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Best Trees For USDA Zone 3 (11 Tough Options for Cold Climates)

Planting trees is the easy part, but getting them to reach maturity can be a challenging task when you live in cold climate regions. In the Winter, plants must contend with high winds, dry conditions, and low soil temperatures.

In this article, we’ve made it easier for you to select the 11 best trees you can grow in Zone 3. This list includes the hardiest fruit trees, shade trees, fast-growing trees, and evergreen trees. Further below, there are 12 additional varieties for you to check out.

USDA Zone 3 covers parts of Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

  • Zone 3 minimum temperatures: -40°F to -30°F (-40°C to -34°C)
  • Zone 3a minimum temperatures: -40°F to -35°F (-40°C to -37°C)
  • Zone 3b minimum temperatures: -35°F to -30°F (-37°C to -34°C)
  • Estimated last frost date for Zone 3: May 15
  • Estimated first frost date for Zone 3: September 15

11 Best Trees for Zone 3

1. Apples (Malus pumila) — Fruit Tree

1) Apple Tree

Apple Trees are among the most productive fruit trees you can grow in cold climates. Apples not only help to keep the doctor away, they also light up the landscape with beautiful white flowers in Spring. In another article, we’ve talked about the best Apple varieties for Zone 3.

There are at least 2,500 varieties of Apple Trees being cultivated in the USA. When it comes to breeding the hardiest Apples, the University of Minnesota leads the industry. Thanks to their research, some cultivars can tolerate temperatures as low as -40°F.

Apples generally bear fruit within 6-8 years, with dwarf varieties fruiting earlier at 3 years old. They do well in full sun and well-drained soils. Just remember to check whether your Apple Tree is self-fertile or self-incompatible, so you’ll know which pollinator tree to plant nearby.

Other Common Names: Malus domestica, Malus sylvestris, Malus communis, Pyrus malus

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 10-30 feet tall, 10-40 feet wide

Fruiting Season: Summer to Fall

Apple Varieties Suitable for Zone 3: Honeycrisp, Sweet Sixteen, Goodland, Wolf River, Duchess of Oldenburg

2. Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus) — Fruit Tree

2) Sour Cherry Tree

Despite the name, some Sour Cherries can actually be quite sweet! When the fruits turn red in Mid Summer, give them some time to ripen to a richer, deeper color before picking them. Sour Cherries are excellent for making pies, jellies, yogurts, ice creams, and tarts.

If you’re short on space, you can try any of the six compact, dwarf varieties from “The Romance Series of Cherries” by the University of Saskatchewan. 50 years of selection and breeding led to these cold-hardy trees. They bear bountiful red cherries within 3-6 years.

The best thing about Sour Cherry Trees (particularly Romeo, Juliet, Valentine, Cupid, Crimson Passion, and Carmine Jewel) is that they’re self-fruitful. You won’t need to rely on another tree for cross-pollination. They’re also incredibly easy to care for!

Other Common Names: Tart Cherry, Dwarf Cherry

Growing Zones: 2-7

Average Size at Maturity: 5-10 feet tall, 4-8 feet wide

Fruiting Season: Late Spring to Summer

Other Cherry Varieties Suitable for Zone 3: Sand Cherries, Nanking Cherries, Chokecherries

3. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) — Fruit Tree

3) Hackberry Tree

If you’re fond of berries, you’ll be delighted to know that there is an abundant number of hardy varieties to choose from. Strawberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cranberries, Raspberries, and Currants all grow well in Zone 3.

For one, the Hackberry is one of the toughest and most adaptable trees in just about any landscape. At 8-9 years of age, the Hackberry Tree will produce small sweet fruits tasting like squash with hints of dates. These trees will live for 150 to 200 years.

Grown as trees or shrubs, Berries will reward you with beautiful ornamental blossoms every year in Spring. The fruits and flowers will attract many insect pollinators, birds, and wildlife to your area.

Other Common Names: American Hackberry, Common Hackberry, Northern Hackberry, Beaverwood, False Elm, Nettle Tree

Growing Zones: 2-9

Average Size at Maturity: 30-60 feet tall, 40-60 feet wide

Fruiting Season: Summer to Fall

Other Berry Varieties Suitable for Zone 3: Serviceberry, Lingonberry, Gooseberry, Aronia Berry, Elderberry

4. Northern Acclaim® Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Harve’) — Shade Tree

4) Northern Acclaim® Honeylocust

Proving to be the hardiest out of all the Honeylocust trees, the Northern Acclaim registered cultivar is a product of the North Dakota State University. It maintains bright green leaves in the Summer before turning a beautiful golden yellow in the Fall.

While the Honeylocust species is known to have toxic seed pods and thorns, Northern Acclaim Trees in particular are seedless and thornless. They’re also drought-tolerant, wind-resistant, and low-maintenance. Expect them to live for 70 years or more.

You can enjoy the generous shade of a Northern Acclaim Honeylocust in sidewalks, boulevards, parks, and other urban sites. This tree has minimal leaf litter, so you can do away with a lot of sweeping in the Fall.

Other Common Names: Northern Acclaim, Harve, Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis ‘Harve’

Growing Zones: 3-6

Average Size at Maturity: 35-50 feet tall, 30-35 feet wide

5. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) — Shade Tree

5) Ginkgo Biloba

One of the most ancient trees in human history, the Ginkgo Biloba has existed for at least 200 million years. It was thought to be extinct until the species was rediscovered in China in the 20th century. Today, Ginkgos line the streets of America and many other countries.

The elegant fan-shaped leaves of a Ginkgo Biloba Tree are hard to miss, especially when they turn yellow in the Fall before completely dropping in the Winter. Look for male trees such as the Princeton Sentry® because female trees are known to have a nasty odor.

Your Ginkgo Biloba Tree will grow best in full sun, standing well against urban pollution and road salt. Ginkgos can tolerate heat and drought. They’re also resistant to common diseases. Albeit a slow-grower, each tree has the potential to live for 1,000 years!

Other Common Names: Japanese Silver Apricot, Maidenhair Tree

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 feet tall, 30-40 feet wide

Ginkgo Varieties Suitable for Zone 3: Autumn Gold, Fastigiata, Princeton Sentry®

6. Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) — Shade Tree

6) Cottonwood Tree

Cottonwoods are dramatically large trees with triangular leaves and ridged barks. Female Cottonwood Trees produce clouds of sticky cottony seeds in the Spring. These seeds will cling to windows and gather in gutters, so you might want to opt for a male variety instead.

The native Cottonwood Tree provides ample shape to people and animals alike. Eagles love to nest on the tree’s foliage. Living up to 75 years, Cottonwood is one of the fastest-growing trees in North America. It is used for erosion control in floodplains.

You can start with a bare-root seedling from a nursery, and expect it to grow about 24 inches per year. Cottonwood Trees have extensive root systems that can damage roads and sewer lines; It’s best to plant them in open spaces away from residential sites.

Other Common Names: Eastern Cottonwood, Necklace Poplar, Carolina Poplar, Alamo

Growing Zones: 2-9

Average Size at Maturity: 65-195 feet tall, 35-75 feet wide

7. Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) — Fast-growing Tree

7) Northern Red Oak

There are very few trees that can match the striking beauty of the Northern Red Oak. In the Fall, the leaves will showcase shades of orange, red, and bronze. It’s been dubbed as “one of the handsomest, cleanest, stateliest trees in North America” by naturalist Joseph Illick.

Whether planted in your backyard or out in a farm, a Northern Red Oak will make an excellent specimen tree with its broad, rounded crown. It may take the tree 40 years to produce acorns. Once it does, it becomes a valuable food source for local wildlife.

Your Northern Red Oak Tree will thrive in extreme cold and heat. It can tolerate pollution, and grow in just about any soil type. It loves full sun but will do well even under heavy shade. Each tree can live up to 400 years!

Other Common Names: Red Oak, American Red Oak, Champion Oak

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 50-120 feet tall, 50-70 feet wide

Other Oak Varieties Suitable for Zone 3: Majestic Skies™ Northern Pin Oak, White Oak, English Oak, Bur Oak

8. Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) — Fast-growing Tree

8) Paper Birch

It is no surprise that the Paper Birch is one of the best-loved trees in North America. Its smooth white bark contrasted by the brilliant yellow foliage provides a romantic scenery in the Fall. Paper Birch is the state tree of New Hampshire.

Paper Birch Trees handle heat and humidity poorly, so they’re more suited for cold climates where they can live up to 100 years. These trees don’t do well in shade, so make sure to give your tree plenty of access to direct sunlight.

You will initially see dark brown stems when you plant a Paper Birch seedling, but the bark will start to turn white at 3 years of age. Growing fast in any landscape, these trees are ideal for borders, city gardens, and foundation plantings.

Other Common Names: Canoe Birch, White Birch, American White Birch, Silver Birch

Growing Zones: 2-6

Average Size at Maturity: 50-130 feet tall, 25-50 feet wide

Other Birch Varieties Suitable for Zone 3: Dakota Pinnacle® Asian White Birch, Cherry Birch, Youngii River Birch, Cesky Gold Birch, Little King Birch

9. Autumn Blaze® Red Maple Tree (Acer x freemanii ‘Jeffersred’) — Fast-growing Tree

9) Autumn Blaze Red Maple

A hybrid between the Silver Maple and American Red Maple, this cultivar combines the best qualities of its parent species. Produced by the US National Arboretum in 1933, the Autumn Blaze Red Maple puts on a stunning display of crimson leaves in the Fall.

The Autumn Blaze grows fast while maintaining a sturdy structure. You can expect your tree to reach 15-20 feet within only 3 years of age. It is drought-tolerant, hardy to most climates, and generally pest-free. It will flourish in full sun but can tolerate shade as well.

You can enjoy the Autumn Blaze Red Maple Tree as a single specimen, or you can plant it in rows along fences and driveways. Make a note to space them about 20 feet apart. This cultivar is sterile and seedless, so they’re less fussy to clean up in the Fall.

Other Common Names: Autumn Blaze Maple, Freeman Maple, Acer x freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-55 feet tall, 30-40 feet wide

Other Maple Varieties Suitable for Zone 3: Amur Maple, American Red Maple, Northwood® Maple, Sugar Maple

10. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) — Evergreen Tree

10) Eastern White Pine

The Eastern White Pine is an ancient tree which is valued across many cultures. Native Americans buried weapons underneath the Eastern White Pine to seal a peace agreement among warring tribes. Later, they called it the “Tree of Peace”.

One of the most popular Christmas trees, the Eastern White Pine has little to no aroma – making it ideal for people with allergies. Instead of cutting down a tree, consider getting a potted one for the holidays so you can plant it outdoors afterwards.

You can make use of an Eastern White Pine in your landscape as an ornamental tree or as a shade tree. The soft, flexible, bluish-green needles of this conifer will remain lush throughout the year. These trees can live for 200-400 years.

Other Common Names: Northern White pine, White Pine, Weymouth Pine, Soft Pine

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 30-80 feet tall, 20-40 feet wide

Other Pine Varieties Suitable for Zone 3: Mugo Pine, Swiss Stone Pine, Scotch Pine, Japanese Black Pine

11. Norway Spruce (Picea abies) — Evergreen Tree

11) Norway Spruce

Although it’s native to Europe, the Norway Spruce is a familiar sight in much of America. They’re most popularly harvested as Christmas trees, but nothing can stop you from planting a Norway Spruce Tree in your backyard as a windbreak or as an impressive specimen.

The evergreen leaves and colorful cones of the Norway Spruce will beautifully contrast snowy landscapes in Winter. Expect these trees to be fast-growing, drought-tolerant, and incredibly resistant against most pests and diseases.

You will find many Norway Spruce Trees being grown in parks and gardens, with at least 150 cultivars available. They’re useful for making furniture, paper, spruce beer, and musical instruments. These trees can live for 200-300 years.

Other Common Names: European Spruce, Common Spruce

Growing Zones: 2-7

Average Size at Maturity: 40-180 feet tall, 25-40 feet wide

Other Spruce Varieties Suitable for Zone 3: White Spruce, Engelmann Spruce, Colorado Blue Spruce, Serbian Spruce

Other Trees Ideal for Zone 3

We browsed forums and orchard listings to find more trees that can grow in Zone 3. Here are 12 winter-hardy varieties for you to consider:

Fruit Trees

  • Apricot (Prunus mandshurica): Native to Manchuria and Korea, the Manchurian Apricot has attractive wild flowers in Spring, golden orange leaves in the Fall, and delicious fruits every 2-3 years. You can eat them fresh, or make jellies and jams.
  • Plum(Prunus ‘Pembina’): The Pembina Plum is a popular hardy fruit tree in Zone 2 and above. It has fragrant white flowers in Spring followed by juicy dark red fruits in the Summer. You’ll need to plant other Plum or Sandcherry trees for pollination.
  • Kiwi (Actinidia arguta): The female Chung Bai Kiwi combined with the male Meader Kiwi is a new cultivar from Korea. It is cold-hardy, productive, and delightfully fragrant when it blooms. You’ll find that the fruits are much sweeter than other Kiwi varieties!

Shade Trees

  • Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica): Growing 50 feet tall, the Green Ash is initially pyramidal before developing a spreading habit when mature. The leaves turn yellow in the Fall. You can find this tree as a popular ornamental in many gardens.
  • Autumn Purple Ash (Fraxinus americana): The largest of the native Ash trees in America, Autumn Purple Ash grows up to 60 feet tall. It puts on a vibrant show of purple and yellow leaves in the Fall. You can plant multiple street trees for shade.
  • Prairie Expedition American Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Lewis & Clark’): The Prairie Expedition Tree can tolerate most soil types and weather conditions. You can enjoy the generous shade of this Elm in parks and boulevards.

Fast-growing Trees

  • European Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia): Not truly an Ash tree, the European Mountain Ash grows fast and reaches 40 feet tall. In the Fall, it bears abundant scarlet fruits that attract wildlife. Don’t eat too much of these potentially toxic berries.
  • Basswood (Tilia americana): If you’re looking for a tree that can attract bees and pollinators to your garden, the Basswood has fragrant flowers in Spring. This native tree lines the streets of America, growing fast and providing good shade.
  • Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides): The Quaking Aspen breaks many records: it has the widest natural range in North America; it is the largest living organism; and it is one of the oldest trees in existence. Quaking Aspen grows fast in cold climates.

Evergreen Trees

  • Youngstown Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Plumo’): The Youngstown Juniper transforms with interesting colors throughout the year. The leaves go from silvery-green in the warm months to purplish-bronze in the colder seasons.
  • Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana): You will readily spot– or more likely smell– the Eastern Redcedar in roads and plains throughout the USA. It has a dense pyramidal foliage that makes it an ideal windbreak or a privacy screen.
  • White Fir (Abies concolor): The White Fir, also known as Concolor Fir, is an excellent substitute for the Colorado Blue Spruce which is prone to Needle Cast Disease. This evergreen tree will reward you with soft, fragrant blue needles and pinkish cones.

Final Thoughts on Zone 3 Trees

USDA Zone 3 includes some of the coldest regions in the USA, which means you’ll have to pick only the toughest trees that can survive the harsh winters. Luckily, years of scientific research combined with the enthusiasm of home gardeners have narrowed down the choices for us.

Whether you’re planting trees to eat their fruits later on, to enjoy some shade on your property, to maintain greenery all year round, or to simply delight in watching a living thing grow fast within your care, there’s plenty of options for you to try. So pick a tree in this list, and get planting!

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