My goal is to find trees that would survive in the fairly harsh climate of the mountains of northern Utah/southern Idaho (near Bear Lake). Being in the mountains, it is around 7,000 feet. The trees need to be able to withstand cold temperatures of roughly -20 degrees Fahrenheit as well as be drought resistant. However, we can water them once or twice per week in the summer. What kind of trees meet the bill?

We have had some success with aspen trees and some, but less, success with pine trees.


To be successful you have to use nursery grown plants. During the winters you can dig up dormant aspens and conifers, plant in potting soil in pots, keep protected from the cold because they are now in pots and their roots are the most fragile part of a plant. And you might have a 30 percent chance doing this to use a 'free' wild plant and you'll have a larger chance of getting fined if caught. Grins. Especially if caught digging up little Alpine firs. I've been sorely tempted.

I lived in Moscow, Idaho for 20 years. Zone 3. The best trees are: Amelanchier alnifolia (a rare 4 season beauty tree with few to no insect or disease problems) also called Serviceberry, Aspens of course, Choke cherry, Sambucus or Elderberry. The best shrubs are Salix purpurea 'nana'...or Blue Arctic Willow, Paxistima myrsinites or Oregon Boxwood, Acer ginnala, super multistemmed little maple a large shrub or small tree, the Camperdown Elm, Ulmus something Camperdownii, if your zone is 4 then Yews or Taxus are superior conifers that actually grow in shade OR sun, I like Taxus baccata repandens Taxus baccata repandens You must be at least zone 3. Micro climates make a big difference. This yew grew well in Zone 3 with a bit of shelter. Handles minus 28 degrees F. Mulched roots.

Do you own a Western Gardens Sunset book? Gotta have one. There are tons of other species of plants that thrive in S. Idaho.

Paxistima m.

Update: really need a more precise location for you now. Your expectations of watering them once or twice per week might depend on your soil. When plants are first planted they need regular watering for at least the first season. You might be able to erect shade cloth to protect against the hottest months and prevent too much evaporation. You should also insert 3' of 3" pvc pipe at least 3 of them, drilled with holes down the length leaving a foot above ground with no holes. Insert around the outside of the rootball and one right in the rootball when watering put the water down into these pipes. A number of times before you leave. Soak the soil as much as possible using these pipes. This should last a week in the heat but I would water at least twice per week until your plants become established.

Remove all burlap completely. All twine and labels. Prune branches that are heading toward the center of the tree at the trunk. Use alcohol on your BYPASS pruners. Do not dig the hole any deeper than the depth of that root ball. Do not amend the soil in any way. Do not bury any deeper than the root ball, the trunk has to be clear of soil, mulch, weeds...

Get a soil test. I'd call WSU Cooperative Extension Service. Call them and ask for a master gardener, they might know the pH where you are planting and/or do soil tests for you very very cheaply. WSU has a powerful Cooperative Extension service. Utah might as well...I've used WSU's. I am dying to know why Acer t. 'ginnala' should not be planted in S. Idaho, N. Utah. A soil test needs to be done at least twice for your landscape. One now and one in a few years. Valuable information for success. And not wasting money.

Acer ginnala

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    This link applies to the Poccatello area, which may be farther north than your location. It takes the opposite view of your question and tells you what NOT to plant: pocatello.us/DocumentCenter/View/595/…. Note that soil pH is extremely important to many species - have you had your soil tested? – Jurp Jun 9 '18 at 12:42
  • Nice take Jurp! – stormy Jun 10 '18 at 1:40
  • After reading through your article the only thing I am amazed they said was Acer ginnala should not be planted in southern Idaho. Mid as well as southern Idaho has lots of this small tree. It is the toughest of all maples and tolerates acidic as well a alkaline. What the heck is the pH in Southern Idaho? Boise is where I tested for my LA license. Soil pH is vital to all species. I am interested why they actually included this not well known little maple. Thanks, Jurp. – stormy Jun 10 '18 at 22:01
  • Stormy - In Wisconsin, Acer ginnala is considered an invasive species. It seemed to do very well in the La Crosse area (western Wisconsin, on the Mississippi), which generally has neutral to basic soils. I never saw it in the nearby woods. They were generally filled with invasive Lonicera, Rhamnus, Berberis and Euonymis alatus. – Jurp Jun 10 '18 at 23:01
  • Those are some of the best species to plant for ornamentals in the landscape. Acer ginnala was an amazing large shrub, small tree that survived everything...Groves of them pruned to show the multitrunks, fertilized a bit, watered regularly...are spectacular, low maintenance, disease and insect free, relative to most plants planted in harsh condition. All my info on them says they adapt to up or down pH, basically staying close to neutral. I would have added Vine Maple but that for sure loves a bit of acidity. Euonymus alatus is invasive? Honest? Lonicera? Invasive also means hardy. – stormy Jun 11 '18 at 1:42

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