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10 Best Trees for Colorado (Ornamental & Functional Types)

Trees provide many benefits for other types of life on earth.

Not only do they provide oxygen, but they also clean the air, and provide us with fruit, timber, shade, shelter, and beauty.

No matter where you live in Colorado, where the growing zone extends between zones 3a-7a there are plenty of trees for you to choose from, whatever your reason for wanting to plant one.

10 Excellent Trees To Plant in Colorado

1. American Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea)

American Yellowwood Tree
Image by stanze via Flickr

The American Yellowwood is a medium-to-large-sized tree with smooth bark and hanging clusters of fragrant white flowers similar to wisteria. The flowers are followed by papery seed pods. The American Yellowwood has a rounded form, with a crown of delicate branches which are known to break with strong winds and ice.

It has a medium growth rate and makes a good shade tree in a small to medium-sized landscape. It’ll tolerate high soil pH as well as alkaline conditions.

The leaves open yellowish-green before turning bright green in the summer which contrasts pleasing with many of the darker-leaved trees commonly planted around CO. It’ll tolerate both wet and dry sites, clay soils, and road salt.

Other Common Names: Kentucky Yellowwood

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 33-49 ft tall and 40-55 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late spring and summer

2. Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata)

Japanese tree lilac
Image by lezumbalaberenjena via Flickr

The Japanese Tree Lilac is a great flowering tree for Front Range Gardeners. Whilst they are true lilacs, they have a much taller and rounded shape than most of the smaller shrubbier lilacs most people are familiar with. They can be grown as single-trunked trees or multi-stemmed shrubs and work well on borders or as specimen trees.

The bark of the Japanese Lilac is reddish with white markings that provide year-long interest. The blooms are about 10 inches wide and a foot long. Whilst the blooms only last for two weeks, they come at a time when other spring bloomers are finished and summer bloomers are still in bud, so can attract many beneficial insects to your yard.

Other Common Names: Giant Tree Lilac

Growing Zones: 3-7

Average Size at Maturity: 20-30 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late spring

3. Russian Hawthorn (Crataegus Ambigua)

Russian Hawthorn
Image by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr

The Russian Hawthorn is a small, drought-tolerant tree that provides interest throughout the year. It has an irregular branching habit with a gnarled and unpredictable form. Spring sees small and glossy leaves emerge which are followed by clusters of bright white flowers.

These, in turn, are followed by bright red fruits in August. The leaves turn yellow in the fall and the fruit matures to a rusty shade of red by the winter.

The Russian Hawthorn has ¼ to ½-inch long thorns and makes a superb tree for dry areas. It’ll reportedly grow up to elevations of 9,500 ft.

Other Common Names: Green Hawthorn, Southern Hawthorn

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 15-40 ft tall and 20-25 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late May to early June

4. Ussurian Pear (Pyrus ussuriensis)

Ussurian Pear
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr

The Ussurian Pear is the hardiest pear variety and grows with a dense and rounded habit. The foliage is dark and glossy and turns reddish-purple in the fall. The white flowers begin as pinkish buds and are 1 ⅓ inches in diameter and appear in the late spring.

The Ussurian Pear is a good choice of high altitude fruit tree for colder climates. It’ll grow in normal to moist soils, with some sand or clay tolerance.

Other Common Names: Chinese Pear Tree

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 20-40 ft tall and 10-30 ft wide

Flowering Season: Mid-spring to late summer

5. Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

Golden Rain
Image by peganum via Flickr

The Goldenrain tree is a fast-growing, rare yellow-blooming tree. It lends a graceful form to any landscape and provides visual interest throughout the year. Goldenrain trees will survive in a whole array of different soil conditions as well as in urban environments, making them a very useful tree for many areas in CO. It’ll tolerate both heat, cold, and wind.

The rare yellow-colored blossom of the Goldenrain Tree are held in upright clusters on a stalk about 12-18 inches in length. The leaves are compound, 6-15” long and are made of 7-15 toothed leaflets 1-4” in length and turn pale yellow in the fall.

Other Common Names: Varnish Tree, Pride of India, China Tree

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 ft tall and 30-35 ft wide

Flowering Season: June – July

6. Western Catalpa (Catalpa spp.)

Western Catalpa
Image by FotoGuy 49057 via Flickr

The Western Catalpa is native to the United States where it grows in open forests. It has an upright and loosely pyramidal crown that is sometimes rounded and half-open.

The bark is grey-brown and peels off in narrow plates, whilst the twigs change from olive green to grey. The leaves are heart-shaped and dull green, appear late in the spring, and are shed relatively early in the season.

The inflorescence of the Western Catalpa are borne on long panicles that are white with yellow and purple spots. These are followed by very long and slender seed capsules. It’ll grow in almost any soil type provided it’s not too wet. It’s a valuable tree for bees and other pollinators so is a good choice for those looking to plant a pollinator-friendly garden.

Other Common Names: Northern Catalpa, Hardy Catalpa, Catawba, Cigar Tree

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 30-35 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late May to June

7. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Black Walnut
Image by vhines200 via Flickr

The Black Walnut is a fast-growing deciduous tree native to parts of the eastern United States. It’s an extremely large tree with a rounded-to-oval large canopy of spreading branches that can be rewarding to grow if you have the space.

It’s cultivated for ornamental purposes, timber, and edible nuts. The bark and leaves are also harvested for medicinal purposes. The seeds are eaten by various types of birds and rodents.

The male flowers are greenish-yellow catkins and the females are borne on short terminal spikes. The Black Walnut grows best in deep, rich, well-drained soils alongside streams in open locations up to 3,280 ft. It needs full sun and won’t tolerate overly shaded roots.

Other Common Names: Black Walnut

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 70-100 ft tall and 70-100 ft wide

Flowering Season: May – June

8. Japanese Pagodatree (Styphnolobium japonicum)

Japanese Pagodatree
Image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr

The Japanese Pagodatree forms a rounded and stately shape when mature. It functions well as a shade tree due to the dappled shade it casts from its small leaflets, which allows grass to grow underneath. Pale yellow to creamy-white flowers emerge to cover the canopy by late summer.

The flowers are followed by hanging seed pods that look like beads. The Japanese Pagoda tree will tolerate drought and other tough conditions, such as pollution, making it suitable for urban planting.

Other Common Names: Chinese Scholar Tree, Pagoda Tree

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 ft tall and 40-50 ft wide

Flowering Season: August

9. Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

Burr OAK
Image by Matt Lavin via Flickr

Burr Oaks are highly adaptable trees that can tolerate urban conditions without a problem including heat stress and pollution. The leaves are alternate and 6-12 inches long with 5-9 lobes separated halfway down by a deep sinus.

They yield acorns every year that are large than most others, and have a cap that reaches down about half of their length. They grow in a rounded shape and cast a dense shade.

The acorns are eaten by ducks, rabbits, wild turkeys, white-tailed deer, and rodents. In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the Burr Oak is often only the size of a shrub but will be much large in cultivation. Whilst the Burr Oak prefers moderate moisture, it’ll adapt to dry conditions as well and has some drought tolerance.

Other Common Names: Mossycap Oak, Bur Oak

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 70-80 ft tall and 55-70 ft wide

Flowering Season: Spring

10. Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

Kentucky Coffeetree
Image by F. D. Richards via Flickr

The Kentucky Coffeetree gets its name from the Native Americans and early settlers who used to use the beans as a substitute for coffee. It’ll tolerate a range of temperatures and soils, making it suitable for urban situations, according to the Morton Arboretum. The Kentucky Coffee tree has a slow-to-moderate growth rate.

The leaves consist of several lance-shaped leaflets, that can lend a semi-tropical feel to your landscape. Fall sees the leaves turn a shade of bright yellow. Early summer sees fragrant white flowers appear that are often hidden by the dense foliage.

As the summer fades, they morph into dangling seed pods which provide winter interest. Kentucky Coffeetrees are highly adaptable trees and will even grow in the infamous Colorado Clay.

Other Common Names: Coffeetree, American Coffeetree

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-50 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late spring to early summer

Colorado’s Best

Colorado is a nature lovers’ paradise. There are endless areas for you to spend time in the great outdoors and admire the wild nature of this beautiful state. There are also plenty of trees you can plant in your own yard.

Whether you’re looking for a shade tree, a natural privacy screen, a wind-break, a fruit tree, or a flowering tree, CO offers homeowners endless options when it comes to deciding what to plant.

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