While planting trees may seem simple, choosing the best trees for your Minneapolis home can be a challenge. Southeast Minnesota contains numerous ecological regions and different soil types that favor different trees.

Most of Hennepin County is considered part of the Big Woods region, whose thick soil consists mainly of crushed limestone left by the retreat of the Des Moines glacier. Neighboring Ramsey County is mostly Twin Cities Highlands soil, which before settlement was a marshy plain with outwash soils ranging from clayey loam to sand. But if you live near the Mississippi River, there’s a good chance you have the poorly drained fine sand of the Anoka Sand Plain. So note your microclimate and terrain, test your soil, and then select. Here’s a sampling of the best trees to plant in Minneapolis.

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

The bur oak (pictured above) is a native Minnesota savannah tree. It’s a slow-growing, long-lived tree that loves full sun and provides dense shade. Resistant to heat stress and air pollution, it drops large, fringed acorns in the fall, earning it another name, the Mossycup Oak.

Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

Northern white cedar
Northern white cedar. Credit: Kate Ter Haar, CC 2.0.

Native to the Twin Cities Highlands, white cedars are also known in gardening circles as Arborvitae. Though called a cedar, this is actually a variety of cypress, and it enjoys cool, moist soil. The oldest tree in the state is a white cedar estimated to be 1,100 years old. Arborvitae is often used in hedges and can tolerate partial shade. Sadly, it’s a favorite of deer, so if you have a nearby deer population, you may want to avoid this species.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

Imported centuries ago from China, ginkgo trees can grow up to 80 feet tall and are tolerant of harsh site conditions, making them ideal urban and street trees. Insect- and disease-resistant, the only issue with these stunning trees is that the females can produce a fruit with a terrible odor.

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Red cedar
Eastern red cedar. Credit: Joshua Mayer, CC by SA 2.0.

Red cedars are native to southeast Minnesota and prefer sunny, well-drained sites where there isn’t much competition from hardwood species. Avoid planting too close to your garden or on small lots, as the roots spread and rob available moisture from the soil.

Red maple (Acer rubrum)

Red maples are a favorite landscape tree in Minnesota, prized for their exceptional fall foliage and ability to thrive in a wide variety of soils. These trees are well suited as shade, accent, or specimen plantings. But, they are sensitive to salt, so you’ll want to take precautions in the winter to protect them from road salt spray.

River birch (Betula nigra)

Fast-growing and native, river birches are easy to transplant. They can thrive in sandy to clay soils and have no problem growing in wet, poorly-drained soils. The trees are heat tolerant, enjoy full sun, and can reach heights of up to 70 feet. There is a range of varieties available with different shapes, bark color, and foliage.

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)

Medium growing and long-lived, Scots pines are beautiful evergreen conifers with showy orange bark. Hardy and adaptable, these trees can serve as accents, shade trees, or windbreaks —and do a mighty fine job as Christmas trees. While native to Europe, they have become naturalized in the U.S. and thrive in northern climates. Preferring full sunlight, Scots pines need well-drained soils and can’t tolerate “wet feet” caused by standing water.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)

A very popular ornamental landscape tree in the region, serviceberries provide year-round interest. Grown as either large shrubs or small trees, cultivars can be as short as 8 feet or as tall as 45 feet. This species of trees perform well in group plantings, borders, or as specimen trees. Serviceberry prefers sand or clay loam that is somewhat moist, but not wet. Their exceptional salt tolerance makes them an ideal selection for roadside and parking lot plantings.

White fir (Abies bicolor)

If you’re concerned about tree “litter,” from messy leaves or fruit that fall on cars and clog gutters, this tree is perfect. White fir trees are slow-growing, tidy trees that are low-maintenance. Able to withstand heat and drought, these evergreens can grow to over 30 feet tall. White firs are a good substitute for blue spruce trees, which are susceptible to several debilitating diseases.

A Word on Tree Planting

Evaluate your site

Before you choose a tree to plant on your property, take note of the conditions on your site. Consider the type of soil, drainage, access to sunlight and water, exposure to wind, and other factors.

Gary R. Johbson
Gary R. Johnson

University of Minnesota Extension professor Gary Johnson blames shallow, compacted, and saturated soils for many tree failures.

“Fix soil problems by aerating, adjusting drainage, or amending the soil,” he recommends.

“Planting too deep is probably the most common mistake leading to tree failure,” Johnson says, adding, “the first set of roots should be just below the soil surface.”

Check your trees regularly and pay attention to their leaves and branches so you can catch disease or damage early on. In the case of extensive damage, you may want to hire a tree care professional.

Gary R. Johnson is a University of Minnesota Extention Professor with the Department of Forest Resources. He specializes in urban and community forestry and is interested in urban forest health and management.