Choosing Hardy Trees & Shrubs

Choosing Hardy Trees & Shrubs

Blue Grass Garden Blog, June 2023

Gardening in Zone 3/4 certainly has its challenges, but with some basic knowledge and a little fortitude we can grow some beautiful gardens in the prairies and foothills. Any new gardener to our growing area should fundamentally understand the growing or hardiness zone, how to create a fertile garden foundation and which plants to choose. Check out our Gardening in the Prairies blog for more detailed growing zone information across Alberta. Creating or building a good soil foundation for your gardens is very important for successful growth as you have heard from us previously. Finally, choosing the right plants for the right place and purpose will get your garden growing in the right direction.

A little observation of your garden and some preliminary research will get your garden off to a good start. We frequently get asked what are the best plants to start out with in a new garden? See below for a beginner list of trees and hardy shrubs to get you growing in your new garden. When choosing trees, make sure to understand how large your space is, how much maintenance you want and what is the desired effect. Trees and shrubs will create the starting bones of your garden space and choosing your trees first is a great starting point.

Ornamental Crabapple in spring.

Trees to Consider

If you have a smaller yard or small space, consider a columnar tree. Columnar trees also create a great natural screen, when you plant 3 or more, if you are looking for more privacy in your yard. Shade trees generally have a broad canopy at maturity and can create shade over your yard, see below for ideas. Flowering trees bring an ornamental contribution to the yard, especially in spring when we are all ready for a little extra colour in the garden.

Columnar Trees for Small Yards

  • Dakota Pinnacle Birch
  • Weeping Caragana
  • Prairie Spire Green Ash
  • Gladiator Flowering Crabapple
  • Purple Spire Flowering Crabapple

Columnar Trees for Natural Screens

  • Swedish Columnar Aspen
  • Pyramidal Mountain Ash
  • Sutherland Caragana
  • Crimson Sentry Norway Maple (Zone 4)
  • Prairie Sky Poplar

Deciduous Shade Trees

  • Elm (Ulmus)
  • Sensation Maple
  • Ohio Buckeye
  • Paper Birch
  • Ash (Fraxinus)
  • Trembling Aspen
  • Laurel Leaf Willow
  • Linden (Tilia)

Flowering Trees

  • Ornamental Flowering Crabapples
  • Apple (Malus)
  • Ure Pear
  • Toba Hawthorn
  • Japanese Tree Lilac
  • Princess Kay Plum
  • Mayday
  • Schubert Chokecherry

If you are not ready to commit to planting a tree or two, consider these go-to shrubs to create space, colour and framework for your garden spaces. Some hardy and easy to start with shrubs include ninebarks, lilac, potentilla, spirea, dogwood, roses, highbush cranberry, mock orange, double flowering plum, Nanking cherry, barberry and junipers.

The trees and shrubs listed above are just a starting point and many cultivars may be available at your local nursery, subject to availability. Check in with the Tree & Shrub yard staff for more recommendations. Remember to understand your yard’s growing parameters, especially amount of space and level of sun when choosing the right plant for the right place.