Alternatives to pine

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My sympathy – the pine beetle is changing all our landscapes. You still have many choices, fortunately – among them the same pine species you lost (Ponderosa, I’m guessing?). The beetle epidemic is a wave that has swept over and is now gone – the young trees won’t be at risk. Also try Swiss stone pine, Bristlecone pine, Limber pine, Scots pine (the ‘Auvergne’ strain is bluer needled and very nice), or Siberian pine. Of the evergreens, the pines are the most drought tolerant, which is why your fir are struggling.

Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) is an upright juniper, very tough and drought tolerant once established. There are a number of cultivars of Rocky Mountain juniper available – ‘Moonglow’, ‘Wichita Blue’, etc – they vary in blueness, height and spread. Some get very broad in age, others are narrow and columnar. I like them all. (‘Skyrocket’ is not as hardy as the rest.)

Deciduous trees – Russian Olive should do well. Black locust might also. Birch and aspen and poplar all prefer moister soils, so only if you have a stream or moist low area to plant them near. Willow definitely need moist soils. Lilac should do alright, better if you can water occasionally – try the old hedge lilac species Syringa villosa – it’s more drought tolerant than the French Hybrids (S. vulgaris hybrids). Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) might do well – will never achieve any height on exposed windy sites, but it is tough.

“Once established” applies to all newly planted drought tolerant plants. See attached sheet.

Mulching – 3-4 inches of finer grade bark mulch or aged wood chip (or even
your dead pine run through a chipper!) – for a couple of feet around the new tree (4-6 ft diameter circle) also helps immensely in keeping moisture in the ground.

Once you have some windbreak and shelter established again, it’s easier to
start filling in – good luck!

Related links:
Attack of the Mountain Pine Beetle
How to kill a pine tree