What to Plant Instead of an Ash Tree

What to Plant Instead of an Ash Tree


Fine-textured and easy-to-grow Ash trees (Fraxinus) were one of the most popular street and landscaping trees in the US for many years! With airy greenish blooms and winged seed pods, their pointed foliage cast shade over many a garden until recently. 


Fraxinus americana, also known as the White Ash/American Ash tree, is a species of native deciduous tree to Eastern and Central North America. They readily colonize riparian zones, and stabilize stream banks, and provide shade and nesting sites for wildlife.

So why is it that Ash Trees became so popular to plant anyway? And why would you want to replace yours with something else?

Green, Black, and White Ash are native to a large portion of the US and Canada. Many nurseries have some incredible selections from the native species that are seedless, have great fall color, and have beautiful upright and rounded forms!

autumn blaze

Municipalities, homeowners, and landscape architects began noticing the beautiful seedless selections that were coming on the market. They began being used on almost all the projects not only because of their varied forms and fall color, but because of their adaptability to different soil types, and hardiness.

If you have ever seen an Autumn Blaze Ash in full fall display, you know just how unbelievably and intensely gorgeous they can be!

The Small Green Problem With Ash Trees

So why would anyone want to replace or find an alternative to the amazing Ash Tree?

Too much of a good thing maybe? You would think we would have learned from our past mistakes by lining so many streets and urban plantings of American Elm only to see the demise of such a stately tree from Dutch Elm Disease that has wiped out so many trees. Thus, plant hybridizers and nurseries have developed so many different new Elm selections that are Dutch Elm Disease resistant and we are now able to grow many different cultivars once again. 

fall ash

The same thing has now happened with the way we were using (or we should say overusing) Ash trees in our landscapes. Because of its widespread distribution, the Ash Tree has now also begun to face its own struggles - the Emerald Ash Borer.

Who would have guessed that we would import a bug that bores into the trunks of all the different kinds of Ash trees and eventually kills them?

What no one really expected is that borers typically only affect trees that are stressed or not healthy, but the difference with this bug is that it wildly attacks every single healthy Ash in its path.

At first, the movement was slow, but eventually, we figured out the movement of infected Ash tree firewood was being transported to many campgrounds, cabins, summer homes, and heavily wooded areas. Areas that contained native Ash trees!

Many years later, we have yet to introduce a resistant Ash Tree to the market. The bug continues to spread slowly and in all directions taking out all Ash in its path.

So to help stop the spread of the Borers and still enjoy your landscape, try one of these amazing alternatives!

What to Plant Instead of Ash Trees

If you live in an area where the Emerald Ash Tree Borer is prevalent, you will no doubt be looking for an alternative! Those areas now include most of the East Coast, New England, and as far West as Texas to Nebraska, affecting 30 states and killing tens of millions of native and non-native Ash trees in their wake.

Check out these alternatives that also have great shade, fast growth, and incredible blooms!

1. Birch Trees

whitespire birch

The fine-textured foliage of the Birch Tree and its many cultivars also have gorgeous bark and fall color that creates a picturesque look to your landscape. Try a native River Birch or Paper Birch, or have some fun by planting a variegated Shiloh Splash River Birch or Royal Frost® Birch that is sure to have the neighbors green with envy! All Birch will perform best where the roots are not baked by the sun, but shaded by a north-facing site, where the roots are in the shade of another tree or house, or covered in a 3-4 inch thick layer of arborist mulch that is spread out past the dripline. 

  • Unique Colored & Peeling Bark
  • Fine-Textured Foliage
  • Great Fall Color
  • Wildlife & Bird-Friendly
  • Cold-Hardy USDA Zones 2 Through 9


2. Linden Trees (Basswood)

greenspire linden tree

The lovely heart-shaped leaves and light green, winged seed pods of the Linden Tree create such a lovely display! Very pollinator-friendly, these trees have strong pyramidal-shaped canopies at maturity. Try a native American Linden Tree, or the smaller Littleleaf Linden to adorn your yard and enjoy the sweet-smelling flowers!

  • Magnificent Pyramidal Canopy
  • Tight, Upright Pyramidal Growth
  • Winged Light Green Flowers/Seed Pods
  • Heart-Shaped Leaves
  • Cold, Heat & Urban Environment Tolerant


3. Sweetgum Tree

burgundy sweetgum

The Sweetgum (Liquidambar) is a unique and underutilized native tree that features spring flower clusters that become persistent spiky seed balls that birds love! But standing back one will notice that the narrow Burgundy is a very balanced pyramidal tree that tapers down from a central leader. When space is limited, this modern variety is the right choice! The Burgundy Sweetgum features vibrant burgundy and purple fall color that rounds out the season beautifully!

  • Unique Star-Shaped Leaves
  • Columnar Shade Tree Fits In Small Landscapes
  • Brilliant Burgundy/Purple Fall Foliage!
  • Mature Height 40 - 60 feet
  • Mature Spread 20 - 30 feet


4. Hackberry Tree


Another big native tree with great shade is the Hackberry Tree. Named for its fall fruit that can be very bitter (but foragers use them as a chocolate substitute!), the mighty tree features strong growth and an upright form. The textured bark on mature trees adds winter interest too!

  • Large Pointed Foliage
  • Strong Trunk & Branches
  • Hardy Deciduous Tough Native
  • Long-Lived Shade, Street & Specimen Tree
  • Seeds for Birds
  • Resists Windy Sites & Urban/Drought-Tolerant


5. Elm Trees
princeton elm

After the lesson with Dutch Elm disease, hybridizers have worked diligently to create hybrid Elms or selections of American Elm that are resistant to the disease. These include the Princeton Elm Tree, Accolade Elm, the Triumph Elm Tree, New Harmony Elm, and the St. Croix™ American Elm. The fine-textured leaves and wide adaptability, make Elms a natural choice for an Ash Tree alternative.

  • Wonderful Shade & Fine-Textured Leaves
  • Graceful Form
  • Many Elm Disease-Resistant Varieties to Choose From
  • Shade, Specimen & Street Tree


Honorable Mention

Honeylocust Trees have come a long way with a wider variety of options, sizes, and colors to choose from! The fragrant blooms, strong open canopies, and fine-textured leaves create light shade that won’t shade out your lawn and the small leaves take care of themselves in the fall! Try a Shademaster Honeylocust or other Thornless and seedless Honeylocust Tree for a great alternative!


Should I treat the Ash Tree I have in my yard?

Treatment is available and if you have a significant specimen in your yard, you may want to consider having it treated by an Arborist or Tree Service. What many are finding out in areas that are infected, they are spending their money on replacing those Ash trees instead of treatment.

Your local County Extension Office will be an amazing resource for you to learn about options in your area, and be able to tell you if Emerald Ash Borer is a rising issue. County Extension Offices can also let you know tips and tricks to help prevent the spread!

Bring on the Biodiversity!

Biodiversity is the key when it comes to all urban landscapes. A healthy urban forest includes many different kinds (many different Genus) smartly planted without a monoculture of any one kind of tree. Planting many kinds of trees alternating with different Genus is the key!

Nature Hills employs Plant Sentry™ to ensure we adhere to all State and Federal Agricultural Laws and not ship this Tree into areas where it will be any kind of an issue!

Check out all the great shade trees available at Nature Hills and accent your landscape without worry!

Happy Planting!

shop birch tree

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