Choosing the best trees for small gardens depends a lot on the region where you live, the climate, and the soil texture of your land.
That being said there are many trees that are very versatile. While there are many places in which palm trees are not a good fit, apple trees, for example, are very popular in lots of countries.
We reached out to 40 landscape designers and gardeners and ask them the following question:
“What are the best trees to grow when you have a small garden?”
Keep reading to see what their recommendations are for the best trees for small gardens.
Kevin Lenhart – Yardzen
Small yards should be selective about what they include and each element should offer something unique.
For trees, pick the species that achieve your design goals while sitting comfortably within the space.
Taller canopy trees are great for shading sun-baked yards but can take up more space on the ground than you have to spare.
Tall columnar shrubs and trees can create privacy without gobbling up a lot of space, but won’t offer the same dappled shade or imply an outdoor room like trees with broader canopies do.
Small trees tend to feel most appropriate to the scale of small spaces:
Try them at the edges of gathering spaces, where they help to imply the boundaries of an outdoor room.
You can also do the opposite, placing small trees across the yard from seating areas. This creates long sightlines, which helps to make spaces feel larger and more interconnected – a useful trick in smaller yards.
Redbud, Dogwood, and Serviceberry have different species native to large parts of the U.S. and are all reliably beautiful landscape trees.
Japanese and Vine Maples offer beautiful fall color and delicate foliage that keeps their visual footprint light, which is nice for maintaining a sense of breathing room in small garden areas.
Purple-Leaf Sand Cherry, Crabapple, and Little Gem Magnolia are all tremendously popular species that sit well within small yards.
Toby Schulz – Lawn
The best trees to grow when you have a small garden are:
1. Cherry blossom
There are varieties that grow as short as 3m. Water and fertilize regularly, and be rewarded with that brief but breathtaking display of spring flowers so beloved around the globe.
Depending on the variety, this deciduous tree can grow from 3-6m. It tolerates frost and drought, but make sure the ground drains well, and give it a layer of mulch to help it along.
3. Crepe myrtle
Compact varieties grow to only 3m tall. Plant a crepe myrtle tree in well-draining soil with full sun, prune in winter, and water generously while it’s young.
They also display a beautiful red-and-orange leaf color in autumn and a sleek silhouette of branches in winter.
These flowering deciduous trees grow to only 5m tall and blossom in shades of white, pink, or red. The leaves run a beautiful scarlet on its branches in autumn. It thrives in cold winters and warm summers.
5. Golden chain tree
Their golden blooms are reminiscent of wisteria and begin to emerge in early spring, trailing down in gorgeous clusters.
Golden Chain trees are deciduous, so they’ll thrive even in regular garden soil with full sun. They’ll tolerate frost well, and even need a chilly winter to develop.
Eva Porter – Eva Porter Designs
Many new suburbs in Australian capital cities are experiencing the decline of the shady backyard tree.
The backyard tree has been declining due to there being less space to plant trees. This has been caused by house sizes taking up the majority of the room on the lot.
More than ever, it is so important to do our part as homeowners and plant a tree in the backyard (or front yard, I don’t mind!).
Here are my top four best small native trees to plant for a small garden.
1 . Melicope rubra (Little Evodia)
The Little Evodia is a fantastic bird-attracting tree with addictive nectar flowers that grow unusually along the tree branches.
2. Elaeocarpus reticulatus ‘Prima Donna’ (Blueberry Ash)
Blueberry ash has the most dainty flowers that look like dancing ballerinas. This tree is a beautiful tree that can also be clipped to form a hedge
3. Atractocarpus fitzalanii (Native Gardenia)
Native Gardenia has the most wonderful scented flowers during spring
4. Hibiscus tiliaceus ‘Rubra’ (Red Cottonwood Tree)
Red Cottonwood Tree is our subtropical version of the stunning purple European trees (Forest Pansy Tree in particular). I use this tree as a feature tree for its heart-shaped purple leaves.
David Angelov – Plant Parenthood
Start with the biggest parts of the project, one or two trees. Cherry trees, or a weeping American elm trees are great options. This will be a bold but simple focal point for your garden.
You can include 3 or 4 medium shrubs, like a vibernum, or evergreen shrubs. Small boxwood hedges can be included, and hardly need to be trimmed.
The less lawn you have, the less maintenance weekly is needed. Lawns are also not sustainable in the long run.
Be mindful of the plants you put in. To conserve more water, use native plants. Native plants are meant to be growing in certain places, so they conserve more water and need less pruning.
If you pick the right sizes and plant them where they’re meant to be, they are much more hardy and will thrive in the environment they are supposed to be nurtured in.
When you first plant them, you need to be mindful to water the bigger plants on a slow drip, out of a hose 1-2 times per week (let it drip for a few hours).
After the plants settle in, they are very low maintenance and should live well in their native climate.
Lindsey Hyland – Urban Organic Yield
When you have a small garden, choosing the right trees is important. Here are five of the best trees to grow in a small garden:
1. The apple tree is a classic choice for any garden, regardless of size. It grows well in both cold and warm climates and produces delicious apples that can be eaten fresh or used in cooking.
2. The pear tree is another excellent choice for small gardens. It grows well in most climates and produces tasty pears that are perfect for eating fresh or adding to salads and other dishes.
3. The plum tree is a good option for those who want to grow their own fruit but don’t have a lot of space. Plum trees produce delicious plums that can be eaten fresh or used in baking.
4. The peach tree is a popular choice for small gardens because it doesn’t require a lot of space and produces tasty peaches. Peaches are perfect for eating fresh or using in pies and other desserts.
5. The apricot tree is a good choice for gardeners who want to grow their own fruit but don’t have a lot of space. Apricots are delicious and can be eaten fresh or used in baking.
Randy Schultz – Home Garden and Homestead
1. Japanese Maple
A small Japanese Maple tree, such as Tamukeyama Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum), is one of my favorite trees for small spaces. This tree has been a prized specimen in small gardens for three centuries.
Tamukeyama Japanese Maple covers its flowing branches are covered with delicate red leaves. As this tree matures, it takes on a unique weeping shape that makes it a wonderful specimen tree and focal point in a small garden.
Unlike standard size maple trees, each tree seems to be special, and it grow to just 6-10 feet in height, but it spread 10-12 feet wide. Some mature specimens have branches that gently droop to the ground.
A Tamukeyama Japanese Maple should be placed in a prominent spot in the garden where it can be seen in all its glory.
Its fall color is amazing when the leaves deep red leaves add tones of bronze and purple. It grows well throughout USDA zones 5 to 8.
2. Royal Raindrops Crabapple Tree
A crabapple tree in full bloom is a remarkable sight in a springtime garden. A Royal Raindrops Crabapple (Malus ‘JFS-KW5’) demands attention because it covers itself with bright magenta flowers.
Then, the foliage season begins. The leaves of this delightful small tree are deep purple, and that color never fades throughout the summer.
Then, the red crabapple fruit appears. And to top it all off, in the autumn the dark purple leaves turn orange, bronze, and mahogany.
This is a tough little tree. The strong branches and upright growth habit means a Royal Raindrops Crabapple Tree does not need a lot of trimming or pruning.
This hardy tree grows well in USDA zones 4 to 8. It will reach a mature size of 15-20 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide.
3. Vitex Tree
A Vitex tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is sometimes called a Chaste Tree. This is a great small tree in the warmer regions of the United States (in USDA zones 7 to 9).
The lavender-blue flowers begin to bloom in the late spring, and the show of gorgeous flowers continues all summer long. Pollinators such as butterflies and bees love this tree.
The Vitex’s growth habit makes it look like a large shrub or a small tree. It can be pruned to look more like a multi-trunked tree by thinning out some of the busy lower branches.
Either way, a Vitex is a handsome addition to any small or medium-sized yard. A Chaste Tree reaches a mature size of 15-20 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide.
So, it’s not the smallest tree on this list. But it does respond well to pruning to fit the available size in your landscape.
Edwina Robinson – The Climate Factory
Even the smallest garden or balcony can house a tree.
When choosing your tree consider what services you want the tree to provide? Should the tree:
- Provide cooling in summer but allow sun through its leaves in winter?
- provide habitat?
- screens out unattractive views?
- Is it a beautiful piece of nature?
Here are three of my favorite trees for cool and warm temperate climates.
1. Brachyciton populneus, Kurrajong
This is a handsome slow-growing Australian native, growing to 10m tall x 6m wide. It has dark green glossy leaves and tuberous roots that help make it drought-hardy. This is the signature tree of our community micro-forests due to its ability to withstand a hotter, drier future.
2. Acer palmatum, Japanese Maple
Japanese Maples are planted throughout the world due to their small stature and attractiveness. They prefer generous amounts of water and shelter from hot drying winds. Trees range in size from two m (grafted) to eight m.
3. Lagerstroemia cultivars, Crepe Myrtle
Deciduous Crepe Myrtles come in a range of cultivars and thrive in drought. Autumn brings on bursts of orange and scarlet hues. In summer they flower for weeks on end. Depending on the variety, this handsome tree ranges from 3m to 10m tall.
Susan Brandt – Blooming Secrets
If you have a smaller garden, it would be better to choose a tree that is a dwarf variety like the weeping cherry or Japanese maple.
There are also ornamental and fruit trees that are ideal for growing in a small garden. You can plant your trees inground or in containers.
If you want to grow trees in containers, try slow-growing or dwarf varieties. A container tree can grow 4 to 10 feet.
Here are some specific tree recommendations:
1. Japanese Maples
Japanese maples are ideal for small gardens. They are small deciduous trees that are known for their beautiful bright red-and-orange-colored leaves in autumn. Another benefit is that the tree does not need a lot of upkeep.
2. Olive Trees
These trees are trendy right now. They can bring a taste of the Mediterranean to your small garden. Olive trees are slow-growing and need a sunny location.
3. Citrus Trees
A citrus tree can bring fruit and aroma to a garden. Try a dwarf lemon tree, which will produce scented flowers prior to it producing fruit.
It will take 3-4 years before it bears fruit. It can grow up to 8 feet, but it will take many years to reach that height.
Lisa Mazzuca – My NJ Garden
I strongly suggest finding trees that are native to your location. From that selection, look for understory or flowering trees that don’t exceed 20-25 feet.
Also, consider what’s important to you. Do you want fruit, showy flowers, winter interest, and/or autumn color?
For example, in the Northeastern United States, Eastern Red Bud is a small native tree with gorgeous bright pink blooms in early spring.
The flowers are also edible and can be added to drinks and salads.
Native selections are ideal because they are adapted to the growing conditions in your area so they require very little care including minimal fertilizer and irrigation.
Parveen Dhaliwal – Inspiring Landscape
A tree is a key piece in your garden framework.
Depending on the tree of choice, it will add height and beauty to your garden and determines which part of it is shaded.
Consider it an important investment to realize your dream garden’s full potential!
This choice is even more important when there are spatial constraints such as a small garden.
My top three choices for a small garden all share the following characteristics:
- They have a unique feature
- They flower and attract various types of wildlife such as butterflies, bees or birds
- They offer seasonal interest
My top favorite is the Tuscarora crepe myrtle. I absolutely adore the hot pink flowers that appear in spring and which turn into blackberries and then the autumn colors that appear when the time is right.
At maturity, the unique feature of this tree species is that its bark will peel and have a
Next is the forest pansy (cercis canadensis). I love its heart-shaped leaves and that it can be pruned to shape to remain small.
The one I love most is the Rothschild Golden Chain of Hearts as its chartreuse leaves are bright and breathtaking so will brighten up a dull spot in any garden!
Third but not last is my favorite evergreen tree ie the gordonia axillaris. It can grow large but is able to be kept to a small size with minimal effort.
It’s a relative of the camellia and its flowers fall on the ground looking like a fried egg. Pretty interesting and different from most plants!
Jeremy Yamaguchi – Lawn Love
Lemon trees are great, compact trees you can grow in a small garden.
You can even grow dwarf Meyer lemons inside.
The trees take up very little space and should yield a decent amount of fruit during peak season.
They require some TLC, including being vigilant about pruning and ensuring blooms get the nutrients they need, but they’re less fussy than other fruit trees.
Zackary DeAngelis – Tree Journey
The best trees for small gardens are low-maintenance trees that have a small base but large canopy to maximize your landscaping.
I highly recommend planting crabapple or dogwood trees as they’re relatively low maintenance but look absolutely stunning at full bloom.
While the former is messy, both trees have a thinner base that spreads at the top, providing a beautiful contrast for your garden.
Specifically, the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) has deep white foliage that begins to bloom during the Spring.
Compared to a crabapple tree, you won’t have to worry about flowering dogwoods being too messy. After reaching full maturity, they are relatively low-maintenance and very aesthetic!
Since they have white foliage, this also provides you an excellent base to get creative with your mulch and flower color choices as well.
If you’re looking for a more pink/red hue and don’t mind the mess, crabapple trees may be a better choice for your small garden.
However, just be aware that the fallen crabapples can attract more wildlife to your garden.
Melvin Cubian – PlantIn
Selecting the best trees in a small garden needs to be well-planned. The canopy size, the aesthetics, and the plant’s growth cycle need to be weighed up as the yard space is limited.
If you want a tropical ambiance, red palms, canary palms, or European fan palms are excellent because they do not take up so much space while still providing partial shade in the backyard during hot months.
If the aesthetics and functionality are considered, multi-purpose trees like cherries, apricots, and plums are the perfect flowering and fruit-bearing trees to plant in the plot.
On the other hand, if saving space is the aim, medium-sized ornamental trees are the hot picks, such as Japanese maple trees, dogwood, or hawthorn, which would still allow you to plant small plants nearby.
Climate-smart trees should also be appraised if you live in cold regions. Evergreen plants like conifers are the best bet for all-year-round greenery like cypress, junipers, and spruce are well suited.
In conclusion, the best trees for tight gardens all boil down to the practicality and purpose, whether you want to give up space over its beauty.
Andy Murray – Andy Murray Design
It is a tricky question as perhaps the garden is too small and even the smallest tree with the exception of Bonsai may not the right choice overall.
Given a small tree can be approximately 4 -7 m, for a very small garden this is quite a lot of space to take up when space is at a premium.
Although small trees are useful when choosing a tree for your garden. This will be dependent on what is being grown and is readily available in your area.
My work is in Melbourne and my choices when designing a garden are based on what I can source.
When choosing deciduous trees I would usually use Acer cultivars, Japanese Maples such as Acer palmatum ‘Osakasuki’ Acer japonicum ‘Vitifolium’ or straight Acer palmatum (Japanese maple).
I am also quite a fond of Cercis candensis ‘Forest Pansy’ or Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree), as well as Cotinus for a bit o foliage colour which although similar in size to a small tree, can also be filed under ‘large shrub’ Lagerstroemias (Crepe Myrtles) are tough and easily pruned to reduce the size where Acers are much more complicated in this department.
The flowers are great and come in a safe white or some radical pinks.
When an evergreen makes more sense, I would think about Olives, Citrus (which are also espaliered well if the garden is very small.
Arbutus andrachnoides is a very beautiful and unusual specimen at 6 x 6m.
Nikki Bruner – Perfect Plants
The best trees to grow when you have a small garden are small trees! These can include hydrangea trees, redbud trees, or Japanese magnolias but there are many options out there in the gardening world.
You will of course want to check your growing zone before deciding which tree is best for your area.
These types of trees are considered dwarf or semi-dwarf in size and only grow up to 15 feet tall and wide.
They are perfect for small gardens or small spaces in your yard as they don’t take up that much room and can be pruned to maintain a smaller size.
You can prune them annually and keep them at any desired height and width you would like. The most typical sizes you see are between 10-15 feet tall and 5-10 feet wide.
Japanese magnolias are especially useful as they grow in a shrubby tree growing habit with multiple stems and are commonly seen less than 10 feet tall.
The best part about these trees is the gorgeous flowers they can produce in spring to put on a showy display! What are you waiting for? Get planting today!
Andy Tait – True Green Nursery
When you have a small garden you can still grow trees. You can opt for dwarf or miniature trees, which don’t take up much space. You can also grow fruit trees in small spaces.
If you have a sunny spot, you can plant a fig tree or citrus tree. Just be sure to give them enough room to spread out. If you have a shady garden, try growing a serviceberry or a crabapple tree.
No matter what kind of tree you choose, be sure to give it the right amount of water and sunlight. With a little care, your small garden can be filled with beautiful trees.
1. Japanese Maple
A beautiful and popular tree, the Japanese maple is perfect for small gardens. Growing to a height of around 15m, this tree has stunning red leaves which make it a real focal point in any garden.
Another great choice for a small garden is the magnolia tree. This tree can grow to a height of around 10m and has large, fragrant flowers which bloom in spring
The crabapple tree is perfect for gardens with limited space as it only grows to a height of around 5m. This tree is covered in beautiful pink or white blossoms in spring, making it a real eye-catcher
The dogwood tree is a great choice for small gardens as it has a compact growth habit and only reaches a height of around 4m. This tree has stunning flowers which bloom in spring, followed by bright red berries in summer
5. Japanese Stewartia
The Japanese Stewartia is a beautiful tree that makes a great addition to any garden. This tree can grow to a height of around 10m and has stunning white flowers which bloom in summer.
Dmitri Kara – Oak Hill Gardens
1. Ornamental Cherry
We are all aware of the cherry trees – beautiful soft pink blossoms, blood-red fruit, and rather big. There is a solution to still enjoy this gorgeous tree even in a small garden.
The ornamental cherry tree is a flowering cherry tree that presents gorgeous springtime floral displays. Pruning your precious tree will help keep it the size you wish.
The only con is that thou it will produce fruits, they are not enjoyable to munch on.
2. Angyo Dwarf
The precious tree will reach a height of only between 1 to 1.5 meters. They are very compact in size and keep a rounded shape to their crown.
Their leaves have deep, vibrant green-colored leaves that turn gorgeous red hues in autumn. The Angyo Dwarf will present to you a stunning flower display in late spring.
The tree gets dressed in beautiful blossoms that consist of 4 petals and a gentle bud in the middle.
3. Strawberry Tree
Controversially to their name Strawberry trees do not produce strawberries…sadly.
What you can harvest from them is red fruits with high content of sugar, however, they are rather blank testing. The tree overall grows very slow and even fully grown it reaches between 4 to 9 meters.
You can of course prune the tree to keep it fit for your particular garden. It has an evergreen crown which makes a beautiful contrast with its reddish bark and ornament-like red fruits.
Julia – Perennials Gardening & Landscapes
There are some great small trees to choose from here in the UK. Acer’s make a grand show come the Autumn time with stunning leaf color for interest.
Their structure suits small spaces and can provide real interest.
One to look at is Acer ‘Grisium’ with its peeling paper bark along with orangey-red Autumn leaves. It has been awarded the RHS’ Garden Merit Award, another positive!
Spring flowering Cherries are another to have a look at. There is such a range, one of which is the ‘Amanogawa’ variety, which again has won the prestigious RHS Garden Merit Award, indicating its reliability and practicality in the UK’s changeable growing conditions.
Alternatively, grow your own fruit! Dwarf Apple trees are such a promising addition to any garden. ‘Red Falstaff’ is ideal and can even be grown in containers.
If you do go down the Fruit tree route, be sure to look at self-pollinating varieties, as these don’t need another tree within the vicinity as they pollinate themselves!
Jen Stark – Happy DIY Home
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to have a huge yard or garden to grow trees, and there are some stunningly beautiful and functional smaller trees that will be right at home without taking up the entire space. They include:
The olive tree will only get 6.5 feet high at full maturity in 8 to 10 years, so it’s a slower-growing species.
It has silvery-gray foliage that stays on the tree all year round, and it does very well planted in containers.
You can wrap them in horticultural fleece during the winter to protect the tree and keep it healthy.
Magnolia trees produce overly large tulip-shaped blooms during the spring to help the tree make a statement.
Magnolias top out at roughly 20 feet high by 13 feet wide, so you will have to give it room to spread.
It has a rounded, neat shape that works well in the front of your yard as a hedge, and you want to plant it in a space that gets partial to full sun in moist but well-drained soil to encourage strong growth and flowering.
Shannon Bernadin – The African Garden
In particular, my favorite variety of small tree is the Acer – or the Japanese Maple, as they come in such a wide range of colors, and can become a lovely focal point of the garden in autumn, when their leaves will turn to a vibrant yellow, red or orange.
They are especially well suited to smaller gardens, as they are a compact tree that grows slowly, so you won’t find them dwarfing the rest of your garden any time soon!
I also don’t think you can understate the importance of growing for wildlife, even when you only have a small garden.
I like to plant for the birds and insects – so I always have a native tree that produces berries, such as rowans or hawthorns.
Both trees produce calorie and nutrient rich berries, and have plenty of cultivars, so you can find one suited to your garden.
Rodger St. Hilaire – Gardening Boost
If you have a small garden, you’ll want to choose trees that are compact and won’t overwhelm your space. Here are some of the best trees to grow in a small garden:
1. Japanese maples are beautiful trees with delicate foliage that come in a range of colors, from burgundy to gold. They typically grow to about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide, making them a good choice for smaller gardens.
2. Dwarf fruit trees are another great option for small gardens. There are many dwarf varieties of fruit trees available, including apples, peaches, and plums. Most dwarf fruit trees only grow to 8-10 feet tall and wide.
3. Flowering dogwoods are small trees with a beautiful canopy of white, pink, or red flowers in the spring. They typically grow to about 15-20 feet tall and wide.
4. Serviceberry trees are one of the best trees for small gardens. They are small, only reaching about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Serviceberry trees have beautiful white flowers in the springtime, followed by sweet berries in the summer.
5. Another great tree for small gardens is the dwarf Korean lilac tree. Reaching only about 10 feet tall, this tree is perfect for smaller gardens.
Any one, or combination of the options listed above, would be great for small gardens. Not only do these trees take up less space, but they also add beauty and interest to your garden.
Charlotte Wiggins – Gardening Charlotte
Check for your USDA Hardiness zone and plant native trees adjusted/suitable for your area.
Native trees are used to your soil and growing conditions and will best grow in small areas such as Eastern Redbuds (Cercis canadensis).
Redbuds grow through most of the Eastern US.
Other good options for small garden spaces include dwarf (8-10 feet tall) and extra dwarf (4-6 feet tall) fruit trees.
Depending on the soil, the dwarf trees may not grow as tall but will still provide fruit.
Another option is espalier trees. Apples and pears grow well trained against a wall or arbor.
Davin Eberhardt – Nature of Home
Finding the best trees for small gardens starts with your USDA growing zone and why you’re planting trees.
If planted for shade or decoration, some favorite trees are Redbud, Japanese maple, Saucer Magnolia, Jelly King Crab Apple, Carolina Silverbell, Hawthorn, and Flowering Dogwood.
These trees have a stunning appearance and do not require much space. Plus, they only reach, on average, about 20′ tall (30′ maximum).
For fruit and nut trees, take a look at Garden Prince almond, Celestial fig, Meyer lemon, Damson plum, Natal plum, Belle of Georgia peach, Stella cherry, Calamondin orange, and Cameron Select apple (dwarf variety of Honeycrisp).
It is essential when selecting fruit trees to see if they are self-fertile.
Meaning they do not need another tree to pollinate and produce fruit, which is vital in small gardens when space is limited.
Also, keep in mind that the taller a tree is, the more distance between trees is required.
Owen Mosser – The Golden
Looking for the perfect tree for your tiny backyard? Here are the best trees that thrive in small gardens:
1. Pear Trees
Want fresh fruits on your table every morning? Pear trees, specifically the Concorde or Conference variety, are natural compact trees that are perfect additions to your balcony, patio garden, or rooftop.
2. Royal Raindrops Crabapple
If you want an instant pop of color in your yard, this tree grows luscious pink flowers and is a sight to behold. This tree is easily grown, loves the sun, and only grows up to 15-20 ft. tall (4-6 m) and 12-15 ft. wide (3-5 m).
3. Japanese Maples
Japanese Maples are slow-growing trees, so you can ensure that they won’t overcrowd your garden. Their leaves are blazing orange making them perfect ornamental plants. Plant them in a sheltered spot and away from direct sunlight.
4. Bay Trees
These evergreen trees grow well in pots and make a perfect ornamental plant on your patio or next to a door. Place them in a sunny spot, water them regularly, and remember to prune them from time to time.
5. Olive Tree
Native from the Mediterranean region, an olive tree in a dwarf variety grows just 10ft and is a perfect addition to small gardens.
6. Silver Birch
There are varieties of Silver Birch trees that will fit a small garden. This slender tree grows to approximately 23ft x 11.5ft (7m x 3.5m) over 20 years. Oh, and did I mention that their leaves turn a bright golden hue in autumn?
If you have a small garden or backyard, the rule of thumb is to plant a tree away from the house at a distance equal to one-half of the maximum tree height.
Mary Jane Duford – Home For The Harvest
Magnolia is my favorite tree for a small garden. These gorgeous flowering trees put on a stunning show of blooms in the spring or early summer, depending upon the species.
Most magnolias have white, pink, or purple flowers with large elegant petals.
These trees tend to flower best when planted in full sun but are tolerant of partial sun planting locations.
Gardeners in the south can plant smaller cultivars of Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) such as ‘Little Gem’ Magnolia, which grows to 15-20 feet tall and only about 10 feet wide.
These trees are known for their large white flowers and glossy dark green leaves with bronze undersides.
‘Little Gem’ Southern Magnolia thrives in zones 7-9 when planted in a moist, well-drained loamy soil.
Gardeners in colder climates can grow hybrid deciduous magnolias as small multistemmed trees.
Cultivars from the National Arboretum like ‘Ann’, ‘Jane’, and ‘Betty’ Magnolia are very easy to grow and make excellent small-scale statement trees.
Hybrid magnolias tend to be quite floriferous when planted in full sun, and are covered in graceful flowers with elongated pink or purple petals.
These hybrid plants are quite cold-hardy and can be grown in zones 4-8.
Kate Russell – The Daily Garden
Many people with small yards believe they don’t have room for a tree.
But dwarf trees can grow and produce crops in the same space you might dedicate to a BBQ grill or lounge chair.
Dwarf trees are normal trees that have been grafted onto rootstock that keeps them from getting big.
There are dwarf apple, citrus, fig, peach, and plum trees, just to name a few. You can also get fruit cocktail trees that offer several varieties of stone fruit or citrus on a single small tree.
To get your dwarf tree to grow well, you need to start by selecting one suited to your yard.
Trees and other plants have evolved over thousands of years to grow best in certain conditions.
Mangos prefer tropical weather and apples need a brisk winter to develop their crispy sweetness. These temperature differences are ranked by zones.
You can find your zone using the online interactive USDA Hardiness Zone tool. Once you know your zone, you need to find out how many chill hours your yard gets.
To produce fruit or nuts, trees need to accumulate enough chill hours in winter. If the temperatures aren’t right, they won’t produce.
Selecting trees suited to your climate will make your job easier. Soil makes a difference, too.
The texture, structure, and organic matter found in your soil will have a big impact on the health of your tree. Soil texture tells you how much sand, loam, and clay are present. The soil structure describes the way the bits of soil are held together.
Soil organic matter improves the structure of your soil and provides easy access to water and nutrients. The soil pH will also dictate which trees will thrive in your yard.
An inexpensive, lab-based soil test is the easiest way to get much of that information.
That soil test will also tell you exactly which nutrients are present and which are in short supply. Before adding fertilizer, you need to know that too much can be worse than not enough.
Finally, be sure to plant your tree at the proper depth. The flare of the trunk should be above the soil line. Improper tree planting depth is a major cause of tree death.
Pol Bishop – Fantastic Gardeners
This is a great option to introduce some color to your garden with its fresh yellow blossoms.
The forsythia tree will grow between 2 to 3 meters in height. It blooms rather early in the year and remains green throughout most of the year.
An added benefit is that this plant also has medicinal use where the dried fruits can help with airway illnesses, swelling, fever, and other conditions
This beautiful tree can reach heights between 4 and 25 meters depending on how you trim and maintain it.
The tree produces gorgeous tulip-shaped blossoms that are sure to have neighbors and passers-by peek over the fence to admire. When it comes to caring for the magnolia it does come a bit on the pretentious end.
You will have to pick a good spot where it has sun or partial shade and take extra care during the cold season to avoid it freezing.
It will require frequent watering in the first months when planted and whenever the weather becomes extra dry.
If you live for the autumn and the warm fire-like colors of this season the Acer is what you absolutely need in your garden. The tree is on the smaller end where it will grow up to 4 meters.
The tree will develop a dense beautiful crown of fire-red leaves the color of which will become more and more opaque with time.
The luxury of having autumn vibes in your garden all year around comes also at minimum maintenance as the acer rarely required pruning and is fairly forgiving when it comes to placement.
Douglas Dedrick – Green Pal
When it comes to planting trees in a small garden bed there are a few trees that immediately come to mind.
My top pick would easily be a short Japanese maple variety, there are a few options to chose from, but my favorite is the Inaba Shidare.
Which is a low-growing Japanese maple which spreads out to about 10 to 12 feet wide, and can be pruned back to take up less space. Making it great for smaller gardens.
If that is out of your budget, you can almost always count on a small variety of arborivite or boxwood to fill in the space.
Stefan Bucur – Rhythm of the Home
Some of the best trees for small gardens are the saucer magnolia, the Japanese maple, and the loquat. These sound a little exotic because they kind of are.
The loquat is a glossy Chinese native evergreen tree that is often grown in urban gardens.
And a little nice touch is that it grows delicious fruits that you can indulge in during warm seasons.
The Japanese Maple and the Saucer Magnolia have gorgeous foliage and they won’t take up too much space so they’re perfect for smaller gardens.
Nick Radford – Ecoliving Design
It depends on your local micro-climate, what you eat and the size of the space. We can’t be too specific without knowing that, but we can list a few ideas:
Food trees which crop even when pruned heavily to fit a space (fig, pomegranate, blueberry, most stone fruit).
1. Deciduous trees
They can be strategically located to allow winter sun into buildings and courtyards.
2. Dwarf fruit trees
Citrus can be very productive but needs to be carefully placed away from paths and work areas because it’s thorny.
Tall, narrow plants (papaya in the subtropics, coconut in the tropics).
Very nutritious trees (avocado, Malabar chestnut, macadamia in warm climates, other nut trees suit cooler climates if you have the space).
OK, they’re not trees, but they can be very fruitful and fit in tight spaces (thornless blackberry, perennial bean).
4. Herbal groundcovers. Also not trees, but placed underneath and on edges can provide more of what you might want from trees: flowers, biodiversity and edible or medicinal crops.
Trees that you like – that you feel a kind of connection with. Sure; it’s not always possible to fit every tree you like, but it is your space, so make sure you like the trees that are in it.
Alison Levey – Blackberry Garden
I think if you have space to plant a tree in the ground and can only plant one tree then an Amalanchier, or Snow Berry, is always a good choice.
It is not a big tree, it blossoms early, provides berries for wildlife, and has good autumn color.
If you cannot plant it into the ground then you could always try growing one in a container, it will not get so big but it will live quite happily for quite a few years in this way.
Brody Hall – The Indoor Nursery
A good ornamental tree for a small garden is the Japanese Maple cultivars (Acer palmatum).
These varieties have a magnitude of different leaf variations that exhibit deep greens through the growing season and beautiful reds in the fall.
Some of the best trees for small gardens are those that provide ornamental interest. Ornamental trees can add beauty to any landscape with their showy flowers or interesting bark patterns.
1. The Japanese Maple grows to a height of only 10-15 feet. If this is too large, there exist dwarf varieties like the Shaina Japanese Maple that only grow to a height of 6-8 feet.
Another great ornamental choice is the Crab-apple (Malus spp.), which produces lovely pink or white flowers in the spring and tasty apples in the fall.
2. Crabapples grow to a height of only 10-20 feet. Again, there are dwarf varieties that only reach a height of 5-10 feet.
Fruit trees can also be a great choice for small gardens, especially if gardeners want to enjoy something that’s homegrown.
3. The dwarf cherry (Prunus avium) is a good option. It grows to a height of only 10-12 feet and produces delicious cherries each summer.
If you’re looking for something a little different, consider planting a fig tree.
4. Fig trees, particularly variations like Ficus carica ‘Little Miss Figgy’, are relatively small and produce an abundance of sweet fruit.
They’re also drought-tolerant, making them a good choice for homeowners who don’t have access to irrigation.
John Thomas – Backyard Garden Geek
When you’ve got a garden, you’ve got to take care if you decide to purchase trees for your property.
Depending on the height of the tree (when fully mature) and the time of year, you might unintentionally cast too much shade on your plants and thus diminish your garden’s full potential.
When planting in proximity to a garden, I prefer dwarf Japanese maples. On the one hand, they come in a variety of stunning hues, from dark auburn reds to light fern greens.
On the other hand, most are relatively short–typically growing no taller than 4-6 feet–so there’s no chance they’ll cast a shadow on your garden someday.
Jonathon Madore – Green Upside
The best trees to grow in a small garden are dwarf fruit trees. A dwarf fruit tree has a limited size due to some combination of genetics, grafting, or environmental conditions.
Dwarf fruit trees produce full-size fruit, but they take up far less space than standard-size fruit trees. As an added bonus, it is much easier to maintain dwarf fruit trees and to harvest their fruit.
Dwarf fruit trees are a great choice if you want to grow fruit in a smaller space, since they are limited in width as well as height.
They are also a good choice if you only have space for one standard size fruit tree, but you need two trees for pollination (as is the case with many plum trees).
In warmer climates, dwarf citrus trees (like orange, lemon, or lime) only grow to a height and width of 3 to 8 feet (compared to a height and width of over 10 feet for standard fruit trees of the same variety).
In cooler climates, dwarf apple trees only grow to a height and width of 6 to 10 feet (compared to a height and width of 20 feet or more for standard apple trees).
Craig Brown – HIREtrades
When selecting the best trees for small gardens, always double-check that the tree you’ve picked is appropriate for your location and soil type. Determine your hardiness zone and plant only appropriate types.
One of the most significant garden ideas is trees, which attract wildlife, clean the air, provide dappled shade, and give color and interest throughout the year.
Plus, when the seasons change, there’s always something new to see with their ever-changing foliage, blossoms, and fruits.
There are trees ideal for even the smallest of places, and most trees can be pruned regularly to keep them small.
1. Japanese Maple is a small deciduous tree famed for its brilliant autumn display of bright red and orange leaves. They grow slowly and compactly, so no pruning is required; simply remove any dead or diseased branches.
The olive tree is a slow-growing evergreen tree, which grows 1 to 12 inches per year, and provides a touch of greenery and refinement to any environment.
Their nicely formed, evergreen grey-green foliage looks great in patio pots set on each side of doorways or lining a pathway, making them ideal for container gardening.
2. Crepe Myrtle
It can be cultivated in a pot or on the ground. These hardy deciduous trees feature lovely bark, vibrant autumn foliage, and exquisite summer flowers.
A clean, rounded shape is ideal for tiny places, and it will stand out if you’re seeking new front yard ideas. White, soft pink, lilac, burgundy, and yellow are just a few of the stunning colors offered.
Tree ferns are beautiful architectural plants that can be grown in pots or on the ground for years.
4. Crab Apple
It should be planted in a sunny location with moist but not soggy soil. It has pleasantly colored leaves and produces a profusion of tiny, brightly colored fruits in colors of scarlet, golden, gold, and red in the autumn.
Stephen Webb – Garden’s Whisper
1. Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
The Japanese maple is a beautiful tree that is perfect for small gardens. It has a compact growth habit and can be easily pruned to maintain its size.
It is also tolerant of a wide range of conditions, making it a low-maintenance choice. The Japanese maple is hardy in zones 5-9.
2. Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
One of the most popular understory trees in eastern North America, the flowering dogwood is beloved for its beautiful spring flowers, which bloom in shades of white, pink, and red.
This tough little tree can also tolerate shady conditions and clay soils, which are ideal for small gardens. Flowering dogwoods typically grow to about 20 feet tall, with a spread of 15 feet.
3. Crabapple (Malus sp.)
If you’re looking for a tree that will provide beauty and function in your small garden, look no further than the crabapple.
These lovely trees produce an abundance of fragrant flowers in the spring, followed by small fruits that attract birds and other wildlife.
Crabapples come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, so you’ll find one that fits your space.
4. Magnolia (Magnolia sp.)
Though they’re not the first tree that comes to mind when you think of a small garden, Magnolia trees are pretty well-suited for tighter spaces.
There are many different varieties of Magnolia trees, including some that stay relatively compact and others that can reach up to 30 feet tall.
One of the most popular Magnolia trees for small gardens is the ‘Little Gem’ (Magnolia grandiflora’ Little Gem’), which only grows to about 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It has the same beautiful, large flowers as other Magnolia trees, but on a much smaller scale.
5. Dwarf Japanese Birch (Betula platyphylla)
A Japanese birch is perfect for small gardens! They have a lovely, textured bark that peels in thin layers and reveals a soft, cork-like inner surface. The leaves are small and ovate with double-toothed margins.
They turn a beautiful golden yellow in autumn before falling. Dwarf Japanese birches grow to between 4 and 6 feet tall.
Kyle Tobin – Lawn Savers
I’d recommend finding a low-maintenance shrub for your small garden that still looks good.
I’d look into something like an Evergreen Azalea. They don’t grow to tall – usually around 3+ feet – and can grow these beautiful flowers that will steal the show in your garden.
The leaves are extremely green and will appear even shiny at times. These shrubs don’t need to be maintained regularly and will bloom organically into a beautiful shrub.
I’d recommend azaleas to anyone and everyone who wants to find a nice healthy tree for their small garden.
They aren’t a huge shrub, but can fill out your small garden and really add to the color and growth of your garden.
Kelly Lawrence – Swipe Garden
1. Ornamental cherry trees
Japanese blooming cherries are stunning aesthetic trees made up of numerous varieties of the Prunus serrulata species.
These Serrulata varieties are popular for residential landscaping since they are smaller trees that don’t produce fruit and have a very elegant, upright, vase-shaped growth habit.
During the spring, these trees bloom with stunning white to pinkish-red blooms, making your house look more poetic. Some favorite cultivars are Kanzan, Kiku-shidare, and Fugenzo.
Lilacs have long been renowned as a very fragrant medium-sized shrub that blooms in the middle of spring. Ivory Silk Lilac Tree could be the best choice for your small garden.
Improving from the Japanese Tree Lilac, The Ivory Silk Lilac is a single-trunked small tree or big shrub with white blooms with a minimal smell that blooms in the summer months.
It is worth considering when you need a striking ornamental tree that can adapt to various functions in a landscape design.
3. Evergreen trees
Evergreen trees, with their dense green leaves that endure all year, are among the greatest trees for backyard privacy. There are several bigger variations, but there are also many smaller alternatives.
Holly is the greatest evergreen tree for a small garden because it provides bright leaf color and aesthetic intrigue while remaining compact.
The Camellia is an all-time favorite tree for a small yard. It is an evergreen tree with gorgeous, brilliant blossoms and, as a double-bloomer, adds year-round beauty to your landscape.
Angelia Daugirda – Organic Plant Magic
I always plant out my spaces with a mix of the edible and ornamental, hence why my favorite tree for a small garden space is the Olympian Fig (Ficus carica).
It is happy in the ground and makes itself at home in a large pot as well, making it a great addition to patio and balcony gardens.
It takes up significantly less space than most other fruit trees, only growing to a max height of 4-8’, can be pruned to fit almost any small space, and it can tolerate cool environments, even as low as zone 6, and it thrives in warmer coastal climates as well.
To top it off, the Olympian Fig produces an abundance of the sweetest violet fleshed fruit two times a year!
What an amazing versatile tree that provides beauty and amazing fruit, and it is the perfect edible accent to even the smallest of garden spaces!
Chris Chan – Garden Bench Top
In gardens with limited space, you will likely only have one tree (two at most), so a lot of consideration is required as to which variety of tree you grow.
Trees usually play a big feature in your garden, so we like to choose show-piece trees that add height and dimension to a small garden. Here are our favorite trees :
1. Senkaki japanese maple trees
These are small to medium-sized deciduous trees that have unique star-shaped leaves that showcase beautiful autumn colors.
Senkaki maples are renown for their bright red bark – often referred to as coral bark maples – that offer a bright red glow during winter, when all the leaves have fallen.
2. Black diamond crape myrtle
If you want something a bit different, choose a black diamond variety of crape myrtle trees.
They sport dark purple leaves, with those famous pom pom myrtle flowers we know them for.
We personally love the white flowers that offer a stark contrast to the dark leaves. Crape myrtles are medium-sized trees that are easily shaped to fit into the limited garden space.
Thank you so much to all the experts that have contributed to this expert roundup. Let us know in the comments below what are your favorite trees.
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Fern discovered her love of gardening later in life but has not wasted any time catching up on missed years. She has contributed to the planting and care of over 100 different fruit, nut, native and ornamental trees over the past 5 years on her property.
Fern has a special interest in biodynamic farming, food production and closed loop agriculture.
When not in the garden or exercising her dogs, you will find her preserving the harvest or with her nose buried in a novel.