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5 Cool Trees to Plant in Your PNW Yard

You know what they say … new year, new yard! If you’re planning on planting in 2020, here are five cool trees to plant in your yard (especially if you live in the Pacific Northwest).

Western Red Cedar

This tree grows thickly all over the Pacific Northwest, from southeast Alaska to northern California and as far east as northwestern Montana. It thrives in moist to wet conditions and won’t need babying once it gets established. Typically, it can grow to be 120 to 150 feet tall, though the tallest cedars—which can reach up to 200 feet—are usually found in the Olympic Peninsula and on Vancouver Island. Some of these old-growth trees may be 1,400 years old or even older!

Cedar was the most important tree to the local native people. It had a variety of uses—even now on some hiking trails you might see a cedar tree with a long scar up its side. That’s from when a long strip of bark was harvested by someone. These are sometimes called “culturally modified trees.” Check out this article on the Mountaineers blog for more information about the history of these trees and others.

If you’re looking for cedars in the wild, they’re characterized by scale-like leaves that compress against the branches of the tree. The bark has distinguished vertical stripes with a fibrous look with a red and gray cast. The branches have a trademark swoop to the limbs. In fact, they tend to look best when they’re grown so that the lower branches are allowed to spread, allowing for this shape of drooping down and then springing up.

Mountain Hemlock

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This one is for the folks who live in a more mountainous region or for those who are looking for a smaller variety of tree for a smaller yard or garden. They can be found along the coast of southeastern Alaska and British Columbia, in the mountains of Washington and Oregon, and all the way down into the High Sierras of California. You’ll also see them in the Rockies in northern Idaho and Montana.

These hemlocks are sometimes called hemlock spruces and can be planted in a container or as the focus of a rock garden. Plant them singly or in groups. In the wild, mountain hemlocks tend to grow extremely slowly since there’s a shorter growing season high in the mountains. Some varieties may only reach 10 feet tall. With a longer growing season and better access to water and nutrients, it will grow more quickly in the lowlands, up to 100 feet tall. You can grow old with these trees too—some are known to be over 500 years old and might even be over 1,000 years old!

One especially cool fact about these trees is that they’re exceptionally flexible and will bend under the weight of snow. They’re used to a lot of snow in the wintertime, and this flexibility means they can literally bounce back from a heavy snowfall when it melts. In some of its range in British Columbia and Alaska, mountain hemlock can be found in bogs and wet areas, and can even grow in freezing temperatures.

Western White Pine

There are some risks in planting a pine tree—they tend to drip resin in the summertime, so make sure to plant them away from your driveway or your house, otherwise, you’ll be picking pitch out of your gutters, off your patio furniture, and forever cleaning it off your car. But there are many benefits to having this type of tree in your yard, despite some of its drawbacks.

Pines are a major food source for local wildlife: their nutritious, oily seeds are a favorite of birds and small mammals, such as chipmunks and squirrels. Deer will eat the leaves while porcupines and rodents eat the bark and the wood. On top of this, pine needles make excellent nests, and the trees themselves will become a home for birds and squirrels.

And if you like decorating for the holidays, this pine has the typical pyramidal shape for Christmas trees! It can be the focus of your celebrations year after year—some pines have been known to live to 400 years old. Your young tree will grow quickly—up to 18 to 24 inches in a year and can reach up to about 135 feet tall. They like a variety of locations, from moist valleys to dry open locations.

Ponderosa Pine

This pine may not thrive as well in a small garden, but it will do well in a larger yard. The characteristics of this pine are the jigsaw-pattern bark that breaks apart easily, and the sap will soften and emit a scent like vanilla or butterscotch in the sun. Ponderosa pines are common throughout the west, from British Columbia to California, across to Montana and all the way down to Mexico. In the northwest, they tend to be found on the drier sides of the Cascades.

An adult ponderosa will grow to about 90 to 150 feet, and they can live for 600 years. Their thick bark and high crowns tend to make them fire-resistant, where other trees and underbrush will be more susceptible to combustion. Sometimes you’ll find a ponderosa grove in the middle of a dry field where no other kinds of trees grow and where fires are common. Like the western white pine, ponderosas are popular with birds and small mammals and are also a host plant for certain butterfly species. Expect to see a lot of nature if you choose to plant a pine.

The Western Larch

The larch is a pine tree, but unlike other varieties of pine, it’s a deciduous tree and loses its leaves in the autumn. Tourists flock to the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains every year to see entire mountainsides flare yellow and gold. In the spring, it will turn green with bright red cones.

A young larch will grow rapidly and can reach up to 100 to 175 feet tall in the wild. In your yard, it might grow between 30 to 50 feet tall and will probably live to be 700 years old or more. The larch can live in dry, rocky environments but prefers wetter locations on north- or east-facing mountain slopes. Cool temperatures don’t phase it, and it won’t be put off by snow.

If you have questions about your existing trees or want advice about a new addition to your yard, don’t hesitate to contact us at Mr. Tree Service.