Types of trees in Michigan are perfectly adapted to survive in the Great Lakes region, as some are better suited for the Lower Peninsula. In contrast, others are suitable for growing in the Upper Peninsula.

Types of Trees in Michigan

With 64,980 inland lakes and ponds, native trees can tolerate wet conditions. Our gardening team will suggest seven trees to identify and grow in your native garden. 

Michigan Trees for Your Native Garden

1. Sugar Maple

Iconic Sugar Maple Tree

  • This tree produces sugary sap to make maple syrup. 
  • Adds beauty to your fall garden with stunning foliage that turns red and orange as the temperature drops. 
  • Provides shade all year round, and its green canopy will be a good choice for your native garden. 
Distinguishing characteristics
  • This tree reaches its maturity within 30 to 40 years, so you must be patient if you want to grow it. 
  • It’s best to grow native flowers and plants that thrive in partial shade under sugar and red maple. These include columbines, sedums, and ferns. You can also pair it with boxelder maple or Acer negundo.
Growth requirements
  • Although this maple tree can survive in various soil conditions, it prefers organically-rich deep soil.
  •  Regular watering is essential until the tree gets established. 
  • Pick a sunny spot that allows the tree’s roots to spread adequately. 
Common pests and diseases
  • Unfortunately, it’s prone to issues like root rot and sap streak.
  • Aphids can also attack this tree but can be removed using water jets or neem oil. 
  • Most pests and diseases don’t kill these trees, but they affect their ornamental value. 

This Sapindaceae family tree is famous for its sugary sap that people use to make maple syrup. But it’s not as common in landscape designs as red maple, although it’s by no means one of the rare trees in Michigan, as you can see it growing all over the state. 

2. Red Oak

Majestic Red Oak Tree

  • People grow this massive oak as it provides a home to hundreds of pollinators, including the rosy maple and imperial moth. 
  • It’s native to the east coast so it won’t affect the growth of nearby native plants and trees like the butternut tree or Juglans cinerea
Distinguishing characteristics
  • Unless you have a vast space to accommodate this tree, it might not be suitable for growing on your land. 
  • Think about the tree’s future size, as it can reach 75 feet tall, and see how it will affect nearby structures and landscape features. 
Growth requirements
  • Thrives in well-draining sandy soil.
  • Weekly watering is essential until the tree gets established and needs more water during dry periods. 
  • Needs full sun, so plant it away from taller trees like Fagus grandifolia, American beech trees, and the eastern white pine or Pinus strobus that might shade its canopy. 
Common pests and diseases
  • Seeing a white film on leaves due to powdery mildew is this tree’s most common cosmetic issue. 
  • The oak borer is a large insect that feeds on heartwood, reducing lumber quality. 

Quercus rubra trees can live up to 500 years on your property, providing the best shade and color to your fall garden.

Yet, this tree won’t be right for you unless you have massive space. It hosts various native pollinators, increasing the ecological balance wherever it’s grown. 

3. Paper Birch

Delicate Paper Birch Tree

  • This tree is used for lumber, plywood, and pulpwood. 
  • The narrow canopy allows dappled light to pass through, accommodating the needs of several native shrubs and flowers. 
Distinguishing characteristics
  • This tree is dioecious, like ash trees in Michigan. The peeling bark contrasts beautifully with the deep green foliage. 
  • It’s called the canoe birch because Native Americans used the bark to make canoes. It’s also called the American white birch. 
  • The tree grows leaves between 2 and 4 inches, with double-toothed margins and dry fruits that turn brown when they mature. 
Growth requirements
  • This tree thrives in sandy or loamy soil, which should be kept moist. You can grow it next to taller trees like white oak and swamp white oak, as it thrives in partial shade. 
  • It needs more water if it’s grown in a dry area or if it has to compete with other nearby plants for nutrients. 
  • Mulching to keep the roots cool will keep this tree healthy, as it can’t tolerate heat. 
Common pests and diseases
  • The bronze birch borer usually attacks this tree, causing the yellowing of the leaves. Eventually, the leaves will fall off, and the branches’ tips will turn brown. 
  • Aphids attack neglected trees that have been weakened by long drought periods. 

The Betula papyrifera tree is one of the fast-growing deciduous trees in Michigan gardens, but it’s considered short-lived.

It usually lives up to 30 years and adds 2 feet to its height every growing season. Older trees should be removed to maintain the look of your landscape. 

4. Eastern Cottonwood

Towering Eastern Cottonwood Tree

  • Despite being a troublesome tree, people love cottonwoods because of the soothing sound their leaves produce when the wind passes through the branches. 
  • A lot of homeowners pair it with Populus tremuloides or the quaking aspen trees in Michigan for double the effect.  
  • The yellow foliage adds a pop of color, especially when paired with another golden beauty like the yellow birch or Betula alleghaniensis.
Distinguishing characteristics
  • It’s a dioecious tree like the Sassafras albidum
  • Most people don’t prefer to grow it on their lands as trees can be as big as 80 feet tall and 80 feet wide. Moreover, the roots spread under the ground affecting nearby structures. 
  • This tree’s shallow roots can seek water in pipes and septic systems, leading to major future repair work. 
Growth requirements
  • The cottonwood tree will achieve its best color when exposed to full sun. However, it’s unlikely that this tree will be in the shade on your land because of its height. 
  • It’s best to pick a consistently moist location, ensuring it’s not soaked. 
Common pests and diseases
  • The fast-growing habit is a major disadvantage as it weakens the bark and makes the tree prone to fungal infestations like Cytospora Canker. 
  • Bacterial wetwood usually attacks this tree and eventually kills it. 

The Populus deltoides tree thrives in the cold climate of the Great Lakes state, growing green female and red male flowers that bloom in the spring.

Most trees growing near houses are removed above and underground for safety concerns. Yet, many homeowners love how easy it is to care for and grow within a few years. 

5. Jack Pine

Hardy Jack Pine Tree

  • A habitat for different native birds, including the endangered Kirtland’s warbler. 
  • The bark produces lumber for construction and pulpwood. It’s also used to make fence posts. 
Distinguishing characteristics
  • This tree’s look depends on the growing conditions. In less than favorable conditions, it will grow like an evergreen shrub. 
  • It’s known to grow sideways with an irregular pattern, reaching a height between 30 and 70 feet, just like white pine, unlike the famous red pine, which is usually more than 100 feet tall. 
  • Thanks to the canopy’s sparse nature, you can grow this pine next to shade-loving plants like the pink flowering dogwood or Cornus florida, hackberry trees, Celtis occidentalis, balsam fir, Abies balsamea, and the American elderberry shrub or Sambucus canadensis. 
Growth requirements
  • A low-maintenance tree to grow in barren soil. It rarely needs any fertilizers and can survive in poor soil.
  • This tree can survive in arid soil conditions where other plants struggle. 
  • The tree needs at least six hours of full sun to thrive, and the lower branches can die when the canopy shades them. 
Common pests and diseases
  • Pine budworms usually attack these trees every year. They attack the upper part of the crown, leading to leaf loss mortality if left untreated. 
  • Young trees are more prone to fungal infections.
  • Weevils and beetles can attack this tree, but native birds usually help keep their numbers under control. 

Many pines grow in Michigan, but this one is suitable for lazy gardeners as it requires minimal attention and care.

This conifer tree will grow in places where wildfires have destroyed the land, yet its irregular growth habit can be an issue to homeowners. Regular pruning can solve this issue, but most people love this tree the way it is. 

6. Tulip Tree

Striking Tulip Tree

  • The trees’ leaves are broad and turn vivid yellow and orange in your Michigan fall garden. 
  • The fragrant flowers attract pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds to your spring garden. The dry fruits also add ornamental value. 
  • If you have a taller tree, you’ll be able to pair it with sun-loving trees and plants like the northern catalpa, known as Catalpa speciosa, the Kentucky coffee tree, known as Gymnocladus dioicus, or basswood, known as Tilia Americana tree as the narrow canopy won’t block the sun. 
Distinguishing characteristics
  • This will probably be one of the tallest trees in your garden, reaching 130 feet tall in optimal conditions.
  • These trees don’t bloom until they mature. Some trees can live up to 300 years when given enough care and space. 
Growth requirements
  • The amount of sun this tree receives will affect its growth. Trees that grow in full sun will stay shorter and wider, making them more suitable for landscapes. However, taller trees won’t be as wide as they grow in partial shade. 
  • It’s best to grow it in deep, slightly acidic, well-draining, compost-amended soil to support its roots. 
Common pests and diseases
  • Tulip scales and aphids will attack this tree. They won’t kill the tree, but they create honeydew which leads to the formation of sooty mold. 
  • Verticillium wilt can also infect this tree, leading to the discoloration of stems and roots. 

The yellow poplar or Liriodendron tulipifera tree has a narrow crown that spreads with age. It features yellow-green flowers with orange hues on the outside, adding beautiful color to your fall garden. 

7. American Sycamore

Majestic American Sycamore Tree

  • This tree is known to moderate the air temperature. 
  • The leaves are used for medicinal purposes to treat coughs, colds, and gastrointestinal issues. 
  • The fruits or pods are fuzzy and hairy, adding aesthetic value to your garden.
Distinguishing characteristics
  • The tree’s brown bark peels to reveal a light-colored inner bark. It features lobed and teethed leaves that can be divided into three or five lobes. 
  • The sycamore tree has shallow roots that can affect the planning of your property as they spread wide. They also affect water pipes and sidewalks.  
  • Cleanup is a significant concern for most homeowners as this tree sheds leaves and bark in the fall.
Growth requirements
  • Grow this tree in moist or wet soil, where other trees might struggle to grow. 
  • It prefers growing in full sun to stay healthy, and it’s unlikely to be in the shade, thanks to its height. 
Common pests and diseases
  • Aphid infestations can ruin the look of this beautiful tree. Using neem oil will solve the problem. 
  • Anthracnose is a common fungal disease that attacks this tree, but it will more likely affect trees that live in humid and warm conditions. 

The buttonwood or Platanus occidentalis reaches a massive height on your land of about 100 feet tall, becoming one of the tallest trees on your property.

Choosing this tree for your landscape requires some future planning, as you must ensure that nothing will obstruct its growth. 


Several trees in Michigan can thrive in your garden, and adding them to your land will support the growth of native plant species and wildlife forms. 

  • Some trees, like sugar maple trees, take years to reach their mature size, so they require a lot of patience.
  • Several species, like tulip and red oak trees, provide food and shelter to various animals and birds.
  • Evergreen trees, like pines, achieve their best foliage in full sun.
  • Dioecious trees like cottonwoods have female and male flowers that you can easily differentiate.

With these Michigan choices, which tree are you planning to grow next in your native garden?


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