in that environment, and should thrive for many years.

Recommended trees by region: Southeast | Southwest | Northwest and central | Northern tallgrass prairie

Southeast Minnesota ecological areas

Ecological areas of southeast Minnesota

Big Woods

Topography is gently to moderately rolling. Soils were formed in thick deposits of gray limy glacial till left by the retreat of the Des Moines lobe. Red oak, sugar maple, basswood, and American elm were most common in this dominantly forested region.

Anoka Sand Plain

Flat, sandy lake plain and terraces along the Mississippi River. Most of the soils are sandy and droughty, but there are some organic soils. About 20 percent of the soils are very poorly drained; the rest are excessively well drained sands. Originally oak barrens and openings, with some jack pine along the northern edge.

Oak Savannah

Much of this area is a rolling plain of loess-mantled ridges over sandstone and carbonate bedrock and till. Soils range from wet to well-drained, formed under prairie or forest conditions. Original vegetation included bur oaks, maples, basswood, and prairie tall grasses.

Twin Cities Highlands

Rolling to steep slopes on the moraine and level to rolling on the outwash plain, with soils ranging from clay loam to sand. This area was a mosaic of tall grass prairie, savannahs, and maple-basswood forests prior to settlement.

Rochester Plateau

A rolling, high plateau of windblown silt over glacial till in the west and bedrock in the east. Soil depth generally decreases from west to east. Plant communities historically dominated by oak forests, maple-basswood forests, riparian forests, and tall grass prairies and oak savannahs in the drier areas.


An old bedrock plateau covered by windblown silt and then extensively eroded by rivers and streams. Broad ridgetops, steep coulees, and deep valleys were dominated by oak, shagbark hickory-basswood forests on moist slopes, oak-basswood-black walnut forests in the valleys, and prairies on the ridge tops and dry valleys.

Recommended trees for southeast Minnesota

Trees in these sections include species that have a history of performing well as street, boulevard, or landscape trees in general for Southeast Minnesota.

Limited use

Trees in these sections may have some value in certain instances, such as unusually harsh planting sites, or for wildlife cover, but are not recommended for general use.

Trees to try

Trees in these sections have shown promise in landscapes or as street trees, but either do not have a long history of use in Southeast Minnesota or require specific siting requirements such as wind protection or acidic soils. Use caution until their performance is better documented.

Deciduous trees for southeast Minnesota

Conifers for southeast Minnesota

Revised by Gary R. Johnson 2009

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