SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Surrounded by trees older than 100 years and trees as new as this spring, Bryan Peterson wondered what Sioux Falls could look like if the rest of the city modeled tree planting after McKennan Park. 

Peterson, the city’s urban forestry specialist, was armed with an iPad full of data regarding all the trees planted in the more than 80 different city parks. He highlighted how McKennan Park has always had a diversity of trees and five years after the Emerald Ash Borer was first confirmed in northern Sioux Falls, the park does not have a single ash tree. 

“Looking around the park and visiting the park, you can hardly tell the difference,” Peterson told KELOLAND News. “There are certainly a few stump sites. For residents in the neighborhood, I’m sure you know where there were ash trees and where there were not.” 

The American Yellowwood is described as a vase-shaped tree that produces 2-3 inch seed pods with a medium growth rate, a long lifespan. It grows to a height of 20-40 feet.

Peterson highlighted a number of trees that have been planted within the past decade that are now thriving in the park. Standing in front of an American Yellowwood tree (Cladrastis kentukea) planted in McKennan Park in 2021, Peterson highlighted how the city tries planting new kinds of trees every year. 

“An American Yellowwood is a great example of a tree that we tested here in Sioux Falls to see if it would withstand our climate and conditions,” Peterson said. “This tree was brought in response to Emerald Ash Borer and it’s a tree that we’ve tested in the park system. We know it does well. The tree grows in a lot of wonderful urban conditions.” 

Once not commonly found to be bought at local garden centers and nurseries, the American Yellowwood is now being offered at more nurseries. 

This spring, the city planted 650 new trees throughout city parks. Within those 650 new trees, 24 different Genus of trees were planted. You can see a breakdown of the variety of different trees planted in the pie graph below. 

The city planted 80 “Acer” trees also known as maple trees. The 75 “Aesculus” are broken down into buckeye trees, while the 70 “Maclura” are Osage orange trees.

Peterson said maple trees are a popular choice by many people buying trees. He recommended people seeking a maple tree to look at the Miyabe maple (Acer miyabei) or the State Street Maple. 

The Miyabe maple (Acer miyabei) or the State Street Maple

“It grows well and in a ton of different conditions. A very tough tree,” Peterson said. “Especially for backyards and private yards and new development areas. This tree will be able to take those tough urban soils and sites and do well.”  

The Miyabe maple and American Yellowwood are just two of more than 20 different kinds of trees people could plant. 

“If your neighbor has certain types of trees, plant something different,” Paul DeJong said. “Diversity is a key element. Don’t plant over 30% of the same species of tree in your yard.” 

DeJong is the former longtime owner of Landscape Garden Center, of Sioux Falls and is working on publishing a book about tree history in Sioux Falls. 

“You can start creating an urban forest in about 20-25 years,” DeJong said. “Imagine the city of Sioux Falls without trees, it’s a pretty stark reality.” 

That reality can be found through South Dakota, a state known for its prairie grasses rather than its trees outside of the Black Hills National Forest. In the newest developments on the outskirts of Sioux Falls, trees are few and far to come by. 

“South Dakota was known as a grassland savanna except along creeks and rivers,” DeJong said. “We don’t have a lot of so-called native trees. It’s challenging to get some diversity but like the city is doing, it’s trial and error.” 

The city continues to try and plant new trees throughout city parks to add more recommended trees to its street tree list. Homeowners in Sioux Falls can get paid to plant trees in street boulevards by applying for a street tree planting permit. 

Peterson listed the benefits of planting trees for aesthetic value, helping homes with heating and cooling costs, reducing pollution and buffering sound. 

“Planting new trees is definitely worth the investment,” Peterson said. “It’s always been said the best time to plant a new tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”