- 20 trees for small gardens
- Dwarf Trees For Zone 3: How To Find Ornamental Trees For Cold Climates
- Choosing Ornamental Trees for Cold Climates
- Flowering Trees
- Rich color and full blooms in nearly any climate.
- How and When to Plant Flowering Trees
- When to Prune Flowering Trees
- Constrained by The City? Try Container Trees
20 trees for small gardens
When choosing trees for small gardens, it’s particularly 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 are 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.
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 it in different locations and take it with you if you move. This is also useful if you need to protect the tree in winter.
Figs are native to Syria and Persia, but have been grown in Britain since Roman times.
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.
As for planting, simply follow the easy steps in our guide to planting trees.
Here are 20 of the best trees for small gardens.
There are lots of small, slow-growing Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) to grow won’t overcrowd your garden in a hurry. The foliage provides blazing autumn colour and grows in an attractive shape. Grow them in a sheltered spot, out of direct sun, or try it in a large tub.
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.
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’ (pictured) to save space.
Stewartia pseudocamellia is also known as the deciduous camellia. A summer prelude of white flowers attracts pollinators in their dozens, and is followed by an autumn show of crimson-coloured leaves. An unfussy tree, grow it in a spot where it can’t be missed.
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.
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. Reliable fruit supply, great spring blossom, and a compact clematis can even be grown up through it. You could also train them as single cordons or fans.
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. Also consider apricots.
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 × macrophylla subsp. ashei and Magnolia stellata, or cultivars like ‘Alexandrina’ (pictured) and ‘Sayonara’.
These glossy evergreens can often be spotted growing in urban gardens where they enjoy growing in the sheltered microclimate cities provide. Eriobotrya japonica is grown for its scented flowers, fruits and glossy foliage, while Eriobotrya deflexa (pictured) is prized for its bronze-tinted leaves and scented flowers.
Amelanchier lamarckii has white, showy blossom in early spring and purple fruit in summer. In autumn, its leaves fade from dark green to gold. A. lamarckii prefers growing in a sunny or part-shady spot in moist soil, and can reach an eventual height of 6m.
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 will tolerate most soil types, but prefers full sun, and can grow to a height of 8m.
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.
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. Tolerates partial shade and grows to a height of 10m.
Ornamental cherries are perfect trees for small gardens. Their spring blossom is breathtaking and will benefit pollinators as well as being a feast for the eyes. Cherries to consider include Prunus x yedoensis, Prunus ‘Pink Shell’ (pictured) and Prunus serrula.
Figs are native to Syria and Persia, but 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.
Some birches can grow to a height of 30m or more, so for small gardens choose a shorter birch like Betula utilis var. jacquemontii or Betula utilis ‘Fastigiata’. Their white stems provide fantastic contrast to other plants in the garden.
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.
Most rowans (Sorbus) have pretty, pinnate leaves, complemented by spring flowers and autumn berries. They’re good trees to grow for wildlife and you’ll find plenty that are appropriately sized for small gardens. Check out species like Sorbus wardii and Sorbus forrestii, as well as cultivars like ‘Rosiness’ and ‘Eastern Promise’.
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. You could also grow Cornus florida and Cornus mas.
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 especially enjoys growing in coastal areas. Can be crown lifted to improve its appearance.
Dwarf Trees For Zone 3: How To Find Ornamental Trees For Cold Climates
Zone 3 is a tough one. With winter lows getting down to -40 F. (-40 C.), a lot of plants just can’t make it. This is fine if you want to treat a plant as an annual, but what if you want something that will last for years, like a tree? An ornamental dwarf tree that blooms every spring and has colorful foliage in the fall can be a great centerpiece in a garden. But trees are expensive and usually take a while to get up to their full potential. If you live in zone 3, you’re going to need one that can stand up to the cold. Keep reading to learn more about ornamental trees for cold climates, specifically dwarf trees for zone 3.
Choosing Ornamental Trees for Cold Climates
Don’t let the thought of living in a cold region put you off from enjoying the beauty of an ornamental tree in your landscape. Here are some dwarf trees for zone 3 that should work just fine:
Seven Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides) is hardy to -30 F. (-34 C.). It tops out between 20 and 30 feet tall and produces fragrant white blossoms in August.
Hornbeam gets no taller than 40 feet and is hardy to zone 3b. Hornbeam has modest spring flowers and decorative, papery seed pods in the summer. In autumn, its leaves are stunning, turning shades of yellow, red, and purple.
Shadbush (Amelanchier) reaches 10 to 25 feet in height and spread. It is hardy to zone 3. It has a brief but glorious show of white flowers in early spring. It produces small, attractive red and black fruit in the summer and in the fall its leaves turn very early to beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red. “Autumn Brilliance” is an especially beautiful hybrid, but it’s only hardy to zone 3b.
River birch is hardy to zone 3, with many varieties hardy to zone 2. Their height can vary, but some cultivars are very manageable. “Youngii,” in particular, stays at 6 to 12 feet and has branches that grow downward. River birch produces male flowers in the fall and female flowers in the spring.
Japanese tree lilac is a lilac bush in tree form with very fragrant white flowers. In its tree form, Japanese tree lilac can grow to 30 feet, but dwarf varieties exist that top out at 15 feet.
Rich color and full blooms in nearly any climate.
A wide variety of colors, deeply-hued foliage and growth, from spring to summer and beyond. Flowering Trees can be planted in your garden, backyard, or even in a container for your patio or indoor spaces. Whether you choose the iconic Crape Myrtle or a classic Dogwood, you’ll have the perfect Flowering Tree for your homescape.
How and When to Plant Flowering Trees
Though specific directions will depend on the Flowering Trees you purchase, knowing your growing zone is an important first step. After you’ve determined your zone, keep sunlight and watering needs in mind for your Flowering Trees and Ornamental Trees.
We generally recommend planting in early spring or fall, before or after the threat of frost. As long as the ground is not frozen and temperature extremes are at bay, you’re good to go on planting.
From there, planting is generally the same across all flowering varieties. Find an area with well-drained soil, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the tree’s root ball (along with a bit of extra width for growing space), place your tree and backfill the hole. Finally, water to settle the soil and mulch to conserve moisture in the area.
When to Prune Flowering Trees
A Few Pruning Tips
One of the most-asked questions when it comes to Flowering Trees: When do I prune? Luckily, the pruning process is super simple. For Flowering Trees that bloom in spring, be sure to prune when their flowers fade. Those that flower in summer should be pruned in winter or early spring for best results.
When you go to prune, simply ensure you make your cuts at a 45-degree angle and use clean, sterilized pruning shears. Remove dead, diseased or damaged branches and any suckers growing lower on the trunk. Generally, you want to ensure sunlight penetrates the canopy of your tree after pruning.
After Flowering and Pruning
Constrained by The City? Try Container Trees
When you were little, did you have a tree house? Did you pick apples in your uncle’s orchard? Did you build a secret fort under a pine tree, digging into the soft pine needles on the ground? Even if you’re done playing with trees, you still know trees are amazing. They give us shade, they improve air quality, they’re beautiful to look at. And fortunately, you don’t need a huge yard, or any yard at all to plant a tree. Even a city stoop, a backyard deck, or small terrace has room for a small tree in a container. Read up!
Planting a container tree is a little different from planting a tree in the ground. It’s not more difficult, there are just a few extra things to think about. First, choose a tree that adapts well to container growing; small trees are better choices. They’re easier to move and easier to plant. (Root balls can be heavy, especially if they get wet.) Second, choose a slow-growing tree so you won’t have to re-pot often. Fast growing trees like arborvitae might need re-potting every other year, while slow growers like mugo pines can go four or five years before they need repotting. Finally, think about whether you’d like a tree that flowers and fruits, one that’s grown for decorative foliage, or one that will be evergreen year round. Flowers and fruits add extra beauty and interest, but you may find yourself cleaning up after fallen fruit. Deciduous trees have leaves of interesting shapes, sizes, and colors, while evergreens provide year round greenery.
10 Great Small Trees for Containers
1. Purple Leaf Plum (zones 4 – 9)
2. Japanese maple (zones 5 – 9)
3. Paperbark Maple (zones 4 – 8)
4. Smoketree (zones 4 – 8)
5. Serviceberry (zones 3 – 9; depending on the variety)
6. Crepe Myrtle (zones 7 – 11; some new hybrids are hardy to zone 6 or 5, but generally not in containers)
7. Kousa Dogwood (zones 5 – 8)
8. Crabapple (zones 4 – 8)
9. Dwarf Alberta Spruce (zones 2 – 8)
10. Mugo Pine (zones 2 – 8)
Trees in containers have less soil surrounding their roots than trees planted in the ground. This makes them more vulnerable to cold, so choose a tree that can stand up to your winter growing conditions. To do that, you’ll need to know your USDA hardiness zone; the colder your winters are, the lower the number of your hardiness zone.
PRO TIP: When you find your zone, subtract one zone for planting in a container, and another for every ten floors above street level where the tree will grow. For example, if you live in Zone 7 and you’re planting a tree at street level, choose a tree that’s hardy to Zone 6. If your balcony is on the 12th floor, choose a tree that’s hardy to Zone 5. This will make up for having less soil insulating the root ball.
How big does your container need to be? To choose your container size, first measure the diameter of your root ball. You should surround the root ball with 6 – 8 inches of insulating soil on every side, which means you’ll need a container that’s 12 – 16 inches larger in diameter than your tree’s root ball.
Do winter temperatures get below freezing where you live? If so, choose a frost resistant container. An unglazed clay pot will absorb water and may crack as the water in the clay freezes and thaws. Fiberglass, metal, and wood are all sturdy choices.
Does your container have drainage holes in the bottom? Most pots come with one drainage hole, but for a tree in a large container you should add a few more. It’s important that excess water be able to drain from the container so the roots of your tree don’t rot. To improve drainage, drill one-inch holes at six-inch intervals in the bottom of your container, then elevate your container a few inches off the ground (or deck). You can use small pieces of pressure treated lumber or special pot feet.
PRO TIP: Once you’ve prepped your pot, cut a piece of screen or landscape cloth to cover the holes you’ve just drilled. After all, we don’t want any precious, rich soil leaking out the holes.
How to Plant: Step by Step
Fall and spring are generally the best seasons for tree planting, because temperatures are moderate. Try to avoid transplanting when temperatures are above 80F; high temperatures will stress the tree. In fall, aim to plant 6 – 8 weeks before the first frost, so roots have time to establish themselves before the ground freezes.
Now let’s look at your tree. Slide it out of its pot so you can examine the roots. (It’s ok to cut away the container if the tree feels stuck, but try to keep the roots intact). If the roots are tightly stuck together in the area circling the root ball, tug them apart so they radiate out from the trunk. Also, check the trunk of the tree where it meets the soil. Do you see a slight flare? If not, use your hands to pull soil away from the trunk until you expose the flare. This tells you where the soil level should be. Burying the flare can lead to root rot.
Before you move the tree into its new container, measure the height of the root ball. Let’s say yours is 16 inches tall (from trunk flare to the bottom of the roots) and your container is 24 inches tall. 24 – 16 = 8. Leaving two inches of space at the top of the pot (so you don’t splash and spill each time you water) means you’ll need to make up 6 inches of height, so that’s how much soil you’ll add to the bottom of your pot before planting. Be sure to press the soil down firmly, so the weight of the tree doesn’t make it sink in the pot.
A word about potting mix
You should never use yard or garden soil for a container tree. Not only might it contain pathogens (including insects, bacteria, and fungal spores), but it is also very heavy. For drought tolerant trees, like smoketree, crabapples, and purple leaf plum, try a fast draining mix (like Opus Mix#3). For trees that appreciate more consistent moisture, like Japanese maple, try a moisture retentive mix (like Opus Mix#2). Opus Mix#1 is a good choice for most other trees, providing good drainage and moderate water retention.
Lift the tree into the center of the pot and hold it steady while you add soil all the way around the root ball. (It might be handy to have a friend help with this part.) Use your hands or a two by four to tamp the soil firmly into place. When you’ve added enough soil to be level with the top of the root ball, it’s time to start watering. You’ll do this in stages, each time watering until water reaches almost to the top of the pot. Let it be absorbed by the soil, then check the soil level. You may need to add more as the tree settles into place. Continue to water at intervals, until water flows out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. This means the potting soil is fully saturated.
Congratulations, you’ve planted a container tree! Every home feels homier with a tree by the front door. A tree says someone lives there. A tree says someone cares.
Wise gardeners know that even the smallest garden has room for a tree. Dwarf hybrids and trees that are naturally small in stature provide structure and privacy for practicality’s sake, as well as fragrance, colour and movement for pure pleasure. Some also produce fruit for the kitchen table, and many – especially native species – offer food and shelter for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
Small deciduous trees can be planted to screen a south-facing patio or wall during the summer, but let the sun shine into the windows throughout the cold weather, while a clump of evergreens can form a quiet backdrop for a colourful flowerbed, then – touched up with snow – show off all winter long. If you’re lucky enough to have a yard beneath a canopy of statuesque maples or other giants, an understory of short, shade-tolerant specimens can hover between the garden beds and the tallest trees, softening the space. One tree can be a focal point; two can frame a gate or pathway.
What to consider
• Decide if you prefer an upright, horizontal or weeping form. Do you want something that splashes out with showy flowers in the spring or colourful fruit in the fall? Or a tree, such as crab apple, that does both? What matters most: a variety with bright leaves all season or one with attention-grabbing autumn colour?
• Plant some native species for their easy-care attributes, as well as their eco-friendliness.
• Choose a tree that can spread to its full size without outgrowing its site, and suits the scale of its surroundings.
• Match the sun and soil requirements of the tree to the planting spot.
• Avoid planting fruiting varieties where they will overhang paved pathways, and steer clear of any with toxic fruit if you have young children.
• Remember that fruiting plants bring birds into your yard from late summer through winter.
Page 1 of 2 — Have a little yard? Find 20+ trees that are perfect for small spaces on page 2.
Colourful all season
• Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ (Japanese maple) has feathery bright green leaves that turn orange in the fall. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Aesculus pavia* (red buckeye) has red flowers in early spring. Up to 5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Cornus stolonifera* (red osier dogwood) has insignificant white flowers and fruit, but brilliant red shoots in winter. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 2.
• Cotinus coggygria (smoke tree) has cultivars with flowers and foliage ranging from purple through scarlet to lime green. Up to 5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Cercis canadensis* (eastern redbud) has an open crown of heart-shaped green leaves that turn deep red in fall. Up to 10 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (corkscrew hazel) has long yellow catkins on its twisted branches in early spring. Up to 5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 3.
• Magnolia stellata (star magnolia) has white flowers blushed with pink. Up to 3 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Salix discolor* (pussy willow) has furry grey catkins in late winter. Up to 5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’ (Japanese tree lilac) has lacy white flowers in midsummer. Up to 4 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Cornus alternifolia* (pagoda dogwood) has horizontal branches with white flowers, then black fruit that birds love. Up to 6 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Malus sargentii ‘Tina’ (dwarf crab apple) has white flowers and deep red fruit. Up to 1.5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Prunus avium ‘Compact Stella’ (dwarf cherry) is a Canadian hybrid developed for its sweet fruit. Up to 2.5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Sambucus canadensis* (American elderberry) has small white flowers followed by purple fruit. Up to 3 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Sorbus reducta (dwarf mountain ash) has white flowers, red berries and dark green leaves that turn red in fall. Up to 1.5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Caragana arborescens ‘Pendula’ (Siberian pea shrub) has thorny branches with yellow flowers in spring. Up to 1.5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 2.
• Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea Pendula’ (purple beech) has dark purple foliage. Up to 3 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Malus ‘Royal Beauty’ (crab apple) has a profusion of pink-purple spring flowers, purple leaves and dark red fruit in fall. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Morus alba ‘Pendula’ (white mulberry) has broad, toothed, glossy leaves, and purple fruit that attracts birds. Up to 3 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’ (hemlock) has feathery green boughs. Up to 4 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’ (Camperdown elm) has a domed crown with tiny red flowers in spring. Up to 8 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Aurea’ (Hinoki cypress) has golden green foliage. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Picea engelmannii ‘Compact’ (dwarf Engelmann spruce) has blue-green needles. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 3.
*Native to North America
Not sure you have the know-how?
For expert information and illustrations on pruning ornamental trees and shrubs, visit the Montréal Botanical Garden website and select Trees and Ornamental Shrubs.
This story was originally titled “Small Trees for Small Gardens” in the April 2009 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
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