Small Trees – Big Interest

September 8, 2017

If you have a smaller yard to work with but want to add in some height with trees, it can be tough to find ones that won’t outgrow their space and take over. There are many deciduous and evergreen trees to choose from that will stay small, but still provided plenty of year round interest for the space they are planted in. When selecting trees for smaller spaces, you can keep in mind a couple of words that will help you out. Dwarf, columnar, fastigiate/fastigiata, and nana are all words that may give you a hint that it’s going to be smaller (either in height, width, or both) than the normal species, but always remember to ask or research before purchasing a plant to make sure its size won’t outgrow its welcome. While the choices below are mostly all trees, you can also use larger shrubs in place of trees if you don’t want to just stick with trees to fill in your small space.

Deciduous

  • Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)– This slow growing maple has green leaves which turn reddish-orange in fall and peeling cinnamon colored bark that glows in the sun. Because of this, it’s great for adding all-season interest to the landscape. Eventually this tree can reach up to 25 feet high and 15-20 feet wide, but will take over 10 years to reach this size. For best fall color, plant in full sun and well-draining soils. Once established, this can be a drought tolerant tree.
Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

  • Shishigashira Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’)– Also known as the Lion’s Head Maple, this tree gets to be about 4 feet wide (possibly up to 8 feet but it is very slow growing) by 15 feet tall. It has dense clusters of ruffled leaves that turn to orange-yellow. As with the Paperbark Maple, it gets its best fall color if planted in full sun and well-drained soils. This tree works well as a specimen tree or in a container to really bring out its architectural feel.
Shishigashira Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira')

Shishigashira Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’)

  • Upright Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Fastigiata’)- While the regular species gets to be 20-30 feet high and 25-35 feet wide, this upright version gets the same height but only 4-7 feet wide. Foliage has a feather like (pinnate) appearance and turns golden yellow to orange in fall. In late summer, it has clusters of yellow, fragrant flowers which are then followed by lantern shaped seed pods. The Upright Golden Rain Tree prefers full sun and well-drained soils. It will also benefit from being placed in a slightly protected area as younger trees can be damaged by frost, but they will bounce back easily.
Upright Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata 'Fastigiata') Photo Courtesy of Van den Berk Nurseries

Upright Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata ‘Fastigiata’) Photo Courtesy of Van den Berk Nurseries

  • Golden Spirit Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’)- Smaller on the height, this large shrub/small tree gets to be 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide. The Golden Spirit Smoke Tree has bright, chartreuse to golden foliage and airy plumes of creamy flowers in summer. In fall, leaves will turn red and orange. It will do best in partial to full sun and very well-drained soil.
Golden Spirit Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit') Photo Courtesy of Monrovia

Golden Spirit Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’) Photo Courtesy of Monrovia

  • Petite Plum Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica ‘Monum’)- This dwarf version of Crape Myrtle gets to be only about 5 feet tall and wide and works in the landscape as either a large shrub or small tree in full sun with good drainage. Branches of dark green leaves grow upright and in mid-summer, is covered in bright pink blooms.
Petite Plum Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica 'Monum') Photo Courtesy of Monrovia

Petite Plum Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica ‘Monum’) Photo Courtesy of Monrovia

Evergreen

  • Boxleaf Azara (Azara microphylla)– With little, glossy, green leaves and an elegant branching habit, the Boxleaf Azara adds a unique texture to any landscape throughout the year. In late winter, yellow flower clusters appear which have a chocolaty-vanilla fragrance. It gets to be around 15 feet tall by 6 feet wide. It prefers full sun to dappled shade and likes to be protected from strong winds in the winter and moist, well-drained soil.
Boxleaf Azara (Azara microphyalla) Photo Courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo

Boxleaf Azara (Azara microphyalla) Photo Courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo

  • Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’)- This slow growing, compact tree only gets to be about 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide. The Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress has dark green fans of foliage in a tight, pyramidal form. It can be planted in full sun to partial shade well-drained soils and will appreciate being protect from strong winds in the winter.
Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Gracilis')

Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’)

  • Weeping Alaskan False Cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Green Arrow’)- With its extremely narrow form, the Weeping Alaska False Cypress works well in those hard to plant spaces that need the height but not the width. It gets to be about 18 feet high but only 5 feet wide. Gracefully drooping branches make it look like an arrow or exclamation point in the landscape. It prefers full sun but can also be planted in open or dappled shade and well-drained soil. Once it has been established, this evergreen tree is drought tolerant.
Weeping Alaskan False Cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Green Arrow') Photo Courtesy of The Tree Center

Weeping Alaskan False Cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Green Arrow’) Photo Courtesy of The Tree Center

  • Vanderwolf’s Pyramid Pine (Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’)- While many trees on this list are slow growing, this conifer grows to be about 20 feet tall and 6 feet wide in under 10 years. It has soft, blue-green needles that grow on branches with a slight twisting habit creating a sculptural look and feel. Vanderwolf’s Pyramid Pine is drought tolerant once established and likes to be planted in full sun with well-draining soils.
Vanderwolfs Pyramid Pine (Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid') Photo Courtesy of Monrovia

Vanderwolfs Pyramid Pine (Pinus flexilis ‘Vanderwolf’s Pyramid’) Photo Courtesy of Monrovia

  • Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’)- If you really want a pop of color in your winter garden, the Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine is perfect! In spring, its needles are dark green and as they mature turn to chartreuse in summer and in winter are a bright, golden color. Its stunning color and graceful appearance make it a great option for a focal plant. Once established, the Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine is quite water wise and should be planted in full sun and well-drained soils. It will get to be about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide in about 10 years and up to 20 feet tall and 6 feet wide over 10 years so it is slow growing.
Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph') Photo Courtesy of Great Plant PicksChief Joseph Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph') Photo Courtesy of Great Plant Picks

Chief Joseph Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’) Photo Courtesy of Great Plant Picks

If you have a small (or large) space you’re having trouble with and think you may need a design for, you can fill out our new client questionnaire to tell us more about your project. Now is a great time to start thinking of what you want your landscape to look like for next year!

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