Replacements for Ash Trees

Tree selections if Emerald Ash Borer gets your Ash

By: Sandy Feather ©2012
Penn State Extension

Q: Can you suggest some shade trees to replace the white ash trees we lost last year to the emerald ash borer? We are especially fond of trees that drop their leaves in the fall and have good fall color.

A: The emerald ash borer (EAB) has become well established in parts of western Pennsylvania, forcing homeowners and communities to bear the cost of treatment or removal and replacement.

Another dead Ash tree showing classic borer symptons

There are many good shade trees that you can use to replace your white ash trees, but some of the best include:

Autumn Blaze® Maple (Acer freemanii ‘Jeffsred’) – This species is actually a hybrid between a red and a silver maple. Autumn Blaze® has an upright oval growth habit, which is similar to white ash. It grows quickly, yet retains its strength and reliably turns a vibrant red in fall. Autumn Blaze® grows 50-60 feet tall with a spread about half the height. It is best in full sun and well-drained, slightly acid soil, but is more tolerant of heavy clay, drought and slightly higher pH soils than pure red maples.

Katsuratree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) – Katsuratree has an oval or pyramidal growth habit in youth that matures to an upright-spreading shape. It is relatively fast-growing tree with handsome blue-green foliage in summer that gives way to apricot-yellow in fall. Katsuratree grows 40-60 feet tall with a similar or slightly smaller spread and can be multi-stemmed or trained to a single trunk. It is best in full sun to part shade and well-drained, evenly moist soil. Katsuratree is not particularly drought tolerant and should be protected from the wind.


American Yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea) – American yellowwood is native, but not common, in much of the eastern United States and the Midwest. It has a vase-shaped growth habit in youth that matures to a broad, rounded crown. Yellowwood is valued for its fragrant eight- to fourteen-inch long panicles of white flowers that bloom in late spring and its thin, silvery-gray bark that resembles beech bark. It grows 30-60 feet tall with a similar spread. The foliage is bright green through the growing season, changing to soft yellow in fall. Yellowwood is best in full sun and well-drained soil, but is not fussy about soil pH.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – Ginkgo has a pyramidal growth habit in youth that becomes wide-spreading and very architectural at maturity. Its leaves are bright green through the growing season and are among the best for yellow fall color. Ginkgo trees grow 50-80 feet tall with a variable spread, usually 30-40 feet wide. Best in full sun and well-drained, deep topsoil, ginkgo is valuable for difficult landscape situations because it tolerates a range of soil pH, heat, salt and urban conditions. Plant only male selections because female tree produce a malodorous fruit that ripens in fall. Although they are prepared and eaten (and reportedly delicious!) in some cultures, most homeowners do not appreciate the mess or the smell.

Distinctive leaves of the Ginkgo

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)  - This deciduous conifer (loses its needles in fall) has a pyramidal growth habit that it often maintains into age. Dawn redwood is a fast-growing species, reaching 40-50 feet tall in 15-20 years with favorable growing conditions. It can ultimately grow 70-100 feet tall with a smaller spread, so allow plenty of room. The needles are a fresh, soft green through the growing season, with variable fall color, ranging from brown to reddish or orange-brown. The reddish-brown, peeling bark is attractive, with the trunk becoming unevenly furrowed and massive with age. Best in full sun and evenly moist, reasonably well-drained, acidic soil; tolerant of moist soils, but not standing water.

Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) – Black gum is native to the eastern United States, from southern Maine to most of Florida, west to eastern Texas. It has a strongly pyramidal growth habit in youth and can mature to an upright oval shape or an irregularly spreading crown. The leaves are a shiny dark green through the growing season and fall colors ranges from scarlet to orange to fluorescent yellow in fall. Small bluish-black fruits ripen in late summer and are attractive to many species of birds, including robins, cedar waxwings and woodpeckers. Black gum grows 30-50 feet tall with a slightly smaller spread. It is best in full sun and evenly moist, well-drained, acidic soil, but tolerates drier and moister sites within reason.

Think of these suggestions as a starting point, because there are many attractive shade trees to choose from. Be realistic about your planting site – consider the sun exposure, soil texture, moisture, pH and insults such as road salt. Also be sure to allow room above and below ground to accommodate the mature tree. Tree root systems can extend out beyond the limbs two to three times the height of the tree. Choose trees that are adapted to the existing site conditions to have to best chance of long term success. Those that are not adapted to existing conditions will not grow well and will be more susceptible to insect and disease problems.


Emerald Ash Borer

Missouri Botanical Garden

VIDEO: Signs of Emerald Ash Borer



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