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Trees for smaller gardens

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last updated Feb 6, 2014
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Acer griseum AGM. ‘Paperbark maple’, red and scarlet foliage in autumn. 10m (33ft) tall.

There are many trees widely available for smaller gardens, in all shapes and sizes, evergreen and deciduous. Given that many of us have limited space in which to garden, it becomes important that any trees chosen are right for their surroundings, in terms of proportion as well as for their decorative value.

Top 5 smaller trees Back to top

From the hundreds of smaller trees available, here is our short list. There are further suggestions in the list below

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Acer griseum AGM. ‘Paperbark maple’ is commonly called this thanks to the rich curls of bark that roll off the branches. 10m (33ft) tall.

Practical considerations Back to top

There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a tree for a small garden. Here are some of the more important ones:

  • Height and spread: This is probably the most important factor. Even small ornamental trees may, over time, reach a height of 6-7m (20-23ft) or more. If this is too much, consider a weeping form, as these rarely increase much in height or even a large shrub. Spread is not normally such a problem, unless in a very restricted area, in this case consider a columnar tree, as these do not spread appreciably
  • Season of interest: Consider when you want your tree to look good, thinking about flowering time, foliage, fruit and bark. If you only have room for one tree ideally look for one with more than one season of interest such as fruit or autumn colour following on from flowers
  • Deciduous or evergreen: Both types of trees have their advantages, the obvious one for evergreens being that they keep their leaves. But you don’t get the lovely autumn colours with evergreen trees
  • Trees for specific locations: we have also provided the following profiles to help with growing trees in containers and trees for wet soils
  • Trees and buildings: many people worry about planting a tree close to a property, and there can be risks in doing so. For more information see our trees near buildings profile

To help you choose, you may find it useful to visit gardens where a good range of well-established and mature ornamental trees can be seen and evaluated.

Suitable plants Back to top

If you would prefer to view a full list of small trees (up to 8m or 26ft), try the RHS Plant Selector.

Trees under 5m (15ft) in height

  • Amelanchier canadensis ‘Spring Glory’ – white flowers in spring. Height 4m (12ft)
  • Ptelea trifoliata  ‘Aurea’ AGM – scented white flowers in early summer and golden foliage. Height 5m (15ft)
  • Sorbus pseudovilmorinii  –  rose red berries. Less vigorous than S. vilmorinii. Height 4m (13ft)
  • Sorbus vilmorinii AGM  – white and red berries, autumn colour. Height 4m (13ft)

The following ornamental cherries are often available from nurseries and garden centres grafted to create a smaller tree (topworked), reaching a height of 3-4m (12-15ft)

  • Prunus × yeodoensis 'Ivensii'  –  a weeping tree with pale pink buds and white flowers in early May
  • Prunus × yeodoensis 'Shidare Yoshino'  – single white flowers in spring
  • Prunus 'Kursar' AGM  –  autumn colour and pink flowers in spring

Flowering Trees

With particularly attractive fruits:

Flowering trees with autumn colour

Small for neutral to acid soil:

Small for any soil pH:

Medium for any soil pH

Trees with coloured foliage in spring and summer

Small:

Medium:

Trees with autumn colour for neutral to acid soils

Small:

Medium:

Medium trees with autumn colour for any soil pH

Autumn colour and fruits

Small:

Medium:

Coloured stems and bark plus autumn colour 

Small for neutral to acid soil:

Medium for neutral to acid soils:

  • Acer capillipes AGM – bright red young growth, and branches streaked green and white. Height 10m (33ft)

Coloured stems and bark

Small:

  • Betula utilis ‘Moonbeam’ – possibly the most compact form of the Himalayan birches with white peeling bark & glossy dark green leaves. Height 6-10m (20-33ft)
  • Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila AGM – mottled green, grey, cream bark. Height 6m (20ft)
  • Acer griseum AGM – dark, flaking bark. Height 10m (33ft)

Evergreen

Small:

  • Arbutus unedo AGM – flowers white in spring and fruits red in October and November. Height 8m (26ft)
  • Cotoneaster salicifolius ‘Rothschildianus’ AGM – a semi-evergreen with yellow berries. Height 5m (16ft)
  • Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila AGM – grey-green leaves and a patchwork bark. Height 6m (20ft)

Medium:

Tall and Narrow (fastigiate or columnar)

Small:

  • Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ AGM – columnar, with erect branches. Pink blossom in spring. Height 8m (26ft)
  • Sorbus aucuparia ‘Fastigiata’ – a slow growing, columnar small tree with closely erect stems. Height 8m (26ft)
  • For a full list, see the RHS Plant Selector

Medium:

Weeping

Links

RHS Plant Finder

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