Aspen Alternatives for Montana Landscapes

2021-09-07 10:57:23

It's tree planting season which means there are choices to be made in yards all across the state. But which tree should you choose?

Today's tree-in-question: the aspen. So many of us want one in our yard to watch those 'fluttering' leaves. From the beautiful white bark to the perfectly shaped and uniform green leaves, or maybe it's the fall color or rustling sound that you just have to have! Before you go out and buy an aspen to plant in your home landscape, I urge you to reconsider if you don't live next to a stream. These native trees are only native to the higher elevations, the mountains and foothills in gullies or ravines where there is plenty of moisture.

Aspens have a few needs that just can't be met down at lower elevations. For one, the soil is much different than that of the higher elevations it's higher in clay content, more alkaline and drier. The temperatures get much hotter in the summer at lower elevations than what the aspens prefer which can lead to stress. Once an aspen tree is stressed, it can invite other insect and disease problems like oyster shell scale, Marssonina leaf spot, cytospora canker or the poplar borer.

Finally, aspens want to reproduce via suckers and create groves and many home landscapes are just not big enough to accommodate a grove of aspen trees. If you plant an aspen in a small yard, you've probably just planted an aspen for all of your neighbors, too!

So, instead of choosing an aspen tree for your yard, here are a few interesting alternatives. They won't be exactly the same, but they have similar qualities with much less caution required.

1. Serviceberry

Serviceberry trees are great for smaller landscapes. They can be purchased in multi-stem form, giving them that 'grove' look without the suckering. They also offer a few things that aspens don't - spring flowers, summer edible fruits and nice fall color. The 'Standing Ovation' cultivar is a taller form, giving it more of that aspen look, whereas the 'Autumn Brilliance' has an intense orange-red fall color.

2. Tatarian Maple

Tatarian maple is another tree that can be bought as single or multi-stemmed. The 'Hot Wings' type has guaranteed bright-red summer seed pods creating the appearance of flowering. This tree is better suited to the harsher conditions and low-water or xeric settings once established.

3. Greenspire Littleleaf Linden

Greenspire Linden is a magnificent shade tree with a strong, spire-like shape throughout its life and fragrant yellow flowers in early summer when few trees bloom. It is very tidy and low-maintenance, adaptable, and makes an excellent lawn or street specimen, or by a pool or deck. Greenspire linden has dark green foliage throughout the season.


The heart-shaped leaves turn an outstanding gold in the fall. It features subtle clusters of fragrant yellow flowers with tan bracts hanging below the branches in early summer. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist locations, and should do just fine under average home landscape conditions. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments.

4. Oakleaf Mountain Ash

If you want something 'mountainy', the oakleaf mountain ash has 'mountain' in it's name! It has low to moderate water needs and has a uniquely shaped leaf, pretty flowers, red berries and nice orange-red fall color. It's not a true ash, so it is not under threat by the Emerald Ash Borer. In fact, it is not known to have any serious insect or disease issues.

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