Best Trees For A Small Garden

Choosing trees for a small garden and growing them successfully can be tricky. Fortunately, there are many species and varieties of both ornamental and fruit-bearing trees that are suitable for a small garden.  

Some trees are slow-growers so they also make a good choice for a garden with limited space. There are also numerous large trees that are grafted onto rootstocks that limit their size. So if you think you haven’t got space for trees in your small garden, think again.

Tips for Choosing Trees for Small Gardens

Before scrolling down to our list of trees suitable for small gardens, take a look at some useful tips for growing trees in a small garden.

1. Use Vertical Space

Using vertical space is one of the best solutions for small gardens. Besides taking advantage of pergolas and climbing plants, you can go for narrow trees with elongated growth form. Thuja, Juniper, and Cypress varieties, or Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ and Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’ are just some of the numerous narrow trees for small yards. Juniperus scopulorum ‘Skyrocket’ is a highly popular variety when it comes to small gardens.

2. Choose Trees with Year-Round Interest

Since the number of trees you can plant in a small garden is quite limited, the best option is choosing a variety that provides interest year-round. For example, Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii) blooms with white flowers in the spring, produce blueberry-like, purple-reddish fruits in the summer; dark green leaves turn brown, yellow, and orange in the autumn, while the grayish bark with red fissures provides winter interest.

3. Consider Evergreen

Besides deciduous trees with year-round interest, you can go for evergreen trees. With their evergreen foliage, they will provide interest during the winter when there’s little color in the garden. They also make a great color and texture combo with deciduous trees.

4. Avoid Trees with Thorns

Since you’re dealing with a very small space, beware of thorny trees and bushes because they can limit access to certain parts of your garden.

Best Tree species and varieties for Small Gardens

When choosing trees for a small garden, you have three options.

  • planting small trees (up to 30 feet (9 m) in height),
  • planting slow-growing trees
  • planting large trees grafted on size-limiting rootstocks

Now, let’s consider all three options and see what types of trees you can choose from.

Small trees

These species and varieties reach up to 30 feet or 9 meters in height and most of them provide year-round interest.

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)

Low-maintenance and cold-hardy, Japanese maple gives an instant impact to a small garden. Its foliage offers a spectacular view during the autumn, while the bark provides winter interest. A. palmatum ‘Sango kaku’ is particularly decorative with its striking red branches.

  • Deciduous
  • Height: 10-25 ft (3-7.6 m)
  • Spread: 10-25 ft (3-7.6 m)
  • Interest: Year-round

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

A clump-forming shrub with orange-red spring blooms. Although the fall foliage is unremarkable, the flaky bark gives a coarse structure during the autumn and winter.

  • Deciduous
  • Height: 12-15 ft (3.5-4.5 m)
  • Spread: 12-15 ft (3.5-4.5 m)
  • Interest: Year-round

Lily magnolia (Magnolia liliiflora)

Lily Magnolia

Its compact growth form and gorgeous pink-reddish blossoms make Lily magnolia a perfect tree for a small garden.

  • Deciduous
  • Height: 8-12 ft (2.5-3.5 m)
  • Spread: 8-12 ft (2.5-3.5 m)
  • Interest: Spring/Summer

Bottle palm (Hyophorbe lagenicaulis)

Looking for an exotic addition to your small garden? Bottle palm is a true palm that requires warm temperatures; therefore, it doesn’t perform well in cooler climates. Its bottle-shaped trunk and its pinnate leaves are extremely decorative.

  • Evergreen
  • Height: 10 ft (3 m)
  • Spread: 6 ft (2 m)
  • Spread: Year-round

Orangebark stewartia (Stewartia monodelpha)

This small tree is prized for its white camelia-like blooms, its exceptional fall color, and striking orange bark.

  • Deciduous
  • Height: 20-25 ft (6-7,6 m)
  • Spread: 15-20 ft (4.5-6 m)
  • Interest: Year-round

Holly (Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Golden King’)

Holly Ilex Golden King

Low-care and extremely decorative, this hybrid Holly will bring butterflies, bees, and other pollinators to your garden.

  • Evergreen
  • Height: 13-26 ft (4-8 m)
  • Spread: 8-13 ft (2.5-4 m)
  • Interest: Year-round

The lilac bush (Syringa vulgaris)

Prized for its fragrant, lavender-blue spring blooms, this large bush or a small tree is frost-hardy perennial that performs great in cooler climates.

  • Deciduous
  • Height: 6-16 (2-5 m)
  • Spread: 8-12 ft (2.5-3.5 m)
  • Interest: Spring

Snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora ‘Niphophila’)

This small tree will provide year-round interest with its flaky, multicolored bark, blue-gray foliage, and delicate summer blooms. Frost-hardy.

  • Evergreen
  • Height: 12-25 ft (3.5-7.5 m)
  • Spread: 8-12 ft (2.5-2.5 m)
  • Interest: Year-round

Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii)

Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii)

Besides its excellent ornamental features, Juneberry is prized for its bird-attracting abilities and its edible, juicy berries produced in the summer.

  • Deciduous
  • Height: 15-25 ft (4.5-7.5 m)
  • Spread: 13-26 ft (4-8 m)
  • Interest: Year-round

Mountain ash (Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’)

With its uptight growth form, this ornamental tree is perfect for small gardens. It provides a glorious display through three seasons.

  • Deciduous
  • Height: 15-30 ft (4.5-9 m)
  • Spread: 6-20 ft (2-6 m)
  • Interest: Spring/Summer/Fall

Tree Rootstocks for Small Gardens

Small Fruit Tree Rootstocks

When let grow naturally, trees can grow very tall. For this reason, many trees, fruit trees particularly, are grafted on so-called rootstocks. So, what’s a rootstock exactly?

A rootstock consists of the root system and a lower part of the stem and it’s used for grafting a suitable tree. This method has been used for thousands of years and it strongly influences the characteristics of a grafted tree. Using rootstock trees is beneficial in many ways; not only it controls its size, but it also increases yield efficiency, affects a tree’s longevity, helps in fighting pests and diseases…

Thanks to rootstocks’ ability to limit the size of a tree, they are regularly used in small gardens. Actually, when you buy a fruit tree, it’s probably grafted on a suitable rootstock.

This way, rootstocks control the size of a tree, from its full size to a small-sized tree or even semi-dwarfing or dwarfing.

When you decide on what type of tree you want to grow, you should consider the desired size, site location, and soil type, and then find a compatible rootstock. Here’s a quick insight into the most common fruit trees and the compatible rootstocks that will make them suitable for a small garden.

Small Tree Rootstocks

Apples

  • M27 (extremely dwarfing)
  • M9 (dwarf)
  • M26 (semi-dwarf)
  • MM106 (semi-vigorous)

Pear

  • Quince C (dwarf)
  • Quince A (semi-dwarf)

Cherries

  • Gisela 5 (dwarf)
  • Colt (semi-vigorous)

Plum

  • Pixy (dwarf)
  • St. Julien A (semi-vigorous)

Peach, Nectarine, Apricot

  • St. Julien A (semi-vigorous)
  • Torinel (semi-vigorous)

Each rootstock gives a tree different characteristics and features, so be sure get informed thoroughly before choosing the rootstock.

Slow-growing trees

Although their full size can be quite big these trees have a slow growth rate. If you buy an established plant, you will have decades and decades of wonderful display before they reach their full size. They can also be kept in check with pruning periodically so they don’t outgrow their position.

Colorado spruce (Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’)

Colorado Spruce

With its elongated pyramidal growth habit, this evergreen tree is a perfect choice for small gardens.

  • Evergreen
  • Growth rate: 6-8 in (15-20 cm) per year
  • Interest: Year-round

Golden Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara ‘Aurea’)

This beautiful conifer is prized for its pyramidal growth form and its foliage that turns golden-yellow in the spring and summer.

  • Evergreen
  • Growth rate: 12 in (30 cm) per year
  • Interest: Year-round

Irish Yew (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata Aurea’)

Yew Tree

The main features of the Irish Yew are its upright growth-habit, lime-green leaves and coral red berries that make a wonderful contrast to the foliage.

  • Evergreen
  • Growth rate: 6-12 in (15-30 cm) per year
  • Interest: Year-round

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