[Update] Best trees for small gardens | little tree garden home – Sambeauty

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When choosing trees for small gardens, it’s important to do your research. Crucially, find out the ultimate height of the tree and how long it takes to reach that height. Some species are slow growing and might initially fit very well in a small garden but over time could dwarf your space, blocking out light and potentially damaging the foundations of your house.


Fortunately, there’s plenty of tree species and cultivars with a compact habit that won’t outgrow their surroundings. A well-chosen tree, positioned effectively, will make a beautiful focal point and provide interest throughout the year.

How to choose a tree for a small garden

Choose trees with berries to attract birds and provide perches and nesting sites. Or, for abundant harvests, grow apple, pear or cherry trees.

If you’re not sure where to place your tree, growing it in a pot could be the solution – position your tree in different locations and take it with you if you move. This is also useful if you need to protect the tree in winter.

If you’re looking for something really small, consider shrubs. Many can be crown lifted to give the look of a small tree while being shorter in stature – shrubs to try this with include viburnums, lilacs and elaeagnus.

Here, Joe Swift shares his favourite trees for small gardens:

As for planting, simply follow the easy steps in our guide to planting trees.

Here are 20 of the best trees for small gardens.

Small trees for autumn colour

Japanese maple leaves in autumn

Japanese maples – there are lots of small, slow-growing Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) that won’t overcrowd your garden. The foliage provides blazing autumn colour and grows in an attractive shape. Grow them in a sheltered spot, out of direct sun, or try them in a large pot.

Paper-bark maple – the paper-bark maple, Acer griseum, is a slow-growing small tree with dark green leaves that turn a rich, crimson colour in autumn. Once the leaves have fallen, its trunk and stems provide winter interest, as the chestnut- coloured bark peels away to reveal the new, orange-red bark beneath.

Amelanchier – Amelanchier lamarckii has white, showy blossom in early spring and purple fruit in summer. In autumn, its leaves fade from dark green to gold. Does best in a sunny or part-shady spot in moist soil, and can reach an eventual height of 6m.

Cercis – commonly known as redbuds, Cercis trees are grown for their spring and summer blossom, with some cultivars having dramatic bronze or purple foliage, too. Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’ will reach around 3m tall, while Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ will grow to 8m.

Japanese dogwood – the Japanese dogwood (Cornus kousa) is a lovely small tree native to Japan and Korea. In early summer it bears masses of tiny flowers that are surrounded by conspicuous white bracts. When autumn arrives, the foliage turns a vibrant shade of crimson along with strawberry-like pink fruits. Also try Cornus florida and Cornus mas.

Small fruit trees

Apples on a patio tree

Cherries – fruiting cherries are perfect trees for small gardens. Their spring blossom is breathtaking and their fruit is delicious. Choose a cherry on a dwarfing rootstock to ensure it grows in your small space. Available as a standard tree or fan-trained.

Figs – native to Syria and Persia, figs have been grown in Britain since Roman times. Although the species doesn’t offer a reliable fruit crop in the UK, it’s still worth growing for its striking, lobed foliage. Shelter the fig against a warm wall. ‘Brown Turkey’ is considered one of the best varieties for growing in the UK. It reaches 3-4 metres in height.

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Espalier apple trees – to make the best use of space, choose a ‘family tree’ espalier, where each arm is a different variety of apple. Plant against a warm, sunny wall or use as a garden divider.

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Peaches – peaches make lovely small trees, and contrary to what you might think, they’re hardy and will provide a crop in the UK. To get fruit it’s essential that they’re planted in a warm, sunny and sheltered spot – frosty spots will increase the risk of damage to the flowers. Well suited to training as a fan or espalier.

Patio or dwarf fruit trees are also ideal for small gardens and can be grown in pots.

Small trees for wildlife

Rowan berries

Hawthorn – hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, is a wonderful choice for a small garden and one of the most wildlife-friendly trees you can grow. Native to the UK, it’s a caterpillar food plant for a number of moths, bees visit the flowers in spring and birds love the calorie-rich berries in autumn. The species can reach 6-8m in height and there are plenty of cultivars to choose from.

Rowans – most rowans (Sorbus) have pretty, pinnate leaves, complemented by spring flowers and autumn berries. They’re great trees to grow for garden birds such as robins, blackbirds and thrushes, which love the nutrient-rich berries. An excellent choice for a small garden would be the cultivar ‘Rosiness’, which reaches 4m. For a slightly larger space you might consider ‘Eastern Promise’, which can reach 8m.

Crab apples – Crab apples are great all-rounders, with plenty of food for wildlife, colourful fruit and spring blossom. Try growing a variety like ‘John Downie’ to make your own crab apple jelly, or an upright variety like ‘Golden Hornet’ to save space.

Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ – elegant Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’ has slim, silvery foliage and slender weeping branches. It will tolerate most soil types, as long as it’s in a sunny spot. Creamy-white, sweetly scented blossom appears in spring.

Stewartia monadelpha – Stewartia monadelpha is a handsome deciduous, multi-stemmed tree with white, camellia-like flowers that are a magnet for bees. It can reach 8m in height. If that’s too large for your space, consider Stewartia rostrata, which reaches 4-6m.

Small magnolias

Magnolia x soulangeana 'Alexandrina'

Magnolias are truly grand plants, and while many are too big for a small garden, there are just as many shorter types to go for. Try species like Magnolia wilsonii, Magnolia macrophylla × Magnolia macrophylla subsp. ashei and Magnolia stellata, or cultivars like ‘Alexandrina’ (pictured) and ‘Sayonara’.

Small evergreen trees


Topiary bay tree

Loquat – these glossy evergreens can often be spotted growing in urban gardens where they thrive in the sheltered microclimate cities provide. Eriobotrya japonica is grown for its scented flowers, fruits and glossy foliage and can ulimately grow to 8m in height. Eriobotrya deflexa is prized for its bronze-tinted leaves and scented flowers and will eventually reach 5m

Topiary shapes – they might not be conventional trees but topiary bay, box and yew make up for it with their versatility. Choose ready-trained lollipop, spiral or pyramid shapes, or save cash and train your own, in given time. Bay and yew can become very large if left unchecked, so do keep them trimmed.

Strawberry tree – this neat evergreen is a great choice for interest all year round, providing plump red fruits and white bell-shaped flowers in autumn. Arbutus unedo often grows into an attractive multi-stem specimen and thrives especially in coastal areas. Can be crown lifted to improve its appearance. It can reach as high as 8m.

Snow gum – the snow gum, Eucalpytus pauciflora subsp. niphophila, provides year-round interest, with grey, green and cream patchwork bark and evergreen grey-green leaves, which grow longer and narrower with age. Bears small, snow-white flowers in summer. It can grow to a height of 8m.

Small palm trees

Hardy palm, Chaemerops humilis

Hardy palms are brilliantly architectural plants, suiting different garden styles, from gravel gardens to Mediterranean and tropical gardens. Small and hardy palms to grow include the Mexican blue palm, Brahea armata and the Mediterranean fan palm, Chamaerops humilis.


[Update] This Garden Explored Small Trees for a Beautiful Landscape | little tree garden home – Sambeauty

A fast-growing tree was ruining this Oregon backyard. The fix? More trees—but this time, the right ones.

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Wrong tree, wrong place. In the backyard of an English bungalow set on a 50×150-foot lot in southeast Portland, Oregon, a single Oregon myrtlewood (Umbellularia californica) acted like a villain in a horticultural B movie. “We stopped going out there,” homeowner Evan Williams says. 

The overwhelming evergreen dominated the backyard, continuously raining down leaves on a scrap of lawn that struggled in the gloom. For much of the year the area was either “dry and patchy or wet and mushy,” Evan says. And, as if the tree had taken a cue from a Hitchcock film, Evan’s wife, Suzie, adds, “It attracted crows.” Then an arborist told the Williamses that in five years, the branches of this fast-growing eventual 100-footer would touch their house. The couple loved trees, but this one had to go. 

patio with plantings and japanese maple

The design solution: trees. But this time, the right trees in the right places. Four slow-growing, small trees would provide stature and canopy for the garden. Upright katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia), and two Japanese maples (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Seiryu’ and A. palmatum ‘Okagami’) would shield neighboring views, define garden rooms, and bring year-round interest with scent, flowers, changing foliage, and unusual bark patterns. 

Now a small tree is the star player in each planting area. There’s plenty of room underneath for a mix of shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers—all chosen with an eye for low maintenance and beauty. The emphasis is on periodic and/or seasonal maintenance, not daily or weekly fussing. In fall, it’s about leaf pickup. In late winter, Suzie says, “I spend a day cutting things back.” In spring, she plants containers and positions annuals for color. And weeding? “I can do the whole garden just ahead of a dinner party.” 

That means there’s plenty of time for the family to enjoy their outdoor living room. Suzie appreciates the ever-changing progression of flowers and foliage. On weekends, Evan likes to lie back in the shelter and contemplate the natural world around him—the trees framing the clouds and sky. “There’s a significant upsurge in the amount of bird life,” he says. “We never hear crows now, just songbirds—fox sparrows, warblers, and wrens.”

bird’s-eye view of garden patio

This garden is designed to be appreciated from any window at the back of the house. Around the angled dining patio, the dusky rose accent of two New Zealand flax and the red-gold leaves of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Okagami’) are balanced by the green foliage of the Japanese stewartia tree  (Stewartia pseudo-camellia) on the right.

child feeding dog on outdoor patio

patio seating on rug next to planters

The Williams family enjoys appetizers and drinks in their welcoming back garden. Son Elliot makes sure Dixie gets a bite when snacks are served outdoors. More outdoor seating space was created in front of the Williamses’ single-car garage.

bench with pillows on garden path

The leaf canopy of the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) provides privacy. A ‘Limelight’ hydrangea to the left is underplanted with autumn fern, deer fern, and Japanese forestgrass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’). Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ anchors the scene.

We never hear crows now, just songbirds—fox sparrows, warblers, and wrens.” 

Evan Williams

7 Trees For Small Spaces

Look for bold color and texture when selecting low-stature trees for tight spots. Certain varieties sport intensely hued leaves, erupt in fragrant blossoms, look good year-round, or feature bark that looks interesting during winter months.

1. Katsura Tree

katsura tree leaves close-up

Cercidiphyllum japonicum

The soft-texured, heart-shape leaves (a small version of redbud foliage) emerge bronzy red, mature to blue-green, then become apricot-yellow in fall. Katsura has a medium growth rate and good tolerance for a wide range of soil types, though it doesn’t like drought. One of the best things about katsura is that it releases a caramel scent as its leaves turn colors in autumn, making its surroundings the perfect place to have that last picnic of the season. Zones 4–8.

2. Crabapple

pink blooms on crabapple tree

Malus selections

Add spring flair to your landscape with crabapples. There’s a wonderful array available that bears flowers in shades of white, pink, and red; has weeping, rounded, or columnar habits; and produces orange, gold, red, or burgundy fruits. Many varieties offer exceptional fall color and great disease resistance as well. Zones 3–8.

3. Dwarf Alberta Spruce

garden with dwarf alberta spruce

Picea glauca var. albertiana  ‘Conica’

A favorite for its dense growth, small needles, and nearly perfect cone-shape habit, dwarf Alberta spruce is easily grown. It’s native to areas of North America, too. Zones 3–6.

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4. Dwarf Blue Spruce

close up of dwarf blue spruce

Picea pungens  ‘Montgomery’

Loved for its beautiful silvery blue color, a slow-growing dwarf blue spruce is a good choice for small-space landscapes. Many selections reach no more than 8 feet tall and wide. Zones 3–8.

5. Japanese Stewartia

stewartia tree with blooms

Stewartia pseudocamellia

A small and lovely tree to appreciate from all angles and in all seasons, the stewartia is remarkably easy to grow. Just provide moist, acidic soil in a location protected by afternoon shade, and enjoy this pest- and disease-free tree. In midsummer, it’s spangled with white, camellialike flowers. Fall foliage deepens to shades of red, gold, or purple. And the peeling trunk bark reveals a mottled pattern of orange and tan that’s always intriguing, especially in winter. Zones 5–8.

6. Mugo Pine

close-up of mugo pine

Pinus mugo

Choose pine varieties grown from cuttings to get the desired size and form. (They vary if seed-grown.) Rich green needles stay attractive all year and have a compact mounded habit. Zones 3–7.

7. Japanese Maples

bench next to japanese maple in garden

Acer palmatum selections

Few plants are more beautiful than a Japanese maple in its full fall finery. And happily, there are numerous ways to use this little tree in your yard—try it as a specimen in a partly shaded spot, for example, or use it as a focal point in a mixed border. ‘Bloodgood’ is a popular selection with fine-texture burgundy foliage that turns red in autumn; ‘Sango-kaku’ has red branches that stand out after the tree loses its foliage in fall. Zones 5–8.

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