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6 Small Trees for Illinois (Perfect for Tight Spaces)


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Just because you have a small yard or garden doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the myriad of benefits trees provide.

Small trees can be used for purely ornamental purposes, for shade, or even for fruit. There are also plenty of large shrubs that can easily be pruned into the shape of a small tree, provided you’re willing to maintain them.

Be sure to check the hardiness map of Illinois to see what’s suited to your area before you commit to planting.

Read on for six small trees suitable for small areas in Illinois

6 Small Trees That Grow Well in Illinois

1. Dwarf Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

dwarf red buckeye
Image by peganum via Flickr

The Dwarf Red Buckeye is a precocious flowering tree with a rounded, irregular crown that leafs out long before other mid-western trees. The flowers also come early and provide a valuable food source for hummingbirds.

They are capable of putting out blooms at a young age. The leaves are also one of the first to shed in the autumn, with no drastic change in color.

The Dwarf Red Buckeye is clump-forming so it can be grown as a large shrub or multi-trunked tree. To grow as a small tree the lateral branches should be removed from the trunk at your desired height.

The blooms are 6-9” long, with a gorgeous vivid crimson tone, and appear in late spring/early summer. Leathery seed pods follow them in the fall. Plant in deep, moist well-drained soil.

Other Common Names: Scarlet Buckeye, and Wooly Buckeye

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 10-20 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: Late spring to early summer

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

2. Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Pagoda Dogwood - Nature Hills Lyrae Willis
Images by Lyrae Willis and Nature Hills, Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The Pagoda Dogwood is a multi-stemmed shrub or small deciduous tree with ornamental, horizontal branching. The ovate leaves are dark green, 5” long, and are held on deep purple/brown stems.

Late spring to early summer sees small creamy flowers emerge in rounded clusters that give way to small berry-like fruit later in the season that can persist until the fall or until eaten by hungry wildlife.

The Pagoda Dogwood is one of many different types of dogwood trees and is suited for acidic, moist, well-drained, organically rich soils in partial shade. Full sun can be tolerated in cooler areas. Poor or clay soils won’t be tolerated.

Other Common Names: Green Osier, Alternate-Leaf Dogwood, and Alternate-Leaved Dogwood

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 15-25 ft tall and 20-30 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late spring/early summer

Available at: Nature Hills

3. White Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus var. maritimus)

white fringe tree
Image via Nature Hills

The White Fringe Tree is a small flowering tree with fragrant white blossoms that grace the garden in early spring. Whilst the tree, flowers, and petals may appear delicate, it is indeed an adaptable tree suited to many different growing zones and will even tolerate urban pollution.

In contrast to the Dwarf Red Buckeye, the White Fringe is often one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring. However, it’s definitely worth the wait as an abundance of white flowers appear simultaneously.

White Fringe Trees can be either male or female, with females producing small drupes that ripen to dark navy blue. The wide leaves turn golden yellow before being shed in the autumn.

Other Common Names: Grancy Grey Beard, Old Man’s Beard

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 15-20 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide

Flowering Season: Early spring

Available at: Nature Hills

4. Showy Mountain Ash (Sorbus decora)

showy mountain ash
Image by delirium florens via Flickr

The Showy Mountain Ash features a round to slightly oval crown covered in dark green leaves.

Spring sees the appearance of white flowers, followed by large clusters of ornamental bright orange/red fruit that can persist until the winter or until devoured by the birds. The leaves are compound and are amongst the first to open in the spring.

The Showy Mountain Ash is a hardy tree resistant to many common pests, apart from borers, and is suitable for the cooler areas of northern IL.

Other Common Names: Northern Mountain Ash

Growing Zones: 2-6

Average Size at Maturity: 20-30 ft tall and 10-15 ft wide

Flowering Season: Late spring to early summer

Available at: Nature Hills

5. Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)

russian olive
Image by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr

The Russian Olive is an attractive tree with a rounded habit, and silver foliage, famed for its medicinal benefits. It’s a small multi-trunked tree with small yellow, bell-shaped flowers with a heady fragrance.

These are followed by small silver berries. The brown/reddish branches peel off, which adds an extra aesthetic appeal to the landscape in the winter months after leaves have been shed.

The Russian Olive is an excellent choice for dry, windy sites, small areas as well as places with alkaline soils. It can grow in either dry or damp locations and is drought-tolerant. It prefers clay soils and can withstand salt and urban pollution, making it suitable for inner cities.

Other Common Names: Silver Berry, Oleaster, and Wild Olive

Growing Zones: 3-7

Average Size at Maturity: 12-20 ft tall and wide

Flowering Season: Late spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees

6. Amur Maple (Acer ginnala)

Amur Maple
Image by Dr. Alexey Yakovlev via Flickr

If you’re after a maple tree to plant in your IL yard but don’t have enough space for the common, bigger maples then consider planting an Amur Maple. With beautiful spring flowers and fall colors, the Amur Maple makes a stunning patio tree.

It can be trained into either a large shrub or a small tree with little effort. The leaves are 3” long, feature 3 lobes, and grace the garden with a bright green glow all summer long, before turning scarlet in the fall.

The seeds are reddish samaras, that turn light brown in the autumn before being released in the wind. Plant in moist well-drained soils for best results.

Other Common Names: Red Maple, Scarlet Maple, and Swamp Maple

Growing Zones: 3-8

Average Size at Maturity: 15-20 ft tall and 15-25 ft wide

Flowering Season: April – May

Available at: Nature Hills & Fast-Growing-Trees

Plant Trees Everywhere

There are trees suitable for just about any area. Even if you aren’t blessed with acres and acres of space, there are still options when it comes to what trees to plant.

Gardeners with the smallest of spaces can still reap the innumerable benefits of having trees in the home landscape. The local and global environment will also greatly benefit from the trees you plant, which is necessary now more than ever.

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