Trees Offer Benefits To Us & The Landscape

Few things add to the aesthetic of an outdoor environment more than trees. Trees offer numerous benefits to us and to the landscape.  Unfortunately, in the climates of the western Dakotas and eastern Montana, we do not receive enough annual rainfall to support tree life natively. The annual rainfall needed to support tree life naturally is around 35 inches of annual precipitation. Here in western North Dakota, we come up short of that number by over half!  That coupled with some of our soil challenges, it is no wonder we struggle with trees in our region.

From the benefits of producing oxygen that we breathe to the shade and cooling that they provide to the privacy and wind protection, there are many reasons for planting trees. In this article, I'll give you a few of my favorite "Shade Tree" choices for our region.


Firstly, but not necessarily in any order, the Honeylocust. These stately trees have much to offer to the landscape. A medium tree, with a mature height of around 40 or 45 feet and a spread of between 25 and 30 feet, the modern cultivars of Honeylocust no longer have some of the characteristics and challenges of their predecessors. There used to be large thorns associated with these trees as well as long seed pods that matured a dark brown almost black. These things have been bred out of the modern types of Honeylocust. The Northern Acclaim is perhaps a favorite of mine. There are other hybrids also. Perhaps the best characteristic of these trees is their semi-open canopy. It is easy to grow a lawn under a Honeylocust as they do not produce a dense canopy that blocks out all-natural light.


The Linden is among the favorite trees we sell as there is not much to dislike about these trees.  Linden, or Basswood, offers a medium growth rate and has attractive dark green spade-like foliage.  In addition to their stunning foliage, they also have a yellow flower that opens in late June or early July. These flowers come at a time when little else is blooming in the landscape. Among my favorite cultivars of Linden is perhaps the Harvest Gold. That Mongolian Linden has a beautiful exfoliating bark that offers nice interest in the landscape as the tree gets older. Linden are an average shade tree with a height of between 40 and 50 feet and a spread of between 25 and 35 feet. These trees tend to be pyramidal-shaped when young and mature to a nice round shape when older.


Cousin to the Elm, the common Hackberry is another fun tree choice. Offering a large canopy when mature, the large leaves of the Hackberry offer a nice shade to the yard. One of the latest trees to emerge from winter the Hackberry can still be dormant even after Mother's Day. In some years I have seen them wait to break dormancy until Memorial Day weekend. This has its advantages as it means they are not subject to frost opportunities in the spring that other trees might be subject to.  The distinct corky and gnarly bark of a Hackberry is also an attractive aspect of this tree.  Achieving a height of between 50 and 75 feet and a width of between 40 and 50 feet, this tree is sure to provide nice shade for years to come.


The fear of Dutch Elm disease has long kept people away from the idea of planting this tree. But no longer. Numerous breeding programs have now released several varieties of American Elm cultivars that boast a total resistance to Dutch Elm disease. From hybrid varieties like Accolade all the way to the pure "American Elm" cultivar Valley Forge there are many elms to choose from. I'm partial, of course, to the Prairie Expedition which is an NDSU introduction. There are many attributes to appreciate about Elm. With a moderate to fast growth rate, the American Elm can grow between 3 and 4 feet per year. At maturity, the American Elm can be between 50 feet and 60 feet in height and between 30 feet and 40 feet wide. The dark leathery green leaves have a serrated, sawtoothed edge to them.  The American Elm turns a rich gold in the fall.


The genus of maple is home to MANY trees. A highly diverse genus, but among my favorite varieties of maple are those found in the group known as "Norway Maple". The Norway Maple, or Acer platanoides have large green leaves that are trilobed. Closely resembling the famous Sugar Maple, these leaves are tough and leathery. In addition to their tough foliage, one of the things I appreciate about Norway Maple are their nice "opposite" branching, a common characteristic of maple in general. The Norway Maple tends to spread out quickly in its habit and wait to get taller until later in life. This can be an attractive choice if shade is desired sooner. While items in the maple genus can struggle with nutrient deficiencies in our region the growth rate of the Norway is generally slow enough that chlorosis doesn't appear as often in this maple specie. Norway Maple are a medium tree, with heights between 35 and 45 feet tall and widths of between 30 and 40 feet.

As with ALL plantings in our region, it is always wise to be sure you know WHAT your soil composition is where the tree will be planted.  Directions on how to perform a Soil Composition Test can be found in the blog section of our website I hope you've enjoyed this look at some fun tree varieties. As always if you're looking to improve your relationship with plants, we hope you'll pay us a visit. Until then, good luck, and happy growing!


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