The Best Substitutes for Popular Trees

By Derek Meusch, CCNP, Arbor Valley Nursery

You bid, but can we supply?

A constant struggle in this industry is the ability to supply what our landscape architects, designers and contractors are requesting for various jobs. Unlike a typical warehouse, this supply chain takes years to accumulate enough plant material to meet the current demand.

Shrubs, perennials and grasses have a much faster finish time and are grown constantly through the season to meet market needs. Trees are much more difficult to turn into a finished product in the timeframe we all desire. Through customer communication, we are able to solve these problems by substituting one variety for another.

The following provides a list of trees in short supply and recommended substitutions. Some may not have the exact specifications we desire, but can still be utilized given height, spread and exposure requirement.

Substitute Trees

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus)

This shade tree has grown in popularity and offers a variety of seedless cultivars. Unfortunately, you will see this tree on most commercial designs making the ability to supply difficult.

Substitutions include:

  • Skyline Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis ‘Skycole’)
  • Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis sp.) – Proven varieties such as ‘Shademaster’, ‘Skyline’, and ‘Imperial’ are available in sufficient quantities.
  • Elm – (Ulmus sp.) – Dutch Elm Disease-resistant cultivars are plentiful on the market. ‘Accolade’, ‘Triumph’, ‘Valley Forge’, and ‘Princeton’ fit the shade tree parameters.
Ponderosa Pine

Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra)

A large evergreen with low water requirements; this tree has proven difficult to find given heavy commercial requests.

Substitutions include:

  • Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) – Frequently grown locally, this large evergreen can be prone to pine beetle in higher elevations.
  • Bosnian Pine (Pinus leucodermis) – Smaller than the Austrian pine, this variety has been installed and implemented successfully in the trade.

Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.)

This ornamental tree offers a size suitable for urban locations. Both single-stem and clump forms are dwindling in availability.

Substitutions include:

  • Crabapple varieties (Malus sp.) – Smaller cultivars such as ‘Coralburst’, ‘Sugar Tyme’, ‘Firebird’, and ‘Adirondack’ are in good supply and fit size and flower specifications.
Cleveland Select Pear

Cleveland Select Pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Cleveland Select’)

Substitutions include:

  • Ornamental Pear (Pyrus sp.) – Cultivars such as ‘Autumn Blaze’, ‘Cleveland Select’, ‘Aristocrat’, and ‘Redspire’ offer a similar flower and fall color.

Along with the above varieties, large caliper trees (over 3.5 inches) are also in short supply. As the years pass, we believe that the production of these varieties will continue to grow and become readily available in the trade. All we can do as suppliers and installers is be patient, and wait for the supply to increase in the years to come.


Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.)

A small to medium-sized ornamental tree, both single-stem and clump form are in short supply.

Substitutions include:

  • Spring Snow Crabapple (Malus ‘Spring Snow’) – These white-flowering, fruitless trees are heavily produced in the local market.

About the contributor: Derek Meusch, CCNP, has been in the green industry since 2007, working at a nursery in Fort Collins, Colo. He is currently a Sales Associate in Brighton, Colo. at Arbor Valley Nursery, one of the Rocky Mountain region’s largest wholesale providers of quality trees, shrubs and perennials, growing and sourcing material from over 30 states and Canada. Derek received his Colorado Certified Nursery Professional certificate in 2015, and continues to be involved with the Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association through various events. He enjoys all things horticulture, outdoor activities and spending time with his wife and three kids.