Being YardSmart means choosing water wise plants that not only grow well and thrive in Calgary's short growing season, but are also able to survive cold winter temperatures, drying winds, and limited snow cover. Plants labelled Zone 2 or 3 are consistently hardy enough to survive in Calgary. Learn more in our YardSmart Smarty Plants video.
Water wise trees and shrubs will need additional water for the first two years. After they are established, you can slowly reduce the amount of water they receive; eventually rainfall will be sufficient throughout most seasons.
Check out our list of trees and shrubs in our YardSmart Trees & Shrubs Brochure. We also have more information on what annuals and perennials grow well in Calgary.
Native plants for our region are always a wise choice. Most garden centres carry a selection of native plants and some specialize in native plants. You can find out more about selecting and purchasing native plants through the Alberta Native Plant Council.
Suggested YardSmart trees and shrubs
Amur Maple (Acer ginnala) - Native to northern Asia, this species is a fast growing multi-stemmed shrub or may be trained as a small single stem tree, with lobed leaves that have terrific fall colour along with double -winged samara seed - pods that persist into winter. It prefers full sun and slightly acidic, well-drained soil.
Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) – A native to the eastern prairies, matures to a large shade tree with a distinctive form and deeply lobed leaves and acorns. It has an extensive root system with a deep tap root that does not compete for moisture with surrounding plants. 30 feet tall, 25 feet wide. Full sun. Dry to moist, all soil.
Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) – A popular evergreen that requires a very large yard. A dense, pyramidal tree growing 50 - 75 feet high with 10 - 20 feet spread. Full sun.
Columnar Colorado Spruce Tree (Picea pungens "Fastigiata") – An upright, narrow tree. Good for small yards and a good alternative to Swedish Columnar Aspen. Good for small yards.
Toba or Snowbird Hawthorn (Crategus x mordensis "Toba' or 'Snowbird") - Thornless hybrids of this tough species were developed in Morden Manitoba for the prairies. Features tight rosette flowers in pink or white in late spring that withstand spring storms, with shiny thick leaves and twisted gray trunk. It prefers a well-drained site with average soil conditions in full sun.
Ivory Silk Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata "Ivory Silk") – A native to China, is a small single or multi-stemmed round-headed tree with attractive peeling reddish-brown bark with large creamy-white fragrant blooms. As with other member of the Lilac family it is best in full sun and adapts to a range of well-drained, averagely fertile soil types.
Pincherry (Prunus pennsylvanica) – Native to much of North America, it is often grown as a small single stem tree, though may also be a large shrub. Grown for its striking red bark, white spring flowers and edible red 'cherries' it is best in full sun in well-drained soil.
Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) - A fast growing conifer with orangey peeling bark when mature. It is quite dense at first but as it matures becomes more open with horizontally held branches. Adaptable to all soil types, it prefers lighter sandy dry soils. Full Sun
Snowy Mountain Ash (Sorbus decora) – A small, dense tree with flower clusters and then red berries. Needs well-drained soil. Twenty feet tall and fifteeen foot spread. Full sun. Attracts birds such as waxwings. Avoid its relative the European Mountain Ash (Sorbus auduparic) which can be invasive.
Siberian Larch (Larix sibirica) - A large and fast growing conifer with an airy appearance. To conserve moisture it sheds its needles in fall. Bright green new growth comes early in the spring. 60 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Partial to full sun. Average to dry and all soil types
Ussurian Pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) - A native of northern Asian regions, this is a fully hardy small fruiting tree with an oval form, shiny dark green leaves and stout thorns. It is a slowly maturing tree so flowers and fruit may take a few years to appear. Adaptable to most soils with adequate fertility in full sun it makes a lovely specimen tree away from walkways.
Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana) - A very large shrub with stout stems that can be trained as a small tree, with attractive fuzzy, gray-green wrinkled leaves that develop purplish fall colour, and white spring flowers with small fruit that is attractive to birds. It prefers full sun to partial shade and is adapted to all soil types.
American Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) - Native to prairie woodlands, this large shrub has showy white flowers in spring, edible red fruit and red fall colour. Adaptable to all soils, will require additional water only if the fruit is being cultivated for eating. 2 to 4 m tall. Partial to full sun. Sandy to loam soils
Red Barberry (Berberis thundergii) - "Rosy Glow", "Emerald Carausel" - These are compact shrubs with vibrant colour. They stand out as hedges or planted individually. They thrive in heat and full sun and prefer well-drained soil.
Cherry Prinsepia (Prinsepia sinensis) - Upright and spreading in form, it is one of the first shrubs to leaf out with small yellow flowers and red edible fruit. Very thorny making it useful as a barrier as well as an accent plant in the back of a bed. Adaptable to sun and partial shade, as well as any soil type, and attracts birds in the fall.
Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) - A vigorous plant with arching branches and thin exfoliating golden brown bark that thrives in full sun to partial shade. It has deep fibrous roots and is adaptable to most soils. Many varities available.
Globe Blue Spruce (Picea pungens "Glauca Globosa") –A dwarf blue spruce up to 1 metre round and tall, this is fully hardy on a range of soil types. All spruces have shallow spreading root systems that compete with other plants for moisture. Full sun.
Meyer's Dwarf Lilac (Syringa meyerii "Palibin") - A dense, twiggy shrub with small leaves that look like Mickey Mouse ears that requires little care. Lightly fragrant purple blooms in late spring. 4 feet high and 5 feet wide. Full sun. Well drained soil.
Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo) – A large group of cultivars of varying sizes and growth habits, these shrubs typically feature dense growth with deep green needles with brown-gray scaly bark. Prefers full sun and well-drained average soil types, and may take up to five years to establish well-developed root systems.
Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) - A native to the eastern prairies, this species of Viburnum has long slender branches that forms a tall open shrub with shiny oval leaves that turn a beautiful purple/red in fall. White flowers in spring mature to purple black berries in fall that appeal to birds. Adaptable to all soil types and while preferring open sun tolerates partial shade.
Nest spruce (Picea abies "Nidiformis") - Also known as Norwegian Spruce. A small, dense evergreen shrub that develops a depression in the centre. Colour is green to lime green. Four feet tall. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Does not tolerate standing water.
Potentilla or Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora floribunda) – Native to the prairies, this tough bushy shrub has grey-green small compound leaves and five petal yellow flowers that bloom right up till a killing frost. Requires full sun and adapts to all well-drained soil types.
Preston Lilac (Syringa prestoniae) – Various types are available such as Royalty. Blooms later than many other lilacs with fragrant, long lasting blossoms. Up to 12 feet high with up to 12 feet spread. Full sun.
Prickly Rose (Rosa acicularis) - Native to Alberta-Our Floral Emblem- is the earliest flowering prairie rose with a flush of fragrant single pink flowers, followed by bright red oval hips that persist throughout the winter. It is adaptable to all soil types as long as it is on a well-drained site, and has an extensive root system that may sucker under stress. 30 to 150 cm tall, Partial shade to sun
Red Elder (Sambucus racemosa) - A fast-growing large shrub that may be trained as a small tree. Has compound leaves, white flowers in spring and clusters of red berries attractive to birds. Adaptable to partial shade as well as full sun, it does well in all soil conditions.
Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) - Native to the Rocky Mountains, these plants form large conical shrubs with soft, feathery bluish-grey foliage. The species is a host to cedar-apple rust so should be avoided if Hawthorns or Apples are planted nearby. 20 feet tall to six feet wide. Full sun and all soil types.
Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) - A native to the prairies that is favoured for its sweet dark purple fruit. A large shrub with white fragrant flowers in early summer, it should be grown in full sun on well-drained soil, and may only require additional water when berries are maturing to ensure plump fruit.
Savin Juniper (Juniperus Sabina') – Native to Europe, this species features arching green foliage in a spreading vase shaped form. Prefers full sun and well-drained soil.
Silver Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) - A large upright native shrub with attractive silvery lance shaped leaves and red berries on female plants. They are well adapted to drier soil conditions, with extensive root systems that sucker to form thick plantings for the back of the garden. eight feet high and wide. Full sun
Sister Justina Lilac (Syringa x hyacinthiglora "Sister Justina") - Provides fragrant white flowers in spring. Bluish green foliage turning a deep purple colour in fall. Twelve feet tall with nine foot spread. Full sun.
Snowberry (Symphoricapos alba) – A native of the prairies, fully hardy to our area and adaptable to both deep shade as well as open sun. It has many slender upright stems with bluish-green oval leaves and small white/pink flowers followed by large white berries in fall. This is a useful plant for under eaves or informal groups where its tendency to sucker and form thickets will be an advantage. Attractive to birds. Dry to moist, sandy soil.