Top Native Trees for the Chesapeake Bay Area

Did you know 85 percent of plants require pollination by an insect, bird, or other pollinator? Or that bees pollinate more than a third of our fruits and vegetables? Pollinators are an essential part of our everyday life. Without them, our gardens and the produce section of our grocery stores would look shockingly sparse.

As modern landscapes change, bees and other pollinators are fighting to survive. The loss of habitat, host plants, stressors such as pesticides, pathogens, competition with invasive plants, and the changing climate has led to declines in pollinators worldwide.

People can create habitat in their own communities by planting native trees. From our backyard landscapes to public spaces, there are endless opportunities to provide season-long resources for pollinators.

More than 2,700 types of plants grow throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, in nearly every habitat: from upland forests to the Bay’s shoreline to our own backyards. While most people think first of planting herbaceous native flowers, trees, too, can make a difference. One tree can produce thousands of pollen- and nectar-rich blooms. In addition, you get the many benefits trees provide, like energy savings and curb appeal, too!

There are many native trees you can add to your property that will look great, benefit you and support pollinators. Here are some of our favorite trees that benefit pollinators. These trees will thrive in the Chesapeake Bay area, help manage stormwater runoff, and so much more.

Top Native Trees 

  1. Native Oaks 

Native oaks, such as white oak (Quercus alba), pin oak (Quercus palustris), or swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii), provide habitat for pollinators throughout the year. In fact, oak leaves are used as a larval host by more than 500 caterpillar species! The large oak canopies will provide harborage and food for years to come. The tree height depends on variety. Maryland’s state tree, the white oak, for instance, can grow to a height of 80’ with a spread of 60’ or larger at maturity.

  1. Maples

The Acer group of red, silver or sugar maples are native to the eastern shore. This large deciduous tree can grow 115’ tall. The trunk can get up to a meter in diameter. It produces a nice fall color where temperatures become cold enough. It is very fast growing but may be too large for most residential gardens. Its large leaves provide food for many caterpillar species!

  1. Eastern Hemlock

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is a large, dense, pyramidal evergreen tree that can grow between 40 and 70’ tall. The needle-like leaves are an attractive deep green color with light green/silvery undersides, and the cones are small and delicate.Eastern hemlock stands are considered important as shelter and cover for white-tailed deer and other wildlife, such as wild turkey, ruffed grouse, and others.

  1. Sweetbay Magnolia

The sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana is a small, semi-evergreen tree with large, creamy white flowers that bloom in early summer. It grows in forested swamps and wetlands throughout most of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is a host plant for Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and many species of moth including Magnolia Serpentine Leafminer, Tulip Tree Leaftier Moth, and Paralobesia cyclopiana.

  1. Eastern White Pine

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) holds the title of the tallest native conifer in the Northeast. Typically growing 75-100’ tall, it is a long-lived tree, reaching 200 years, sometimes even 450 years.  A rapid grower, at 20 years, heights of 40’ can be expected. They are good to plant as visual, noise and wind screens and will attract birds and mammals for food and shelter.

Once you find the right tree, it’s time to plant. While it’s true that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second-best time is right now.

Here are best practices for planting trees:

Location, location, location!

First, pick a safe spot where your tree will have room to grow. Take the size of the tree at maturity into consideration. Make sure the tree is planted at least 15’ away, even when fully grown, from above-ground wires, underground pipes or wires, and permanent structures like your roof or garage.

Dig, dig, dig! 

Make the planting hole 2-3 times larger than the root ball. This will allow the new tree’s roots to spread out. Then position your tree so that the area where the roots meet the trunk is at or slightly above the ground.

Water, water, water!

During the first two weeks, water deeply every day. Then, water once a week for the first year, while your tree still has its leaves. Be sure to take rainfall into account before watering.

Mulch, mulch, mulch!

Cover the planting hole with 2-3” of shredded hardwood or leaf mulch, keeping it 2-3” away from the trunk. Do not over-mulch the tree or “volcano” mulch.

Once you have picked the perfect tree, keep pollinators coming back by providing proper tree maintenance. Planting a tree is an investment in your property, community and environment that will truly pay off for years to come.

It may be hard to know which trees to choose or what will grow best in your yard. We’re here to help. Email us at [email protected], or visit our stores.

And please follow us on social media and share photos of your gardens! Because we love plants as much as you do!