It’s lovely living in a home perched on the side of a mountain! One of the only downsides is researching the best trees that grow in rocky soil – especially if your soil is dry or compacted.
Smaller plants (and weeds) gently nestle and grow amongst the rocks. But, how do you successfully plant trees in rocky, stony, or compacted soil – and which trees do we recommend?
In this guide, we’re showcasing the perfect trees with reputations for growing in rocky, sandy, or shallow soils. Some of these trees may even grow in downright deplorable soil conditions. (See our notes below!)
If you’re looking for some trees to plant in your uninviting stony soil, take a look at the selection we have lined up!
These are the 13 best trees for rocky soil that we could find. Enjoy the list!
13 Trees That Grow In Rocky Soil
1. Pinyon Pines
Pinyon pine trees are drought-hardy trees that are relatively small compared to other pine trees with a maximum height of 20 feet (6 meters). They commonly grow in dry hilly areas of the southwestern USA.
The yellowish-green pine needles are about two inches in length, and the cones resemble brown rosettes. Pinyon pines are slow-growing trees and can live for over six hundred years!
2. Jack Pine Trees
Jack pine trees are survivors, managing climates that are arid or frigid and icy. They grow best on sandy and rocky soil in full sun but do not enjoy growing in humid environments.
Their trunks twist to the point where sometimes, they grow sideways. They have short rigid olive-green needles and curved cones.
Hare and deer eat Jack pine saplings. Porcupines love to chew on the bark, which contributes to the twisting of the trunk. A variety of small animal and bird species eat their seeds.
These spikes serve your trees, shrubs, and plants with nutrients! You only need to feed your trees once per season - and it's as easy as hammering the fertilizer spikes into the ground.
The spikes contain 13% nitrogen for color and growth support. 3% phosphorus for fruit blooms. 3% potassium for root support.
3. Eastern Red Cedar
The eastern red cedar is a fir tree that prefers poor-quality soil and copes easily with rocky soil. The bark is reddish-brown in a young tree and gradually turns gray with age.
There is a seasonal leaf color change. Leaves are deep green in spring, bluish-green in summer, and light green or yellow in winter.
The eastern red cedar reaches heights of 30 – 70 feet ( 10 – 23 meters). It’s ideal for rocky regions as it has a shallow spreading root system. It’s a beneficial tree to plant in support of wildlife as it feeds a multitude of insects, birds, and deer. (Especially butterflies!)
Did you know?
Contrary to popular belief, and despite its name, red cedar is a juniper! Not a cedar. Red cedar produces breathtaking foliage and also has a reputation for resilience and for growing in nearly any soil – even in dry soil conditions.
Red cedar trees are cold-hardy and also tremendously low-maintenance. As a testament to the resilience of red cedars, consider that they have invaded and taken old fields! (Too many fields to count, I suspect.)
4. Quaking Aspen
Quaking aspens are deciduous trees that do well in rocky soils. They generally grow to heights of 20 – 80 feet (6 – 24 meters) and live between 150 to 200 years. Aspens have bark that varies in color from white to green, greenish-yellow, and gray.
The leaves are green in summer and change to yellow, gold, or orange in the fall. The leaves have a flattened stem which results in the leaves quaking or rustling with every breeze.
Read More – Top 9 Best Fruit Trees for Zone 4 Gardens!
5. Dwarf Birch
The dwarf birch prefers to grow in cool temperate or arctic regions. It grows best in rocky or sandy soil that is poor in nutrients. It’s a shrubby type of tree with a maximum height of approximately 3 feet.
If you choose to supplement your tree transplant site with compost - only use natural ingredients. This compost contains natural peat and animal manure.
6. Paper Bark Birch Tree
The paperbark birch is a tree that is native to the northern USA, Alaska, and Canada. It’s adaptable to soil conditions and grows on rocky outcrops. The bark is white and peels in thin strips. In fall, the leaves change to brilliant yellow.
7. Cherry Trees
Cherry trees are fruit trees that you could plant with confidence in a rocky region. They need cold winters to produce a good fruit yield. Cherry trees do best in well-drained soil as their roots become rotten in moist or clay soil.
Their soil preference makes fruit trees ideal for rocky, well-drained soil.
8. Citrus Trees
Citrus trees have a shallow root system, making them a possible choice for rocky ground. They do need copious amounts of water to bear fruit! So, take this into account if you choose to plant lemon, orange, grapefruit, or tangerine trees.
9. Apricot Trees
Apricot trees are small, neat trees that can grow successfully amongst rocks. They have rounded leaves and are attractive. They’re also prized for their deliciously and abundant fruit!
If you're struggling with rocky soil, you need a sturdy shovel - a shovel that's not going to break when it encounters the first couple of rocks or roots. Enter the spade shovel from Fiskars!
This spade from Fiskars has an all-steel construction, a large ergonomic handle, and it breaks up tough soils with precision. It's also easy to clean and relatively compact - it fits easily in your shed or garage.
10. Olive Trees
Olive trees will adapt to grow in rocky soils as long as there is good drainage. They easily live to be 500 years old! They can also reach heights of 50 feet if unpruned. (Though, they are usually around 30 – 35 feet.)
There are hundreds of olive tree cultivars, and visiting a nursery will allow you to pick the right one for your climate.
Did you know?
Olive trees have grown throughout the Mediterranean, Africa, and Asia for thousands of years! They prefer sandy soils with adequate drainage. Olive trees can survive some cold weather – but abhor deep freezing temperatures.
The pollination of olive trees varies wildly from cultivar to cultivar. Some olive trees self-pollinate and are self-fertile. Others are not. Also – some olive trees may produce a higher olive yield with cross-pollination from a different olive cultivar. Mother Nature keeps everyone guessing!
11. Bur Oak
Bur oaks are large, beautiful trees famous for their strong, limbering branches and thick trunks. Spanning from Texas to Canada – these trees also have robust versatility and can grow in rocky soils.
Bur oak trees tolerate a wide range of soil conditions, though they’re most famous throughout the Eastern US and especially the Great Plains.
12. Northern Red Oak
North red oaks are majestic and towering trees that reach up to 90 feet tall and grow in the mountainous regions of North Carolina.
Northern red oaks offer plenty of acorns for your local wildlife, and they look perfect for nearly any rural setting. Red oaks also have stunning orange and red foliage in the fall that will make you look twice!
13. Maple Trees
Maple trees are popular in urban settings, though they also look beautiful posted on your rural farm, homestead, or backyard!
There are over 130 maple tree species to consider! Red maple is one of the most common maple varieties that also handles rocky soil. Red maples can reach up to 70 feet tall, and they have lovely red foliage.
Growing Trees in Rocky Soil FAQs!
Growing Trees in Rocky Soil FAQs!
If you spend much time speculating which fruit trees (or oak trees) to grow in your yard, you’re sure to encounter questions!
Luckily, we’ve spent oodles of time brainstorming the best trees for growing in rocky soil.
Hopefully, these answers serve your tree-planting endeavors well!
Do Trees Grow in Rocky Soil? Our Final Answer!
You can plant trees in rocky soil, but you must choose shallowly rooted trees appropriate for the climate. It’s also essential to supply adequate water as some trees will tolerate rocky soil but may need more water to compensate for the amount of drainage in the rocky dirt.
It’s almost impossible to plant trees on bedrock as they cannot establish a root system capable of supporting their nutrient needs and anchoring them sufficiently in the soil.
Thank you for reading – and please let us know if you have more questions about planting trees in rocky soil!