12 Small & Dwarf Tree Varieties for USDA Zone 5

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Written By Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

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Home » USDA Zone 5 » 12 Small & Dwarf Tree Varieties for USDA Zone 5

Making your zone 5 property beautiful is a worthwhile pursuit, and planting trees is often the best way to do it.

But not everyone has a large space to work with, and if you have a smaller garden it can be difficult to find trees that don’t dominate the space, either with their canopy or root system.

That’s where dwarf trees or smaller varieties enter the picture.

For gardeners in USDA zone 5, your options are abundant.

Here are some of the best small and dwarf tree varieties for your property.

12 Cold Hardy Dwarf Trees for Zone 5

1. Dwarf Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Globosa Nana’)

Dwarf Japanese Cedar
Image via Nature Hills

This highly textured evergreen dwarf shrub is the dwarf Japanese cedar, a variety of cryptomeria which is part of the cypress family.

These shrubs grow in a pleasing, slightly domed shape, and their lovely needle-like foliage is sure to catch the attention of passersby. Turning from dark green in spring to yellow in summer all the way to reddish rusty bronze in fall and winter, they add plenty of interest in the coldest parts of the year.

This diminutive cultivar has existed for a long time, and its exact origins are unclear. It was first officially documented in 1923 and is believed to have come to the west via Japan, hence its name.

The dwarf Japanese cedar should be planted in moist, well-draining soil in a spot with full sun or partial shade. It needs little maintenance or shaping, as it naturally forms a balanced and pleasing shape.

Other Common Names: Dwarf Cryptomeria

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 4-8 feet tall, with a 4-5 foot spread

Flowering Season: Fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

2. ‘Randy’ Magnolia (Magnolia stellata x liliflora ‘Randy’)

Magnolias are some of the most beautiful and recognizable types of flowering trees in landscape gardening, but they tend to be on the larger side. If you want a statement magnolia that adds all of the beauty but takes much less of the space, the ‘Randy’ dwarf magnolia is what you’re looking for.

The ‘Randy’ magnolia is a deciduous shrub or small tree that produces beautiful reddish-purple and pink star-shaped flowers in spring and summer. They were cultivated in the 1950s at the National Arboretum, as part of the famous ‘Little Girls’ series. The ‘Randy’ is a hybrid of the M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ and M. stellata ‘Rosea.

This type of magnolia cultivar is especially good as a specimen plant, foundation plant, shrub border, and even as an informal hedge. Plant your dwarf magnolia in rich, moist, well-draining soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH in a location with full sun to partial shade.

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 10-15 feet, with an 8-12 foot spread

Flowering Season: Late Spring – Early Summer

3. Little King River Birch (Betula nigra ‘Little King’)

Little King River Birch Tree
Image via Nature Hills

While many of the trees on this list are admired for their foliage, the handsome little king river birch (usually sold under the name ‘Fox Valley’), is most valued for its trunk!

The bark of the little king is a papery pale salmon color that peels heavily from the trunk, revealing light brown bark beneath. The textured bark adds a truly unique touch to its surroundings.

It also has attractive foliage which moves from light green to dark green to yellow from spring to fall. This extremely hardy dwarf birch can be used as a specimen plant, a foundation plant, or to accessorize a water feature.

These birch trees grow best in wet, average-quality soil with a slightly acidic pH. They love moisture, so make sure to mulch them well to keep the soil and roots cool through the warmest parts of the year. They are able to withstand the fairly high summer heat.

Other Common Names: Fox Valley River Birch

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 8-10 feet tall, with a 10-12 foot spread

Flowering Season: Early Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

4. Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium)

Yellowhorn Tree
Image by Andy Zharkikh via Flickr

For gardeners who want to add a rare touch to their landscape, the yellowhorn is an excellent choice of small tree for zone 5.

Hailing from northern China and Korea, the yellowhorn looks somewhat similar to sumac with its two-toned frond-like leaves. In late spring and summer, these trees begin producing clouds of small white blossoms with green and red streaks at their base.

They eventually produce spongy pear-shaped fruits that share a resemblance to macadamia. The leaves, flowers, and fruits of the yellowhorn are all edible. These trees are also low maintenance and are best used as border plants and specimen trees.

The yellowhorn is a little bigger than the other zone 5 trees on the list. While many will only reach 8-15 feet tall, others can grow as tall as 25 feet. The yellowhorn is highly adaptable but grows best in moist, loamy, well-draining soil.

Other Common Names: Goldenhorn, Shiny Leaf Yellowhorn, Chinese Flowering Chestnut, Hyacinth Shrub, Popcorn Shrub

Growing Zones: 4-7

Average Size at Maturity: 8-25 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Late Spring – Early Summer

5. Mountain Witch Alder (Fothergilla major)

Mountain Witch Alder
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr

In terms of beauty, suitability, and disease resistance, zone 5 gardeners can’t go wrong with the mountain witch alder. This southeastern US native is valued for its beautiful white spring bottlebrush flowers, textured bluish-green leaves, and magnificent fall foliage. So much so that it even won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

The mountain witch alder is often planted in mixed shrub borders, as a specimen plant, or as hedges and foundation plantings. Additionally, its spring flowers add a lovely floral fragrance to its surroundings. It is also resistant to most diseases and even pests, making it a relatively low-maintenance addition to your zone 5 garden.

Plant the mountain witch alder in well-draining soil with an acidic pH in a location with full sun or partial shade. While it is relatively drought-resistant, it prefers relatively moist soil too.

Other Common Names: Fothergilla Major, Large Witch Alder, Large Fothergilla, Tall Fothergilla

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 6-10 feet tall, with a 5-9 foot spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

6. Dwarf Mugo Pine (Pinus mugo)

Dwarf Mugo Pine
Image by sk via Flickr

Native to the mountain ranges of central Europe, the mugo pine is a very dense, low-growing dwarf conifer.

It provides significant interest to colder regions throughout the seasons, with its distinct clustered needles that add color and texture to the landscape. It also has a neat, rounded shape and a wide, spreading growth habit that makes it almost twice as wide as it is tall.

Dwarf Mugo pines are perfect for zone 5 gardeners that want an evergreen groundcover like juniper, but with a more unique twist. They can also be planted to form a dense hedge or privacy screen, and are used in mixed shrub borders and foundation planting. Mugo pine can even be used to prevent soil erosion!

Plant these hardy pines in rich, sandy, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to slightly alkaline pH. These pines are rarely affected by pests or disease, and only need light shearing to maintain shape.

Other Common Names: Swiss Mountain Pine

Growing Zones: 3-7

Average Size at Maturity: 3-5 feet tall, with a 6-10 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Cones first appear in Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

7. Crimson Queen Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’)

Crimson Queen Japanese Maple
Image via Nature Hills

Japanese maples are known for their beautiful, delicate foliage and bright colors from spring through to fall. Zone 5 gardeners with smaller properties will be pleased to know that there are several options for dwarf Japanese maples that thrive in colder conditions. And one of the best is the gorgeous crimson queen.

The crimson queen Japanese maple maintains its incredibly bright red, feathery foliage from early spring to summer before turning a deep scarlet in fall. It also has a lovely cascading growth habit. With this dwarf cultivar, you have a guaranteed showstopper without needing to sacrifice much space.

These maples prefer growing in partial shade, though they should be fine with full sun exposure in the moderately warm zone 5 summers. Plant in rich, moist, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic pH. Do not plant in salty or highly alkaline soil, and avoid pruning where possible.

Other Common Names: Laceleaf Japanese Maple “Crimson Queen”

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 8-10 feet tall, with a 10-12 foot spread

Flowering Season: Mid-Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

8. Red Pygmy Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rutnut’)

Red Pygmy Dogwood
Image via Nature Hills

The flowering dogwood is an absolute classic of US landscape gardening due to the pop of color that its two-toned blossoms provide. The red pygmy offers all of the beauty of the original flowering dogwood but in a smaller package!

This petite dwarf dogwood reaches a maximum of just 7 feet tall, perfect as an accent tree or to fit against a patio or courtyard. According to the Rutgers Agricultural Extension, they will remain at just 3 feet tall for the first 5 years.

In spring the red pygmy erupts in different shades of red and pink white-tipped flowers, or ‘bracts’ which surround the less distinguishable true flower. In fall the leaves take over the show, turning a vivid orange-red alongside the tree’s red berries.

The red pygmy should be planted in slightly-acidic, well-draining soil in a location with full sun or partial shade.

Other Common Names: Rutnut

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 5-7 feet tall, with a 5-6 foot spread

Flowering Season: Early Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

9. Dwarf Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’)

Another fabulous evergreen tree, the dwarf hinoki cypress is native to Japan and makes a statement on the landscape with its layers of bunched, twisted foliage that spreads outward in an appealing fan shape. The hinoki is the smallest tree on this list, reaching only 3 to 4 feet tall with a similar width, and it is particularly slow-growing.

The dwarf hinoki cypress looks lovely in smaller, more compact gardens where its shape and texture won’t be overshadowed by larger trees. It works particularly well in borders, rock gardens, container gardens, and foundation planting.

This shrub is fairly low maintenance, though it is sometimes susceptible to diseases such as juniper blight and root rot. They prefer to be planted in moist, well-draining soil in a location that provides either full sun or partial shade.

Other Common Names: Nana Hinoki Cypress, Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress

Growing Zones: 5-8

Average Size at Maturity: 2-4 feet tall, with a similar spread

Fruiting Season: Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

10. Lavender Twist Weeping Redbud (​​Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’)

Lavender Twist Weeping Redbud tree
Image via Nature Hills

If you’re going for a stunning color display that is guaranteed to grab attention, the lavender twist weeping redbud is exactly what you’re looking for.

A dwarf variety of the eastern redbud, this stunning weeping tree offers four seasons of interest, thanks to its lovely heart-shaped leaves, endearing umbrella-shaped growth habit, and of course – the dazzling display of vivid lavender flowers that erupt along its drooping branches in early spring.

Typically these trees prefer warmer climates, but they are hardy to zone 5 and grow well in these regions. Naturally, they are most often grown as specimen trees, though they also work well in shrub borders and foundation planting.

The lavender twist weeping redbud grows best in fertile, well-draining soil with access to full sunlight or partial shade. Make sure to prune in fall to get rid of any dead or crossed limbs, and to improve airflow.

Other Common Names: Lavender Twist Redbud

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 5-10 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Early Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

11. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Image by F Delventhal via Flickr

While witch hazel is best known as an ingredient used in both medicine and cosmetics, it’s also a good choice for landscaping in USDA zones 5 to 8. Witch hazel is a shrub or small tree with a unique flowering habit and even more unique properties.

These shrubs produce subtle yellow ribbon-like flowers in late spring through to early winter, long after the flowering season has come to an end.

Not only that, but their lovely gold fall foliage provides plenty of interest too. It’s safe to say that in the latter half of the year, the witch hazel will be one of the most alluring plants in your landscape. They look lovely as specimen plants, focal points, in informal groupings, and planted near water features to prevent erosion.

Plant your witch hazel in rich, loamy, moist, well-draining soil, preferably with a neutral to acidic pH. Though technically an understory tree, it can thrive in full sun to partial shade.

Other Common Names: Witch-Hazel, Common Witch Hazel, American Witch Hazel

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 10-20 feet tall, with a similar spread

Flowering Season: Fall to Early Winter

Available at: Nature Hills

12. Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’)

Dwarf Alberta Spruce
Image by FD Richards via Flickr

Conveniently compact and pleasing to the eye, the dwarf Alberta spruce is an excellent evergreen dwarf shrub for zone 5 gardeners. They are extremely cold hardy, able to thrive in climates as cold as zone 5, and their delightfully soft light green needles add a stroke of color and an almost “fuzzy” texture to the winter landscape.

This tree also presents plenty of practical uses in your garden. They work well as a backdrop, screen, and as foundation planting. They are regularly planted in containers and placed on patios, decks, and as a flank for front doors and entrances. In winter, a decorated dwarf Alberta spruce makes a perfect Christmas decoration.

Plant your dwarf spruce in moist, loamy, well-draining soil with a neutral to acidic pH, in an area with full sun exposure. According to the NC State University Extension, you should avoid planting these trees in areas with high heat, humidity, air pollution, and salt spray.

Other Common Names: Dwarf White Spruce, Dwarf Alberta White Spruce

Growing Zones: 2-6

Average Size at Maturity: 5-8 feet tall, with a 3-4 foot spread

Fruiting Season: While it can produce small cones, it rarely does

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

Compact Trees For Small Home Gardens

Not all trees have to be tall and majestic to make an impression on the landscape – these small zone 5 trees are not only beautiful, but they can suit even the smallest garden spaces.

From the striking crimson queen Japanese cedar to the useful witch hazel, there are plenty of dwarf and small tree varieties that will fit neatly into your landscape. And if you’re looking for more eye-catching zone 5 trees, check out these weeping tree varieties for zone 5.

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Photo of author

Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

Shannon has always loved looking after trees and plants since as long as she can remember. She grew up gardening with her family in their off-grid home and looking after her neighbor's plant nursery. As a child she also participated in native tree replanting, and as an adult has volunteered in reforestation programs in northern Vietnam. Today, she puts her horticultural efforts into tending her vegetable and herb gardens, and learning about homesteading and permaculture. When she’s not reading, writing, and gardening, she’ll be out fishing and foraging for edible flora and fungi in the countryside around her home.

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