Tree Planting Recommendations
The Salt Lake Valley can be a harsh place for trees. Our soil is generally poor and alkaline. We have cold winters and hot, dry summers that are only becoming more extreme as our climate changes. Road salts are used in abundance, affecting trees along streets and walkways. Windstorms and snowstorms often cause partial and total tree failures. To ensure the best chance for your trees, start by selecting ones that are well-adapted for your landscape.
We recommend certain trees for numerous reasons, but mostly for their tolerance of drought and alkaline soil, low maintenance, disease-resistance, and longevity. Here are a few of our favorite picks for different scenarios:
Specimen Tree–Cockspur Hawthorn
A specimen tree should be a point of focus in your landscape, and the Cockspur Hawthorn is interesting all year long. In the spring, it has small, white flowers. In the summer, its dense foliage provides plenty of shade. Fall color is red or purple. Even in winter, it’ll stand out as its bright red fruit clings to the bare branches.
The Cockspur Hawthorn has so many positive traits and is well adapted to our growing conditions, but beware it has very long, sharp thorns! This can be a good thing if you’re planting it as a security hedge. Otherwise, consider planting the Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn variation instead.
Shade Tree–Kentucky Coffeetree
The Kentucky Coffeetree is a beautiful tree. Once established, it needs little maintenance. Its compound leaves give it a sophisticated look. And when bare in the winter, it continues to stand out with its rough bark and coarse, stout twigs. Female trees drop large, brown seed pods, which can actually look really nice on the ground in xeriscapes, but can be avoided by planting seedless, male cultivars like the Espresso™ Kentucky Coffeetree.
Heritage Tree–Bur Oak
Whenever possible, we recommend planting a tree that has a good chance at becoming a heritage tree to be enjoyed by future generations. The Bur Oak is an excellent choice. It’s well-adapted to our growing conditions, and it grows large and broad, providing ample shade, and can live for hundreds of years in good growing conditions.
Evergreen trees keep their foliage year-round, providing green color, privacy, and air filtration in the winter. Our firs and spruces are native to higher elevations in the canyons, and struggle at lower elevations, especially during summer. Junipers are excellent, and we highly recommend planting them, but they do grow slowly. It was a tough choice, but we believe pines are the best choice for the evergreen category.
Small Pine–Mugo Pine
This small, shrubby pine has a medium growth rate and an unusual growth form that adds character to a landscape. It can be planted under power lines and close to your house, as long as it gets plenty of sunlight.
Medium-Colorado Pinyon Pine
This is a virtually flawless choice for landscapes. It grows well in sandy soil, tolerates clay, and it is remarkably disease- and insect-resistant. It also has a very fragrant Christmas tree aroma.
Large pine–Ponderosa Pine
Native to Utah, this cold-hardy pine grows at a medium rate and has a long lifespan. It’s a great choice for a specimen or heritage tree as well. Like most pines, though, it prefers sandy soil and doesn’t tolerate poorly drained soils. If you have heavy clay soil, it may not be a good choice.
Native Tree–Utah Juniper
We’re especially fond of the Utah Juniper. This evergreen grows in abundance in some of our favorite rock climbing areas like Indian Creek in Southeast Utah. Sometimes it’s the only tree species in sight, complementing the stark red-orange desert with its shrubby green foliage all year long.
Once established in your landscape, you can expect a low maintenance tree that tolerates heat, drought, poor soil, and harsh winters. It’s very resistant to insects and disease, as well. It can grow to medium height, but it’s also good under power lines as it can be trained by pruning to remain shrubby.
Maple–Hot Wings® Tatarian Maple
Most maples are water-loving trees that struggle in Utah. Norway maples are very popular, but they are overplanted and suffer from drought stress and Verticillium Wilt. Silver maples are usually afflicted with iron chlorosis, and have root systems that are damaging to foundations. Even our local native maple, the Canyon (or Bigtooth) Maple, needs to be watered regularly as it’s not adapted to the low elevation of the Salt Lake Valley. One of the few exceptions is the Tatarian Maple.
The Hot Wings® Tatarian Maple is a small or medium height tree that is perfectly suited to our growing conditions. This cultivar has a strong structure, grows at a medium rate, has longevity, and it is a good fit for xeriscapes. Its most impressive ornamental feature is its bright red samaras.
Boxelders are native to Utah and are found all around Salt Lake City. Critics of this tree often include these among other “trash trees” like the Siberian Elm and Tree-of-Heaven because they commonly grow as volunteers along property boundaries and cause problems for homeowners. However, when planted intentionally and maintained until established, the boxelder is a remarkably tough shade tree. Sometimes box elder bugs can be a nuisance, as they’re attracted to the winged seed pods, called samaras, on female trees. This can be avoided by planting the male cultivar, Sensation Boxelder.
Sunrise Corneliancherry Dogwood
Other dogwoods suffer in our dry climate and alkaline soils, but the Corneliancherry Dogwood is better adapted. While it only has a medium tolerance of drought, it’s small enough to need only minimal watering and we think it would make a good choice for xeriscapes. The Sunrise cultivar has bright yellow flowers, dark foliage, and nice, peeling bark. While it does have some messy berries, they are bright red and beautiful, sweet and edible, and loved by birds as well. There is little maintenance besides pruning a few suckers.
SLC Urban Forestry's Suggested Trees. https://www.slc.gov/parks/urban-forestry/urban-forestry-suggested-trees/
Tree Utah Tree Guide. https://www.treeutah.org/tree-guide/trees-to-plant
USU's Tree Database. https://treebrowser.org/
Millcreek Gardens Plant Finder. http://plants.millcreekgardens.com/12190009/