5 Drought-Tolerant Trees for USDA Zone 6 Yards & Landscapes

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Written By Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

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Home » USDA Zone 6 » 5 Drought-Tolerant Trees for USDA Zone 6 Yards & Landscapes

If your landscape and yard aren’t equipped with drought-tolerant trees, they will suffer when summer rolls by. Droughts, sometimes temporary, are prolonged periods of hot, dry weather that can stress trees.

If you already know your USDA planting zone, it’s time to find out what kind of drought-tolerant trees would suit your yard and landscape.

There’s a perfect tree for everyone who wants the best long-term solution to a healthier and greener yard as well as a low-maintenance landscape in times of need.

Here are some of the best USDA Zone 6 drought-tolerant trees.

5 USDA Zone 6 Drought-Tolerant Trees for Yards and Landscapes

1. Audubon® Native Smoketree (Cotinus obovatus)

Standing somewhat tall in most yards and landscapes of MD, PA, KY, and MA, the Native Smoketree is a Zone 6 flowering tree that thrives in moist, well-draining soils. In the summer, this beauty does justice to its name by covering itself with clusters of purplish-red flowers that, from afar, look like clouds of smoke.

In the fall, the Smoketree adorns stunning sunset-shade leaves that are a mix of yellow, flaming oranges, red, and reddish purple, sometimes all at once!

During spring, the tree decorates itself with pink leaves that gradually turn bluish to dark green. Just as beautiful as it looks, the American Smoketree is fairly disease-resistant, drought-tolerant, and can provide decent shade during hot summer months.

As far as care and maintenance are concerned, this Zone 6 shade tree thrives in full sun and partial shade and shouldn’t be overwatered or overfertilized. This tree can attract beneficial insects and birds to your landscape to help pollinate your other plants.

Although this tree is relatively disease-resistant, it can fall prey to leaf spots, rust, and wilt. When it comes to pruning, later winter or early spring is the best time to prune this gentle giant. The Native Smoketree makes great privacy trees if planted in groups!

Other Common Names: American Smoke Tree, Texas Smoke Tree, Wild Smoke Tree, Smoke Tree, Smokebush, Chittamwood

Growing Zones: 4-8 

Average Size at Maturity: 20-30 ft tall, 20-25 ft wide

Flowering Season: This tree flowers in April and May

Available at: Nature Hills

2. Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum)

Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum)
Image by F. D. Richards via Creative Commons

Adorning the landscapes of GA, MA, MD, and PA, the Washington Hawthorn is a dense, rounded flowering tree that provides shade and privacy. This tree thrives in full sun and moist, well-draining soil. Although it has a moderate growth rate, it’s drought-tolerant and attracts more than a few beneficial insects and birds to your yard.

When the new foliage begins, it covers the tree in plum-colored leaves that gradually turn deep green as they mature. In late spring, fragrant white flowers decorate the branches of this tree, creating a stunning contrast against its emerald-green leaves.

In the fall, the Washington Hawthorne turns heads with its gorgeous orange, crimson, and purple-colored leaves, but that’s not all. The clusters of white flowers that once decorated the tree transform into clusters of bright red edible berries hanging from the branches for birds and wildlife to consume.

All in all, the Washington Hawthorn is a showstopper all year-round. While this tree is reasonably pest-resistant, it can fall prey to borers, caterpillars, lace bugs, leaf miners, and scale insects. You’ll need to keep a close eye on these pests to help your tree overcome them.

The Washington Hawthorne rarely requires pruning; however, late winter or early spring is a great time to prune them if you prefer to trim them down. You can also prune them in summer, but that’s not recommended.

Other Common Names: Hawthorn, Thornapple, Washington-thorn

Growing Zones: 4-8 

Average Size at Maturity: 25-30 ft tall, 20-25 ft wide

Flowering Season: This tree blooms from April to June

Available at: Nature Hills

3. Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)
Image by Fern Berg for Tree Vitalize

Beautifying landscapes around MO and PA, the Golden Raintree’s spray of sunshine-yellow flowers does justice to its name.

The tree thrives in full sun and moist, well-draining soils; however, it tolerates many soil types, making it a less fussy option for your yard and landscape. If you’re looking for fast-growing Zone 6 trees, the Golden Raintree won’t disappoint as it also flowers at an early age.

That said, this tree is self-fertile and self-seeds quickly; therefore, in some parts of the USA, it is considered invasive in nature. You may want to check your state rules before bringing home the Golden Raintree.

That said, if everything works out, this tree is highly drought-tolerant, relatively pest-free, and moderately tolerant to deer damage. In the summer, the tree’s beautiful yellow flowers, which look like firecrackers, lure you in with their fragrance.

In fall, it proudly displays fruits enclosed in paper-thin capsules that almost look like a cluster of mini Chinese lanterns dangling from the branches.

When it’s not flowering or fruiting, it boasts colorful leaves that go from deep blue-green to sunset shades of orangish-yellow as they mature. This shade tree is always up to something!

If you don’t want a Golden Raintree invasion, pick the seed pods when they fall to the ground. Moreover, this tree will attract beneficial insects to your garden, which will help pollinate your edible cherry or apple trees if you have some in your yard or landscape.

Other Common Names: Blasen Esche, Panicled Golden raintree, Firecracker Tree, Pride of India, China Tree, Varnish Tree

Growing Zones: 5-9 

Average Size at Maturity: 30-40 ft tall, 20-35 ft wide

Flowering Season: This tree blooms from June to August

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

4. Japanese Pagoda Tree (Styphnolobium japonicum)

Japanese Pagoda Tree (Styphnolobium japonicum)
Image by Tim Sheerman-Chase via Creative Commons

Enhancing landscapes around MD, NY, PA, and VA, the Japanese Pagoda is a fast-growing and drought-tolerant tree with a rounded crown. It thrives in full sun, partial shade, and moist, well-draining soils but can tolerate prolonged periods of heat.

Native to East Asia, gardeners grow this tree to enjoy its lush green foliage and aromatic summer flowers that attract beneficial insects to your yard and landscape.

The Japanese Pagoda Tree got its name from growing on the grounds that surrounded Buddhist temples in Japan. Although it takes years for a sapling to flower, when it does, it turns heads! In the summer, the tree covers itself with white, pea-like, fragrant flowers which attract birds, bees, and other pollinators to your yard.

When the flowers fall, they cover the ground like a soft, white blanket, making it look like it snowed in the middle of summer!

That said, the seed pods that form after the flowering phase are toxic and shouldn’t be consumed. The Japanese Pagoda is great for yards and landscapes, and although it leans low, you can train it to reach high and grow tall.

This Zone 6 privacy tree (when leaning low!) is fairly pest-resistant but can fall prey to leaf hoppers, rust, powdery mildew, blight, wilt, and canker. It’s essential to prune this tree before winter’s heavy snowfall as the trunk is weak and could break from the weight of snow. Pruning is also required if you live in areas prone to heavy winds.

Other Common Names: Chinese Scholar Tree, Japanese Pagoda, Japanese Pagoda Tree, Scholar Tree, Umbrella Tree

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-75 ft tall, 50-75 ft wide

Flowering Season: This tree blooms from June to August

5. Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata)

Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata)
Image by Takunawan via Wikimedia Commons

Standing tall in landscapes around MD, GA, and PA, the Japanese Zelkova is native to East Asia and often grown as an ornamental tree.

When it’s young, the tree grows fast, but as it enters maturity, its growth slows down dramatically so it can establish itself. Its graceful vase shape structure resembles that of the American elm and is often the inspiration used in bonsai trees.

The Japanese Zelkova thrives in full sun and moist, well-draining soil, but since it’s drought-tolerant, it adapts to different soil structures. The Japanese Zelkova is an excellent substitute for American Elm, and in recent times it has been promoted due to its resistance to Dutch elm disease and Elm leaf beetle.

In addition, the tree provides shade year-round, thereby helping you reduce the electricity you’ll use to heat or cool your property by 10-25 percent.

Although the flowers aren’t as showy as other Zone 6 trees on our list, the leaf colors are a showstopper. They can range between sunset yellow, copper, and burgundy to red, deep orange, dark green, and light green.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see a combination of colors in the fall! As far as pruning is concerned, early spring is the right time to give your tree some TLC. In all its glory, this tree looks right out of a fairy tale!

Other Common Names: Saw Leaf Zelkova, Japanese Elm, Keyaki

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 90-100 ft tall, 60-80 ft wide

Flowering Season: This tree blooms from March to June

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

Tall, Strong, and Tolerant

USDA Hardiness Zone 6 is great for growing many drought-tolerant trees that protect your yard and landscapes from erosion and improve the soil structure. You can grow a wide variety of evergreen trees and fruit trees.

You’ve most likely picked your favorite drought-tolerant tree and can’t wait to bring it home, but you’ll need to consider a few things before you do that. Trees need a lot of ground space to thrive.

While some trees will be happy with 20 ft of space, others, like the Japanese Zelkova, need more than 60 ft of space for healthy growth. Keep the area you can spare in mind when you bring home your tree!

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Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

Lakeisha grew up in East Africa, literally surrounded by nature which sparked her interest in learning more about trees and plants from a very young age. She belongs to a family of gardeners, so for her, gardening is a way of life, a tradition she’s proud to uphold. As a self-taught gardener, Lakeisha has successfully grafted trees to produce hybrids for gardens and landscapes. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing about her experience with nature or watching baking fails!

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