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Tree Selection Guide for Mid-Atlantic Silvopastures



Authors as Published

Dana K. Beegle, Pesticide Programs Publications and Marketing Coordinator, Department of Entomology, Virginia Tech; John H. Fike, Professor and Forage Extension Specialist, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech; John F. Munsell, Professor and Forest Management Extension Specialist, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech


Finding a source for the species you want may seem like the last step of the tree selection process, but plant availability can often dictate which species you are able to plant. Time of year you want to plant, where you live, and the quantities and sizes of trees you wish to purchase can all affect which species are available to you. So where to start?

One of the best sources of plant material is your state’s local Department of Forestry. State nurseries often offer a large selection of hardwood and evergreen seedlings to landowners each spring. Many states post their availability and pricing online along with information about each species, planting tips, and other useful information. Department of Forestry trees are typically sold as bare root seedlings, requiring only minimal cold storage until planting.

But what if you want to plant a specific cultivar or larger plant material not offered by your state nursery? Wholesale tree nurseries throughout the mid-Atlantic region offer a wide-selection of cultivars and species in a range of sizes (from 1-year-old seedlings to 5-6 year-old saplings.) Larger nurseries sell in bundles of 10-100 plants – the larger the bundle, the lower the per-plant price. Smaller nurseries offer many hard-to-find cultivars. Large and small nurseries can typically ship plant material to any location with great success.

There are several ways to identify wholesale nurseries selling the species and/or cultivars you are looking for:

  • Contact your local extension agent! These individuals often know growers personally or maintain lists of potentialsources you can contact.
  • Contact your state or regional nursery and landscape association for a list of reputable wholesale suppliers! The nameof these associations is typically the name of your state followed by “nursery and landscape association” (e.g. VirginiaNursery and Landscape Association). NOTE: Tennessee is home to some of the largest and most affordable wholesalenurseries suppling trees to the mid-Atlantic. Visit the Middle Tennessee Nursery Association website for a list of someof these companies.
  • Do an online search for the cultivar you are interested in! Many small nurseries maintain websites with extensiveinformation about the plant varieties they grow. Email these growers, ask questions about what they offer, explain tothem how you plan to use the trees, and develop a relationship. Growers are often your best source of information.They may suggest other cultivars you haven’t considered.
  • Visit websites for associations and/or research programs focusing on the tree crops you are interested in! Examplesinclude: the Northern Nut Growers Association, the North American Paw Paw Association, the Kentucky StateUniversity Paw Paw Page, and the North American Maple Syrup Council (to name a few).

No matter who you purchase from, time of year is critical for availability! Spring is when the largest variety of plant material is available. Forestry offices and wholesale nurseries often run out of or quit selling trees by late spring/early summer. It is best to start looking for a supplier and to place your order in January-March. Fall planting is an option, but you may have fewer suppliers to choose from.

NOTE: If you are working within a cost share grant, you may have purchasing guidelines and/or suggested suppliers. Be sure to consult your grant administrator.

Selected Resources

Manual of Woody Landscape Plants – Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses. Sixth Ed. 2009. Michael A. Dirr. Stipes Publishing, Champaign, Illinois

Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America – A Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. 1988. Gary L. Hightshoe. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York.

Native Trees for North American Landscapes – From the Atlantic to the Rockies. 2004. Guy Sternberg with Jim Wilson. Timber Press, Portand, OR. 

Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets:

USDAFS Silvics of North America:

USDA Plant Database, Factsheets, and Plant Guides:

University of Florida, IFAS Extension, Environmental Database Information Source (EDIS): 

Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Materials Program:

Tree Selection Guide for Mid-Atlantic Silvopastures – Our first 20 trees 

Selecting the best tree species for your silvopasture can be an overwhelming task. With so many species to choose from and so many variables to consider, it can be hard to know where to start. This publication attempts to give you a starting point. 

Over 80 tree species were considered for inclusion in this guide. The 20 species included were selected based on site conditions, physical characteristics most suitable for silvopasture systems (root structure, crown size and density, phenology, etc.), growth rate, timber and non-timber product value, and availability in the marketplace. In addition, this guide focuses on species native to North America that are less susceptible to extreme weather events like drought or wind/ice when possible. Cultivars that offer superior disease resistance, growth form, and/or product characteristics most suitable for use in a silvopasture system are listed. 

NOTE: Some species not included may be the best choice for your silvopasture. Please use this guide as a reference only. 

Site Preferences 

Understanding your site and selecting the trees that prefer those conditions is one of the most important factors in choosing species. Trees planted in their preferred environment are more resilient, longer-lived, and faster growing. Take time to become familiar with the moisture level of your soils as well as your soil pH. Your local university or extension office can help with soil testing. Be sure to test the soil of each unique area and in several locations throughout the field(s) you intend to plant. 


Familiarity with extreme conditions possible on your site is critical. Many regions experience regular drought or are prone to periodic flooding. Some sites are exposed to heavy winds and winter ice storms. Be sure to select trees that can withstand these conditions if they are a threat in the field(s) you plan to plant. Shade tolerance is important if you will be establishing species that grow slower or will be partially shaded by other trees in or adjacent to the silvopasture. 

NOTE: Black walnut and butternut produce the allelopathic chemical ‘juglone’ which can harm plants growing near them. Plant species can have some sensitivity to juglone. Check with your local forester or extension agent before interplanting trees with black walnut, butternut, or other juglone-emitting species. 


Competition between tree growth and forage growth must be carefully managed in any silvopasture system. This is accomplished through tree selection and spacing. Some tree species have physical characteristics such as deep rooting habit, late leaf out and early leaf drop, and an open narrow crown that allow for optimal forage growth. This guide includes trees with both a light and moderate impact on forage growth. Planting tree species with impact on forage growth may require wider spacing of trees and/or fewer animals per acre. 

Utility/Maintenance/Special Considerations 

A key benefit of silvopasture systems is diversifying your revenue stream. All of the tree species listed here have potential economic value as timber, pulp, non-timer products (fruit, nuts, etc.), or fodder. However, they may also have a cost associated in the form of pest/disease issues or maintenance requirements such as pruning. This guide gives utility and maintenance information and outlines special considerations for each species listed. Be sure to weigh these costs and benefits carefully when selecting your trees.

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, sex (including pregnancy), gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law

Publication Date

February 2, 2023