Trees make yards look inviting and protect people from the sun as they walk along sidewalks under the trees’ shady canopies. Trees provide protection from wind and noise, and the flowers, fruit, and green leaves make the tree’s location look more inviting. If you want to add trees to your home’s landscaping, choose carefully. The best trees to plant in Minnesota are those that thrive in the state’s warm, humid summers while also surviving the cold, snowy winters.
1. Golden Spice Pear
First on the list of best trees to plant in Minnesota is the Golden Spice Pear. If you want a really tough fruit tree that thrives in Minnesota’s growing zone 3, look no further than the Golden Spice pear. While it’s not the lowest-maintenance tree, it is well-suited to urban yards and isn’t affected by typical urban pollution.
It does require full sun and should not be planted in an area where it might sit in standing water; it can also be susceptible to diseases like powdery mildew. However, it is very resistant to fireblight and is a good pollen source for other pear trees such as Ure. Fruits are small and excellent for canning.
2. Ure Pear
Ure and Golden Spice are a good pollination pair, so if you plant one, plant the other. Ure produces a fine pear for eating out of hand that has been compared to Bartlett pears, albeit smaller. The Ure tree grows to about 15 feet (Golden Spice grows to about 20), and it can be susceptible to fireblight.
3. Parker Pear
For zone 4 gardens, the Parker pear is a good, tasty choice. Like Golden Spice, Parker needs full sun. The spring flowering season for this tree is stunning, with masses of white blossoms appearing all over, giving way to reddish pears that can be a cool treat during summer.
One thing to note about all pear trees is that ripe, unpicked fruit can drop and make a mess; when the fruit ripens, remove it and enjoy it, rather than letting it go to waste while littering the yard.
4. Chestnut Crab Apple
Crabapples grow well in Minnesota, and the Chestnut crabapple, developed at the University of Minnesota, produces a relatively large fruit (it’s still small compared to “regular” apples) that has a flavor often called “nutty.”
It’s one of the best crabapples for culinary use and can be made into applesauce; however, it’s also a very good fresh-eating apple. The crabapples are red with a little russeting near the stem and store for up to five weeks. And as with other crabapple trees, you’ll get a lovely display of blossoms each spring.
5. Honeycrisp Apple
Next on the list of best trees to plant in Minnesota is the Honeycrisp. Yes, the Honeycrisp, the one you see in grocery stores. This apple was also developed by the University of Minnesota. The apples are large, crisp, juicy, and just the right combination of sweet and tart. And you can grow them right at your home in Minnesota. The fruit is slow to brown when cut and, when stored in proper conditions, can last up to seven months.
It’s one of the best trees to plant in Minnesota both for its wonderful fruit, which ripens in late September and its hardiness; it’s best in zone 4 and holds fruit so well that you don’t have to hover around the tree, trying to grab ripe fruit before it falls. You can make multiple harvests with these trees, or if you want, leave fruit on so you can grab an apple randomly for a snack.
Both the Chestnut crabapple and the Honeycrisp have moderately good resistance to apple scab and fireblight.
6. Heritage River Birch
Remember how the Golden Spice pear tree had to avoid standing water? If you’ve got a particularly wet area in your yard, look at planting a river birch. The Heritage river birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’ HERITAGE) is hardy to zone 4 and can live easily in soil that is poorly drained. I
t’s a tall tree that can grow to 70 feet (and to 60 feet wide) and needs full sun. It’s resistant to the bronze birch borer and moderately resistant to leaf spot. It provides nice yellow color in fall; and speaking of fall, you will see a lot of leaf fall.
Interestingly, you can train the birch into a single- or multi-trunk tree. The canopy shape will change over time; for single-trunk trees, you’ll see a pyramidal shape in early years, with more mature trees displaying a rounded canopy. Multi-trunk trees have slightly less organized canopies.
7. Shagbark Hickory
Southeastern Minnesota gardeners would do well to plant the Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). It’s a native tree that produces edible nuts, and while it prefers full sun, it can tolerate some shade. It’s a very tall tree, growing to 80 feet.
This is a very good shade tree, so if you have a part of the yard that gets way too much sun in summer, this tree will turn that around. Note that this tree has a deep taproot, so when you plant it, assume it will remain in that spot for its whole life span. It usually needs well-drained soil but can take the occasional drought or standing water.
This is a slow-growing tree that provides a good habitat for birds. The flowers are nothing to write home about, but the female flowers turn into nuts whose husk pops open in fall when the nuts are ripe. Diseases and pests are a minor issue; the real problem you’d have with this tree is raking up all the leaves that it drops!
Want a break from the very tall trees? Serviceberry, also called Juneberry, Saskatoon berry, and shadblow (Amelanchier spp.) grows to about 25 feet – tall by human standards but much more moderate by tree standards. There are several species within the Amelanchier genus, and they’re suitable for zone 3 (and zone 4 as well), so those of you with colder-zone gardens can still have trees.
Serviceberry can grow in multi-trunk form, and as the name implies, it produces small, edible berries. The spring blossoms are white and the fruit purple to black, so the tree is also visually interesting.
If you’re really short on space, a shrub form of serviceberry exists. Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’ grows to only 6 feet tall and wide.
9. Kentucky Coffeetree
Sometimes you want to find a male tree specifically because the female version of the tree has lots of problematic seed pods. The Kentucky Coffeetree is one such species (Gymnocladus dioicus). Both the male and female trees are excellent for growing in a yard and can be planted even in colder Minnesota yards.
However, the female tree produces seed pods that stay on the tree for a long time and then drop. These seedpods are, in their raw form, toxic. Historically, the seeds were roasted for various uses – the roasting eliminates the toxicity – but unless you already have experience doing so, it’s best to leave the seed pods alone. In other words, don’t experiment with trying to use them.
The real problem, however, is if you have young kids who like to put things in their mouths. If you do, or if you plan to have them later, do not plant the female Coffeetree. Stick to male trees only as they don’t have the seed pods. Plus, a lack of seed pods translates into less yard clean-up. The male tree is really a great choice.
Coffeetrees have showy flowers and usually grow to about 80 feet, providing nice shade; sometimes you get one that grows to 100 feet. They prefer well-drained soil but can tolerate poor quality and drought. The tree is generally low-maintenance and doesn’t really have pest or disease issues. It’s the leaf litter and the seed pod issue that you have to watch out for.
10. Eastern Redbud
If flowering is your game, the Eastern Redbud is the name. Cercis canadensis is a gorgeous, gorgeous tree that displays masses of dark pink to rosy purple blossoms. It’s a real stunner to look at, and there is nothing like spending a bright spring morning gazing at these blossoms. This is a fairly short tree, growing to 30 feet on multiple trunks; after blooming is done, green leaves fill out the tree for the summer.
The Eastern Redbud wasn’t always a winner for Minnesota gardens; the region was simply too cold for them. The University of Minnesota changed that in 1992 with the introduction of the ‘Minnesota Strain’ cultivar, which could handle the colder zones in the state. This is a shorter variety, stopping at 12 feet. The university produced another cultivar, ‘Heart’s Desire’, in 2019, that produces blossoms with a lighter color. Note that ‘Heart’s Desire’ is a trademarked name.
Do take care of redbuds. Diseases like canker can be an issue. Give them medium water and some shade (full sun is OK to an extent) in moist and well-drained soils.
11. Flowering Plum (‘Princess Kay’ and ‘Newport’)
Last but not least on the list of best trees to plant in Minnesota is the Flowering Plum. Minnesota gardens can play host to flowering plum trees (Prunus spp.). Two varieties in particular that do well in Minnesota gardens: ‘Princess Kay’ and ‘Newport’. ‘Princess Kay’ usually doesn’t produce fruit, but it does have a lovely, compact shape that produces those spring blossoms that plum trees are so loved for. ‘Newport’ can occasionally produce fruit, depending on its location; it tends not to in more northerly regions. ‘Newport’ is hardy to zone 4.
As with other flowering plums, you’ll get a wonderful display of purple-tinged white blossoms followed by dark red to purple foliage. The leaves turn even redder in fall. Make sure soil is well-drained, and wait until flowering is done before you prune the tree. Both are fairly small trees, with ‘Newport’ growing to 20 feet and ‘Princess Kay’ to only 15 feet.
Once you plant the trees, leave them; treat them as ones that can’t be transplanted. If your plum trees do happen to produce fruit, you can either pick the plums for jam-making or leave them for birds.
Wrapping up the best trees to plant in Minnesota
Your Minnesota garden can be home to plenty of trees that serve a number of purposes, from fruiting to shade to noise screening. Evaluate the sections of your yard where you want trees and look for appropriate varieties. As the trees mature, your yard will look better and better.
Have you already planted any from the list of the best trees to plant in Minnesota? We’d love to hear about your tree planting adventures.
Looking to upgrade your outdoor spaces at home? Then find inspiration for your Minnesota backyard with our landscaping ideas, outdoor furniture suggestions, gardening recommendations, and more!
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.