The Denver Homeowner’s Guide to Trees That Thrive In Colorado

The spring months are the perfect time for planting. Envisioning some new additions to your landscape this year and want to start planning? Learn which trees positively thrive in Colorado’s climate and how to care for them.

What Types of Trees Thrive In Colorado?

Maybe you’ve moved or built a new home and the property is absolutely bare of trees. Or perhaps you are just interested in bringing intention and design to your landscape. The strategic addition of trees and shrubs can transform and beautify your home. 

Tree diversity should definitely be in the forefront of your mind when selecting new trees. Your landscape greatly benefits from incorporating a variety of species because it reduces the risk of spreading pests and disease, it even helps fight climate change!

Before you fall in love with the look of something from the spread of Garden Design or Pinterest, you need to do your homework and find out what types of trees will do well in the Denver area. You don’t want to make an impulse purchase and try to plant a tree that is not suited for the front range climate. The goal is for your new trees and shrubs to do more than just survive, you want them to thrive for years to come! 

Luckily, there is an extensive list and great variety of trees that flourish in Colorado. Follow our guide to choose just the right new tree for your home landscaping project. Size, shape, and color are all major determining factors, so our lists are separated into categories to help you quickly narrow in on the perfect tree. 

Large Shade Trees

  • Honey locust: This hardy tree species has a reputation for withstanding dry conditions and drought well. It produces dark green, fern-like leaves that create yellow fall color. They have a fast growth rate and stand 30-70 ft, with a lovely rounded shape when they reach maturity. 
  • Kentucky coffeetree: Recognized for its fragrant and attractive  white flowers, this species of large shade tree produces persistent seed pods. As it grows, it’s coarse, ascending branches that often form a narrow crown. These pollution resistant trees make them a natural choice for shade and ornamental purposes in urban areas. One of its major benefits is that it has no known pest problems! 
  • Bur oak: Also heat and drought resistant, this species produces acorns and an attractive show of fall color. Standing 70-80 ft tall, the Bur oak turns yellow to brown and occasionally red in the autumn months. Nature lovers will enjoy the variety of wildlife that love to nest in these oak trees, such as red tailed hawks and screech owls.  They have a reputation for being very hardy, resistant to city pollution and long lived.
  • Chinkapin oak: One of the key benefits of this towering oak is its ability to tolerate Denver’s high alkaline soils. Known for being a reliable grower, even in the poorest of sites, it stands 50-60 ft tall at maturity. Part of the deciduous family, this species produces acorns and attractive glossy leaves.
  • Sycamore: This standard Denver favorite is both fast growing and long-lived. Recognizable for its distinctive mottled brown, green, tan and white bark, Sycamore trees prefer floodplain type soils. This impressive species can stand up to 100 ft tall at maturity!

Medium Shade Trees

  • Littleleaf linden: Tolerant of alkaline soils, this species grows at a speedy pace and prefers full sun or partial shade. The Littleleaf linden grows endearing heart shaped leaves, yellow flower clusters, pea sized fruit, and develops an attractive formal pyramidal form. It’s fragrant blooms often attract hummingbirds in the summer!
  • Horse chestnut: This hardy species can withstand Denver dry spells and is known to serve as both a shade and ornamental tree. With greenish-yellow flowers, prickly seed pods, and a nice round, oval shaped crown, a Horse chestnut grows 50′-75′ high at maturity. It can grow well in many areas, but prefers well-drained soils. In fall it puts on a yellow and orange foliage display!
  • Ginkgo tree: Often lauded as the most beautiful of all deciduous trees, the Ginkgo tree is sure to stand with its unique pyramid shape, yellow fall color, and fan shaped leaves. This species has many benefits such as its ability to withstand heat, pollution, and soil salt. But beware, the gingko tree is vulnerable to insect and disease attack. 
  • Sugar maple: Looking for something that will really make your landscape pop in Autumn? The Sugar maple’s glossy dark green leaves turn fiery red and orange in the fall. This can tolerate moderately acidic soil and prefers full to partial sun. Make sure to provide plenty of room, it will not grow well in confined spaces.
  • Ussurian pear: Considered the hardiest of all pear trees, this species can handle Denver’s cold winter seasons. White flowers in the spring, small fruit, and red wine fall color make it a Colorado favorite. At maturity, it stands about 40-50 ft tall with an attractive oval shape.

Small Ornamental Trees

  • Japanese lilac: Admired for it’s creamy, 10 inch white flower clusters, this species is sure to add beauty to your landscape come springtime. With showy, dark bark it is both beautiful and easy to care for. With very minimal pruning, it maintains its even oval shape. Perfect for those seeking a low-maintenance ornamental tree!
  • Redbud: With vibrant early spring magenta-colored flowers and heart shaped leaves, the redbud is positively eye-catching. Tolerant of windy and dry conditions, this species will grow to 20-30 ft at full maturity. It prefers full or partial sun and can thrive in Denver’s alkaline soil. 
  • Thinleaf alder: Also called the Mountain alder, this native deciduous tree is well known for its hardiness in the Denver area. Its medium oval green leaves turn yellow in fall, giving way to cone-like fruits in winter. This species has a reputation for growing well in difficult to plant wet sites. 
  • Amur maple: This species can withstand Denver’s dry spells and is desirable for its showy fall colors. With yellow- white flowers in spring, abundant seed, and brilliant orange to red fall color, it looks attractive year-round. The Amur maple does better in lower pH soils and prefers partial to full sun.

Trees to Avoid

Was there a tree not on this list that caught your eye? Proceed with caution. Many trees are not recommended for Colorado because of susceptibility to insects and diseases or their ability to spread into native ecosystems and out-compete native species. The following is a list of tree species NOT recommended for the Front Range of Colorado:

  • Austree 
  • Aspen 
  • Silver maple 
  • Russian-olive 
  • Tree-of-Heaven 
  • Tamarisk 
  • Willows 
  • White-Barked Birches 
  • Non-native hybrid poplars/cottonwoods
  • Siberian elm

How to Care For Your New Tree

You’ve selected the perfect tree to plant on your Denver property, what’s next? Properly caring for newly planted trees during the first couple of years is critical to their development and ability to grow and prosper.

Success begins with following planting best practices. Follow these suggestions from the Colorado State Forest Service to ensure that your tree is planted correctly:

  • Plant the top of the root ball slightly above ground level. The root collar (flare) must be visible one inch above final grade.
  • Set the root ball on solid ground and not on loose backfill in the hole; this will eliminate settling.
  • Remove at least the top 1/2 of all wire and baskets from balled and burlapped trees and completely remove containers from containerized stock.
  • Adding peat moss or manure to soil in the planting hole is not necessary. (Too much can cause a “potted tree” effect and restrict root growth.) Backfill hole with original soil.
  • Do not fertilize at planting time.
  • Optimum planting periods are from March 15 to June 15 and from September 1 to October 15.

Once planted, your next top priority is tree watering. Newly planted trees are thirsty! They require more watering than established trees and are more susceptible to injury from drought, so it’s best to keep actively monitoring them and stick to a consistent watering routine.

Here are some Pro tips for watering your newly planted tree:

  • Water deeply and slowly. Apply water so it moistens the critical root zone from near the trunk of the tree to the dripline to a depth of twelve inches. 
  • Try to maintain consistent soil moisture for better root water absorption. 
  • A newly planted tree should be watered every 3-5 days during the growing season, and newly planted trees need water during dry periods in the winter months as well. 
  • The “rule of thumb” for watering: apply 10 gallons of water per inch of tree diameter, for instance a 1 inch tree will require 10 gallons of water each time it is watered. 

What is the best way to water a new tree? Methods for watering include a deep root fork or needle, soaker hose or soft spray wand. It’s best to apply water to many locations under the dripline. If a deep root fork or needle is used, insert the device no deeper than eight inches into the soil.