The Twin Cities’ suburbs and smaller surrounding cities are bursting with new home construction. What was once thousands of acres of lush fields of corn and soybeans is being transformed into single-family homes and townhome complexes. The “city” is creeping ever closer to those rural areas we once referred to as “out in the country.”
It’s happening close to my home in Forest Lake, and a drive north on Interstate 35 from St. Paul is dotted with copious amounts of new home development.
Often, it’s the developer/builder that makes all the choices when it comes to what trees and shrubs will be planted around or near these new structures, and as far as trees go, it’s typically something in the maple, elm, birch or crabapple family.
When I was a garden center employee in the early 2000s, the autumn blaze maple was by far the most popular home landscape tree sold, followed by the Colorado blue spruce or some other evergreen. Both these choices have their problems, which unfortunately don’t reveal themselves until many years after they’re planted.
There is another choice that definitely stands the test of time – in fact, has been around for millions of years – and it’s the gingko tree (gingko biloba).
Native to China, the gingko is well-adapted to midwestern climate and conditions and is especially adaptable to urban conditions. They grow 25-50 feet high, are tolerant of a variety of harsh site conditions, are disease- and pest-free, and are long-lived.
Their unique fan-shaped foliage, bright yellow autumn colors, and mature spreading branches immediately make them stand out from other common trees.
Though slow-growing at first, it transplants easily in any type of soil, tolerates heat, air pollution and soil salt, grows well in confined areas and is a best first choice for a boulevard tree. The female produces a rather foul-smelling seed, so male trees are preferred and most commonly sold.
And gingko trees will outlast us all. I saw one report of a gingko tree estimated to have lived 3,500 years! They are so tough that six of them survived the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and though a bit charred, they all recovered.
Our own state of Minnesota will experience some dramatic changes in our landscape due to climate changes over the coming decades, and some trees that do well now in certain locations will die out altogether, so choosing a gingko tree for your landscape is a wise choice and one that will prove itself over the decades to come.
Donna Tatting is a Chisago County Master Gardener.