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Top 5 Trees to Replace Ash


Emerald Ash Borer

In case you haven’t heard, there is a nasty bug called Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) that is wiping out ash trees across the eastern United States and is now in our backyard, literally. To learn more about this devastating pest, click here .

Reminiscent of the 1960’s when we lost almost every American elm, this situation could have been prevented by planting a more diverse urban landscape. In case you’ve forgotten or were too young to remember, this is what that looked like. Now decades later, we still haven’t learned our lesson.


Elm lined street in Detroit before and after Dutch Elm Disease Photo Credit: wired.com

Okay, I’m done scolding and dwelling on the past. Now, for a solution. The following 5 trees are awesome in almost every way and should be part of your next landscaping project.

Kentucky Coffeetree Gymnocladus dioicus

There’s so much to say about this underused beauty. I’ll scratch the surface here, but the best place to learn more is the Brenton Arboretum, where they are working toward having a national collection. I love this tree for its locust-like compound foliage that provides dappled shade. The fall color is golden and the bark is so unique its hard to describe, but I’ll try; deep vertical ridges in the bark that are especially beautiful in thee winter. Height ranges from 50-70′ with a spread of 30-50′.


Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus Dioicus) Photo credit: Lynn Kuhn

Elm Ulmus

What a comeback this tree has made! There are so many wonderful hybrid elms to choose from. My go to sources are the Morton Arbortetum near Chicago and the Brenton Arboretum near Dallas Center, Iowa. I like Frontier for its pyramidal form and Accolade for its handsome glossy foliage. This is what the Morton Arboretum has to say about these two superior trees.

Frontier (Ulmus ‘Frontier’): An upright to pyramidal medium-sized tree that grows 25 to 40 feet high and 15 feet wide with a stiff, rounded crown. Fast grower. High tolerance to Dutch elm disease and elm yellows, moderate resistance to elm leaf beetle. Tolerates urban conditions, drought, poor soil and compaction. Gray bark with orange markings. Small leaves, reddish-purple fall color. US National Arboretum introduction. Use in smaller landscapes, along city streets and under power lines.he elm has made a comeback thanks to the hard work of the horticultural community.

Accolade® (Ulmus davidiana var. japonica ‘Morton’): An Asian hybrid that grows 40 to 60 feet high and 35 to 40 feet wide with an upright to vase-shaped form. Good resistance to Dutch elm disease, elm yellows and elm leaf beetle. Glossy green leaves, yellow fall color. The Morton Arboretum introduced this cultivar through Chicagoland Grows. Useful as street, parkway, or shade tree. To learn about more hybrids elms, click here.


Accolade® (Ulmus Davidiana Var. Japonica ‘Morton’) Photo Credit-Chicagoland Grows

Oak Quercus

You cannot go wrong with the majesty of this species. Yes, you are planting for your grandchildren and great grandchildren. But what a legacy! My go to oaks for Iowa are white oak (Quercus alba) and red oak (Quercus rubra). Both for their wonderful fall color, and red oak for its fast growth rate (compared to other oaks).


Iowa Sate Extension has a good list. Click here to see the list.

If your travels take you to Petersburg, Illinois, go see the oaks at Starhill Forest Arboretum. They are breath taking!



White Oak (Quercus Alba)

Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba

I love to share interesting tree facts with clients. People are always fascinated by the fact that ginkgo is an example of a living fossil, but it’s not the only one. According to Wikipedia,

“Some living fossils are taxa that were known from fossils before living representatives were discovered. The most famous examples of this are the coelacanthiform fishes Latimeria chalumnae and Latimeria menadoensis and the dawn redwood, Metasequoia, discovered in a remote Chinese valley.”

Dawn redwood is a lovely tree (and can be seen at the Brenton Arboretum), but isn’t as hardy as ginkgo. I love the unique fan-shaped leaf and the yummy buttery yellow fall foliage.


Ginkgo Biloba Photo Credit: Whole Health Insider


Shawnee Brave Baldcypress Taxodium Distichum ‘Mickelson’

As a designer, I’m constantly seeking narrow tough trees, and this one fits the bill. With a spread of only 15-20′, it is fits into the most challenging urban settings. And as if that weren’t enough, the feathery foliage is chartreuse in spring and cinnamon brown in autumn. This tree has so much going for it!


Shawnee Brave Baldcypress Taxodium Distichum ‘Mickelson’ Photo Credit:Bower and Branch

If you live in Iowa, the best place to see all of these ash alternatives, and much more, is the Brenton Arboretum. If you haven’t been there yet, you are missing out! Check out the website, then get in your car and get out there. You’ll be glad you did!

Cheers, LPK




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