Four Medium Sized Trees You'll Love

Prairie Horizon Alder, Hot Wings Tatarian Maple, Showy Mountain Ash, Prairie Torch Hybrid Buckeye
Prairie Horizon Alder, Hot Wings Tatarian Maple, Showy Mountain Ash, Prairie Torch Hybrid Buckeye

Prairie Torch Hybrid Buckeye, Aesculus x ‘Bergeson’

I have several Buckeye trees planted in my landscape. When I first started studying and learning about trees, Ohio Buckeye was the common name associated with this tree. But now, the common name is usually just Buckeye and its associated variety name.

Characteristics that set Prairie Torch apart from other Buckeyes:

  • Faster growth rate
  • A more uniform rounded shape
  • Reliable orange-red fall color
  • Very cold hardy- Zone 2
  • Resistant to leaf scorching

This is such an excellent tree for my area, the northern Great Plains, so it is frustrating that it is not widely available. The roots of buckeye trees have a prominent tap root with very few fibrous roots, making them less desirable for tree farms to include in their growing programs; there are increased production costs due to increased plant failure, I suspect, so they shy away from it. Perhaps they are also challenging to propagate, which can be a crucial reason desirable trees don’t appear in the “pipeline.” 

I was lucky to get a nice-sized size Prairie Torch for my planting. It came in a #20 pot (that’s about an 18” x 18” rootball) with a 1.75” caliper trunk. My other two Buckeyes are the straight species, have more of a yellow fall color, and have more of the summer leaf scorch problems associated with Buckeyes. 

Prairie Torch has beautiful creamy white spike-type flowers that rise above the foliage in mid-spring. The weeping habit is sometimes used to describe this tree, but I’ll refer to it as having more of a drooping leaf habit, not the overall tree, due to its palmately compound leaves. The branching habit is not weeping but has a rigid, upright branching structure. I love the buds on this tree in the spring.

Prairie Torch will get about 30’ x 30’. Considering where I have planted mine, I obviously did not remember it got this wide. I’ll deal with that later, like all the other plants planted too close. Gotta have one of everything you know!😊

Be warned that Buckeyes can produce a lot of seeds. Squirrels love them, and since my trees are still smaller, around the 10-foot range, I rarely have to clean up any seeds. The squirrels will bury many of them, so tiny seedlings are common. But transplant them sooner rather than later due to the tap root I mentioned earlier. The seeds are also frequently said to be poisonous, but finding confirmed evidence of this is rare.

Prairie Torch® Hybrid Buckeye -- Aesculus x ‘Bergeson’ (RFM-35) | NDSU Research Foundation

Showy Mountain Ash, Sorbus decora 

Showy Mountain Ash is another very hardy tree - Zone 2. The main downside to the Sorbus genus is their susceptibility to fireblight, a bacterial disease that can cause canker in the trunk and eventually death. For this reason, avoid pruning this tree during the growing season, as fresh cuts will attract insects carrying the bacteria on their body parts.

Characteristics of Showy Mt. Ash that make it a great medium-sized tree:

  • Showy clusters of white flowers in the spring
  • Abundant clusters of red fruit in the fall
  • Excellent red fall color
  • Great for attracting birds

I like the look of the leaves on Showy: compound with small oval leaflets. It is not particular to soil types for where it will grow and does well in moist and dry soils. Showy will eventually reach a mature size of 25’ H x 15’ W. I have noticed that deer are attracted to my tree and have caused some damage to the lower branches.

The Mountain Ash trees are not considered true Ash. True Ash trees are in the Fraxinus genus. 

Hot Wings Tatarian Maple, Acer tataricum ‘GarAnn

The Hot Wings gets its name due to the showy scarlet red samaras, often called helicopters, that it produces mid-summer. The samara is technically a fruit but is most often called a seed. Even though this is a medium-sized tree, it can produce heavy crops of “helicopters.” For this reason, many customers I have helped decide which trees to plant have avoided this variety.

Hot Wings is a tough tree with these characteristics:

  • Hardy to Zone 3
  • Attractive Red Samaras (to most people)
  • Reaches 20’ H x 25’ W
  • Very adaptable to a wide range of sites

I’ve seen references list red as a fall color for Hot Wings, but I think it is predominantly yellow with some red hints. This is true for all Tatarian Maples. 

Amur Maple is a medium-sized tree with a reliable red fall color with the same toughness and adaptability. A video highlighting Flame Amur Maple can be watched here.

Prairie Horizon Manchurian Alder, Alnus hirsuta ‘Harbin’

We’ve mentioned adaptability on the trees above, but Prairie Horizon is likely the winner and will grow in nearly any type of soil. It is a fantastic medium-sized tree with the following characteristics:

  • Fast grower with a strong leader
  • Grows in full sun or full shade
  • Purple catkins and cone-like fruit for winter interest
  • Hardy to Zone 3

The strong leader gives this tree an excellent form. The leaves are oval, glossy green, and turn yellow in the fall. My Prairie Horizon is one of the first trees to turn color in the fall. I like this tree as much in the winter as I do in the summer due to the showy cone-like strobiles and persistent catkins. They are definitely the most drought-tolerant of alders in the nursery trade.

Prairie Horizon® Manchurian Alder -- Alnus hirsuta ‘Harbin’ (RFM-33) | NDSU Research Foundation

There you have it! These are my top four picks for medium-sized trees. I hope you enjoy the live walking tour we’ve included here that covers these great trees.

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