University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article
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NATIVE TREES FOR NORTHERN LANDSCAPES
 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
   
    
Trees are a crucial part of, and often dominate, our landscapes.  They form not only the framework for our outdoor living spaces, but also the overall theme of our surroundings. While there are many good choices of ornamental trees, those native to our northern region offer some distinct advantages when it comes to culture.
           
Since native trees evolved here they are hardy, are able to tolerate the weather and pest populations found here, and can make our landscape look like it "fits" into the bigger surrounding landscape.  They also provide food and shelter for our birds and small mammals.
         
One obvious choice, when choosing trees for a landscape, is their ultimate size—both height and spread.  By allowing for the proper spacing and siting, trees wont be crowding overhead wires or grow too close to each other or buildings.  Another choice is whether you want an evergreen, one that loses its leaves in winter yet provides shade in summer (termed “deciduous”), or a smaller tree that is grown mainly for its flowers.         
           
Evergreens protect your property from wind and snow and provide year-round shade. They also are very important for birds, both for nesting and winter protection.  Most evergreens prefer full sun for best growth, particularly a factor while they are young, and reach 70 to 80 feet high eventually.   For planting in masses, as a windbreak, for cutting for Christmas trees, or at the edge of a refined landscape, consider the balsam fir (Abies balsamea).  Others for windbreaks or screening— both wind and visual— include the white spruce (Picea glauca) or red pine  (Pinus resinosa).  White spruce and white pine (Pinus strobus) make good specimen trees in landscapes, used singly by themselves.  White cedar (Thuja occidentalis) is often used as a hedge.  Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is one native evergreen that tolerates shade, but does not tolerate windy sites well. 
           
Similar to evergreens, deciduous trees prefer full sun, although red maple (Acer rubrum) and American hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) also grow well in light shade.  Many native shade trees develop good fall color such as the red maple, sugar maple (Acer saccharum), and red oak (Quercus rubra).  Except for the American hophornbeam, which makes a nice medium-size lawn tree about 40 to 50 feet high, most these trees reach 60 to 80 feet high eventually.
            
The paper birch (Betula papyrifera), with its attractive white papery bark, has drawbacks in that it is susceptible to ice damage in winter and pests in summer.  The white ash (Fraxinus americana) has good fall color, makes an attractive shade tree, and has wood useful for many products, yet is susceptible to the emerald ash borer which has spread into certain areas.

Shorter deciduous trees— 25 to 30 feet tall— for smaller landscapes include the native striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) with its colorful striped, green and white bark, which is best grown in part shade in or near wooded areas.  The American hornbeam or musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) is so named for its sinewy bark.  Sparsely branched in shade, it forms a dense rounded habit in sun with red fall leaves.
           
Some trees—primarily smaller ones—are grown for their flowers or fruits.  Plant in full sun, and figure on 20 to 30 feet for eventual heights.  Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) tolerates light shade, and produces clusters of small white flowers in June. American mountainash (Sorbus americana) produces clusters of small white flowers in June, followed in fall by orange fruits favored by many birds. Red Cascade is a cultivar (cultivated variety) you may find of this mountainash, being more compact than the species and orange-red in fall.
          
In addition to smaller trees— those generally considered with a single trunk— for a similar effect consider the large, multi-stemmed native shrubs such as serviceberries (Amelanchier),  chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), and viburnums.  More on these, and other shrub and tree choices for native plantings, can be found in Landscape Plants for Vermont, available from the Vermont Master Gardener program (www.uvm.edu/mastergardener/).
 

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