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Best Trees to Plant in Michigan: A Comprehensive Guide for Optimal Growth

Michigan, known for its beautiful landscapes and diverse ecology, offers an abundance of tree species that thrive in its varying climate and soil conditions. Selecting the right trees to plant in one’s yard is crucial for both aesthetic appeal and the overall health of the environment. Native trees, in particular, offer countless benefits, including being well-adapted to local conditions, attracting native wildlife, and preserving the region’s natural heritage.

sprout growing out of a tree stump

When choosing a tree to plant in Michigan, it is essential to consider factors such as soil type, available sunlight, and the tree’s overall size and growth rate. With a wide range of options – from large deciduous trees to small flowering varieties and evergreen species – there’s a perfect tree for every garden and landscape design. Additionally, being aware of common tree diseases and pests can save you time and effort while maintaining your trees in the long run.

Key Takeaways

  • The right trees for Michigan landscapes take into account native species, local conditions, and desired size.
  • Considerations for tree selection include soil and sunlight requirements, potential diseases, and maintenance.
  • A diverse range of trees suitable for Michigan includes deciduous options, evergreens, and even native shrubs.

Importance of Native Trees

Benefits for Wildlife and Pollinators

Native trees play a vital role in supporting Michigan’s diverse wildlife, especially birds and insects. By integrating native trees into the landscape, we provide essential food sources and habitats for various species. Many native trees, such as oaks, act as host plants for caterpillars, which in turn serve as sustenance for birds. Similarly, native flowering trees produce pollen and nectar that attract and support pollinators like bees and butterflies. In short, planting native trees greatly contributes to a thriving ecosystem.

Adaptation to Michigan Climate

Another advantage of planting native trees in Michigan is their adaptation to the local climate. These trees have evolved over time to withstand the region’s distinct weather patterns, including droughts, below-zero temperatures, and heatwaves. This adaptation makes native trees hardier and more capable of surviving the sometimes harsh Michigan landscape. Furthermore, planting native trees contributes to a more sustainable and low-maintenance landscape that can better withstand changes in climate, ultimately benefiting both the environment and homeowners in the long run.

Soil and Sunlight Requirements

Soil pH and Types

Michigan’s diverse tree species are adaptable to various soil types and pH levels. It’s essential to choose trees that will thrive in your specific soil conditions. Most tree fruits and trees perform well in sandy loam to loamy soils with a slightly acidic to neutral pH (6.0-7.0) 1. Adequate drainage is crucial for healthy tree growth, as it prevents root diseases and rot.

Different trees may prefer varying moisture conditions, so you should also consider your site’s water retention levels. Some trees may grow better in well-drained sites, while others are more suited for moisture-retentive soil conditions.

Sun Exposure

Sunlight plays a critical role in the successful growth of trees in Michigan. Most trees require full sun exposure, around 6-8 hours per day, to reach their optimal growth rate and fruiting potential 1. Inadequate sunlight can lead to reduced growth, less fruit production, and reduced cold hardiness in certain tree species.

When selecting a tree for your location, consider the sunlight requirements of that specific tree species. Some are highly adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions, while others may have more specific habitat requirements 2.

Best Large Deciduous Trees

In this section, we will discuss some of the best large deciduous trees that thrive in Michigan. These trees provide excellent shade, habitat for wildlife, and enhance the beauty of the landscape. We will focus on four specific species: White Oak, Red Oak, Basswood, and Sugar Maple.

White Oak

The White Oak (Quercus alba) is a large, long-lived deciduous tree native to eastern North America, including Michigan. These trees can grow up to 100 feet tall and have a wide-spreading crown. They are known for their distinctive lobed leaves that turn a beautiful red or orange color in the fall. White Oak trees are:

  • Tolerant of various soil conditions
  • Slow-growing, but sturdy and strong
  • Low-maintenance and drought-resistant

For these reasons, the White Oak can make an excellent addition to your Michigan landscape.

Red Oak

Another excellent choice for a large deciduous tree in Michigan is the Red Oak (Quercus rubra). This fast-growing tree can reach heights of up to 75 feet and is recognizable by its pointed lobed leaves. Red Oak trees:

  • Thrive in well-drained soils
  • Provide brilliant fall color, from red to orange
  • Can tolerate urban environments

With their striking appearance and rapid growth, Red Oak trees can help create beautiful and sustainable landscapes in Michigan.


The Basswood (Tilia americana), also known as the American Linden, is a native large deciduous tree found throughout Michigan. This tree is known for its attractive, heart-shaped leaves and fragrant flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Some features of the Basswood include:

  • Grows well in various regions of Michigan
  • Able to tolerate a wide range of soil types
  • Fragrant flowers adding to its aesthetic appeal

Basswood trees are a wonderful option for those seeking an aromatic and visually appealing tree for their Michigan landscape.

Sugar Maple

Lastly, the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) is a deciduous tree native to Michigan, recognizable by its distinctive, lobed leaves that turn brilliant shades of orange and red in the fall. Sugar Maples are well-known for their sap, which is used to produce maple syrup. These trees offer:

  • Large size, growing up to 100 feet tall
  • Tolerance to various soil conditions
  • Attractive fall color

Given their beauty and ability to withstand Michigan’s varying climate, Sugar Maples make an outstanding choice for landscaping projects.

Best Medium Deciduous Trees

Bur Oak

Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) is a great medium-sized tree to consider planting in Michigan. This native species is highly adaptable and can withstand both wet and dry soil conditions. Its large, lobed leaves turn yellow in the fall, adding seasonal beauty to your landscape. The acorns it produces provide food for Michigan wildlife.


The Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) tree is another medium-sized deciduous tree that grows well in Michigan. It is highly adaptable, tolerant of a variety of soil conditions, and able to withstand urban settings with air pollution and salt spray. Its elm-like leaves provide dappled shade and turn yellow in the fall. In addition to its visual appeal, the small purple berries it produces feed birds and other wildlife.


Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is a medium-sized tree known for its distinctive bark, which peels away in thin strips. This deciduous tree is native to Michigan and requires well-drained soils for optimal growth. Its leaves provide a pleasant dappled shade and turn golden-yellow in the fall. The small, hop-like fruits produced by the tree provide interest in the landscape and food for a variety of bird species.

Flowering Dogwood

For a more ornamental option, the Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) is a medium-sized deciduous tree that thrives in Michigan’s climate. Known for its beautiful white or pink blooms in the spring, this tree adds an attractive element to any landscape. Additionally, it offers vibrant red foliage in the fall and red berries, which are a food source for birds. Flowering Dogwoods prefer well-drained soils and would be a great choice for a semi-shaded area in your yard.

Best Small Deciduous Trees


Serviceberry (Amelanchier), also called Juneberry, is a versatile small deciduous tree native to Michigan. It is known for its beautiful white flowers in spring and edible berries in summer. This tree requires well-drained soil and can tolerate partial shade to full sun. The serviceberry is a great addition to any Michigan landscape due to its low-maintenance nature and attractive fall foliage.

Eastern Redbud

The Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is another small deciduous tree that grows well in Michigan with an average height between 20 to 30 feet. It produces stunning pink or purple flowers in early spring before its heart-shaped leaves emerge. Eastern Redbud is adaptable to a variety of soils, but it prefers well-drained, moist soil and full sun to light shade.

Crabapple Tree

Crabapple Tree (Malus) is a small, attractive tree that provides visual interest in all seasons. In spring, its profusion of delicate flowers comes in shades of white, pink, and red. In the fall, it produces an abundance of small, colorful fruits attractive to wildlife. Crabapple trees prefer well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. It is important to choose a disease-resistant variety suited for Michigan’s climate, such as ‘Profusion’ or ‘Sugar Tyme.’

Japanese Lilac Tree

The Japanese Lilac Tree (Syringa reticulata) is a small deciduous tree that can reach heights between 20 to 30 feet. It is known for its large, fragrant, creamy-white flower panicles in late spring to early summer. Japanese Lilac Trees prefer well-drained soil and full sun exposure to light shade. They are disease- and pest-resistant, making them a low maintenance option suitable for Michigan landscapes.

Best Evergreen Trees

When considering evergreen trees to plant in Michigan, there are a few species that stand out due to their hardiness, adaptability, and aesthetics in the landscape. In this section, we will focus on three popular evergreens: Eastern White Pine, Balsam Fir, and Tamarack.

Eastern White Pine

The Eastern White Pine is a native species to Michigan and the Great Lakes region. Known for its rapid growth, this tree can adapt to various soil types and climates. It is an attractive addition to a landscape due to its long, soft needles and bluish-green color. Some benefits of planting Eastern White Pine include:

  • Fast-growing: Known for its rapid growth, you’ll see significant development in just a few short years.
  • Adaptable: Eastern White Pines can tolerate various soil conditions and climates, making them a versatile choice.
  • Low maintenance: These trees require minimal care and can withstand some animal-resistant and disease-resistant qualities.

Balsam Fir

Balsam Fir is another popular evergreen in Michigan, valued for its fragrant aroma and adaptability to cold climates. Its dark green needles not only make it a preferred choice for Christmas trees, but they also serve as a great source of shelter for wildlife. Here are some key points about Balsam Fir:

  • Cold-hardy: Balsam Firs are well adapted to Michigan’s cold winters, making them a suitable choice for the region.
  • Fragrant: These trees emit a pleasant aroma, adding an inviting fragrance to your landscape.
  • Wildlife benefits: Balsam Firs provide excellent shelter and nesting sites for various bird species, offering ecological benefits to the area.


Tamarack, also known as the Eastern Larch, is an unusual evergreen, as it is deciduous and loses its needles in the fall after turning a vibrant golden color. Tamarack trees are found in swampy areas, making them well-suited for wetter parts of Michigan. Some noteworthy characteristics of Tamarack include:

  • Adaptability: Tamarack trees can grow in wet, swampy conditions, making them a great addition to landscapes with poor drainage.
  • Unique appearance: With its deciduous nature and golden fall color, Tamarack adds a distinct visual appeal to your landscape.
  • Disease resistance: Tamarack trees are known for their resistance to some diseases and pests, making them a fairly low-maintenance option.

Tree Diseases and Pests

Michigan is home to a variety of tree species, making it essential to be aware of the common diseases and pests that can affect their health. In this section, we will discuss three major threats to trees in Michigan: Dutch Elm Disease, Oak Wilt, and the Emerald Ash Borer.

Dutch Elm Disease

Dutch Elm Disease is a devastating fungal disease that affects elm trees. The fungus responsible for the disease is transmitted by elm bark beetles that feed on the tree’s vascular system. Infected trees suffer from the blockage of water and nutrients, leading to wilted leaves, branches, and ultimately the death of the tree. To combat Dutch Elm Disease:

  • Keep trees healthy and well-pruned to minimize beetle attraction
  • Use insecticides to control elm bark beetle populations
  • Remove infected trees to prevent disease spread

Oak Wilt

Oak Wilt is another dangerous fungal disease that affects oak trees in Michigan. It is caused by the fungus Bretziella fagacearum which obstructs the tree’s water transport system, causing wilting and death. The fungus can be spread through root grafts between neighboring trees or by sap-feeding beetles. To help prevent Oak Wilt, follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid pruning oaks during the growing season (April-October) when beetle activity is highest
  • Apply preventative fungicides to high-value oak trees
  • Remove and dispose of infected trees to disrupt the transmission cycle

Emerald Ash Borer

The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an invasive wood-boring insect that targets ash trees. Native to Asia, the EAB was first detected in Michigan in 2002 and has since caused the death of millions of ash trees in the state. The larvae feed on the tree’s inner bark, disrupting the flow of water and nutrients. To manage the Emerald Ash Borer, consider the following:

  • Use insecticides labeled for EAB control on high-value ash trees
  • Keep ash trees healthy to increase their resistance to EAB infestation
  • Replace ash trees with alternative species in affected areas

By understanding and tackling these diseases and pests, arborists and homeowners can help protect Michigan’s diverse tree population.

Low Maintenance and Drought-Tolerant Trees

Kentucky Coffeetree

The Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is an excellent choice for low maintenance and drought-tolerant landscaping in Michigan. This tree is known for its adaptability and ability to withstand extreme weather conditions like droughts and below-zero temperatures. It thrives in various soil types and requires little care once established.

Its uniquely coarse-textured and large compound leaves give it a distinct appearance. The Kentucky Coffeetree can grow upwards of 60-70 feet tall and 40-50 feet wide. This deciduous tree is also advantageous due to its resistance to various pests and diseases. You can plant it in full sun or partial shade for best results.

Care for the Kentucky Coffeetree is generally low maintenance:

  • Ensure well-drained soil for optimal growth
  • Water the tree during the first year or two to promote deep root establishment
  • Minimal pruning required; remove dead or weak branches

Red Maple

Another excellent low maintenance and drought-tolerant tree suitable for Michigan landscapes is the Red Maple (Acer rubrum). Red Maples can grow 40-70 feet tall and provide vibrant red and orange fall foliage, making them a popular choice for adding visual interest to your yard.

Red Maples are remarkably versatile, tolerating a wide range of soil conditions and growing in both sun and shade. They are also known for their rapid growth rate, making them an ideal choice for homeowners seeking a quick-growing shade tree.

To ensure your Red Maple thrives, follow these care tips:

  • Plant in well-drained soil
  • Water young trees in their first couple years and during dry periods
  • Prune for structure and clearance as needed; prune during dormant months to avoid sap bleeding

Both the Kentucky Coffeetree and Red Maple are excellent tree choices for low maintenance, drought-tolerant landscapes in Michigan. These trees will provide visual appeal and shade while requiring minimal care, making them perfect additions to your yard.

Native Shrubs for Landscaping

Blackhaw Viburnum

The Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) is an excellent choice for landscaping in Michigan. This native shrub is known for its versatility, durability, and adaptability. It typically grows to a height of 12 to 15 feet, making it perfect for border or mass plantings. The Blackhaw Viburnum offers an attractive display of creamy-white flowers in spring, followed by black fruit in fall. This shrub’s foliage, which is glossy green during the warm months, turns a stunning burgundy color in autumn.

Common Ninebark

Common Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is another Michigan native shrub suitable for landscape design. Ranging in height from 6 to 10 feet, this tough plant can be used for hedges, natural borders, or erosion control. Common Ninebark features clusters of small white or pinkish flowers in spring, and its peeling bark adds visual interest throughout the year. It can tolerate various soil types, and its maintenance is relatively low, making it an ideal choice for Michigan landscapes.


The Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) shouldn’t be overlooked as a native shrub for landscaping in Michigan. This wetland shrub is well-suited for planting near bodies of water, such as lakefront properties or streambanks. It grows to a height of 6 to 12 feet and exhibits unique, spherical white flowers in summer that are attractive to pollinators. Buttonbush’s glossy green leaves provide a vibrant contrast to its blooms, and its tolerance for wet soil conditions makes it a suitable option for challenging sites.

By integrating any of these native shrubs into your landscaping projects, you are not only enhancing the visual appeal of your property but also supporting the local ecosystems. Each of these plants is adapted to Michigan’s climate and soil conditions. Always consult the Michigan State University Extension for recommendations and guidelines when selecting native plants for your specific location.

Planting Tips and Considerations

Choosing the Right Location

When planting trees in Michigan, it’s essential to consider the specific location and the needs of the trees to ensure they thrive. Keep in mind the following factors:

  • Sunlight: Trees require varying amounts of sunlight depending on their species. Be sure to select a location allowing trees the necessary sunlight for their growth.
  • Soil: Different tree species prefer different soil types (e.g., acidic, loamy, or well-draining). Be mindful of the soil quality at your planting site.
  • Water accessibility: Trees planted near bodies of water such as rivers and streams (known as riparian zones) are ideal for some species. Consider your tree’s water requirements when selecting its location.
  • Space: Be aware of the mature size and growth rate of your selected tree species, and allocate adequate space for them to grow.

Hardiness Zones

Before planting a tree in Michigan, it’s crucial to understand plant hardiness zones. These zones determine which tree varieties will grow best in each area, based on average low temperatures.

Use the following guide to determine the appropriate hardiness zone for your location:

  • Zone 3: Minimum temperature range of -35°F to -40°F
  • Zone 4: Minimum temperature range of -25°F to -30°F
  • Zone 5: Minimum temperature range of -20°F to -25°F
  • Zone 6: Minimum temperature range of -10°F to -15°F
  • Zone 7: Minimum temperature range of 0°F to -5°F

(Note: Michigan involves zones 4-6)

Selecting a tree species suitable for your specific hardiness zone will optimize its growth and overall health. For example, choose trees with hardiness zones of 4-9 if your location is within zone 4. Similarly, select trees with hardiness zones of 3-9 if your location falls within zone 3. Adapt your choices accordingly for trees with hardiness zones of 3-5 or 4-8.

By carefully considering the right location and understanding plant hardiness zones, you can ensure successful tree planting in Michigan.

Additional Native Trees for Various Conditions

In this section, we will discuss three native trees suitable for various conditions in Michigan. These trees are American Beech, Aspen, and Butternut.

American Beech

The American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 80 feet tall. It features smooth, gray bark and dark green leaves that turn a golden bronze in the fall. This tree provides habitat for wildlife, as its nuts are a food source for squirrels, deer, and birds.

Growing Conditions:

  • Soil: well-drained, moist, acidic
  • Sunlight: partial shade to full sun
  • Water: moderate


  • Growth rate: slow to medium
  • Lifespan: up to 300 years


Aspens (Populus tremuloides) are fast-growing deciduous trees, typically reaching 40 to 60 feet in height. They offer a stunning display of white bark and vibrant, yellow leaves in the fall. Aspens provide habitat for wildlife, with many insects and birds relying on them for food and shelter.

Growing Conditions:

  • Soil: well-drained, sandy or loamy
  • Sunlight: full sun
  • Water: moderate to high


  • Growth rate: fast
  • Lifespan: around 30-50 years


Butternut (Juglans cinerea) is a medium-sized deciduous tree that can grow up to 60 feet tall. It features compound leaves and produces edible nuts that are a food source for wildlife, such as squirrels and birds. The tree also serves as a host to many insects, making it an essential part of the ecosystem.

Growing Conditions:

  • Soil: well-drained, deep, moist, slightly acidic
  • Sunlight: full sun to partial shade
  • Water: moderate


  • Growth rate: medium
  • Lifespan: up to 75 years

These trees are all native to Michigan and can thrive under various conditions, making them excellent choices for landscaping and creating a habitat for wildlife.


  1. “Considerations for growing backyard tree fruit – MSU Extension” 2

  2. “Smart trees and shrubs suitable for Michigan landscapes”