Home & Garden

Small trees for small gardens

By: Jo Calvert

Author: Canadian Living

Home & Garden

Small trees for small gardens

By: Jo Calvert
Wise gardeners know that even the smallest garden has room for a tree. Dwarf hybrids and trees that are naturally small in stature provide structure and privacy for practicality's sake, as well as fragrance, colour and movement for pure pleasure. Some also produce fruit for the kitchen table, and many – especially native species – offer food and shelter for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

Small deciduous trees can be planted to screen a south-facing patio or wall during the summer, but let the sun shine into the windows throughout the cold weather, while a clump of evergreens can form a quiet backdrop for a colourful flowerbed, then – touched up with snow – show off all winter long. If you're lucky enough to have a yard beneath a canopy of statuesque maples or other giants, an understory of short, shade-tolerant specimens can hover between the garden beds and the tallest trees, softening the space. One tree can be a focal point; two can frame a gate or pathway.

What to consider

• Decide if you prefer an upright, horizontal or weeping form. Do you want something that splashes out with showy flowers in the spring or colourful fruit in the fall? Or a tree, such as crab apple, that does both? What matters most: a variety with bright leaves all season or one with attention-grabbing autumn colour?

• Plant some native species for their easy-care attributes, as well as their eco-friendliness.

• Choose a tree that can spread to its full size without outgrowing its site, and suits the scale of its surroundings.

• Match the sun and soil requirements of the tree to the planting spot.

• Avoid planting fruiting varieties where they will overhang paved pathways, and steer clear of any with toxic fruit if you have young children.

• Remember that fruiting plants bring birds into your yard from late summer through winter.


Page 1 of 2 -- Have a little yard? Find 20+ trees that are perfect for small spaces on page 2.
Colourful all season
• Acer palmatum 'Dissectum' (Japanese maple) has feathery bright green leaves that turn orange in the fall. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Aesculus pavia* (red buckeye) has red flowers in early spring. Up to 5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
Cornus stolonifera* (red osier dogwood) has insignificant white flowers and fruit, but brilliant red shoots in winter. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 2.
Cotinus coggygria (smoke tree) has cultivars with flowers and foliage ranging from purple through scarlet to lime green. Up to 5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.

Flowering
• Cercis canadensis* (eastern redbud) has an open crown of heart-shaped green leaves that turn deep red in fall. Up to 10 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Corylus avellana 'Contorta' (corkscrew hazel) has long yellow catkins on its twisted branches in early spring. Up to 5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 3.
• Magnolia stellata (star magnolia) has white flowers blushed with pink. Up to 3 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Salix discolor* (pussy willow) has furry grey catkins in late winter. Up to 5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Syringa reticulata 'Ivory Silk' (Japanese tree lilac) has lacy white flowers in midsummer. Up to 4 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.

Fruiting
• Cornus alternifolia* (pagoda dogwood) has horizontal branches with white flowers, then black fruit that birds love. Up to 6 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Malus sargentii 'Tina' (dwarf crab apple) has white flowers and deep red fruit. Up to 1.5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Prunus avium 'Compact Stella' (dwarf cherry) is a Canadian hybrid developed for its sweet fruit. Up to 2.5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Sambucus canadensis* (American elderberry) has small white flowers followed by purple fruit. Up to 3 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Sorbus reducta (dwarf mountain ash) has white flowers, red berries and dark green leaves that turn red in fall. Up to 1.5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.

Weeping
• Caragana arborescens 'Pendula' (Siberian pea shrub) has thorny branches with yellow flowers in spring. Up to 1.5 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 2.
• Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Pendula' (purple beech) has dark purple foliage. Up to 3 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Malus 'Royal Beauty' (crab apple) has a profusion of pink-purple spring flowers, purple leaves and dark red fruit in fall. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.
• Morus alba 'Pendula' (white mulberry) has broad, toothed, glossy leaves, and purple fruit that attracts birds. Up to 3 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Tsuga canadensis 'Pendula' (hemlock) has feathery green boughs. Up to 4 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii' (Camperdown elm) has a domed crown with tiny red flowers in spring. Up to 8 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 5.

Evergreen
• Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Aurea' (Hinoki cypress) has golden green foliage. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 4.
• Picea engelmannii 'Compact' (dwarf Engelmann spruce) has blue-green needles. Up to 2 metres tall. Hardy to Zone 3.

*Native to North America

Not sure you have the know-how?

For expert information and illustrations on pruning ornamental trees and shrubs, visit the Montréal Botanical Garden website and select Trees and Ornamental Shrubs.

This story was originally titled "Small Trees for Small Gardens" in the April 2009 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

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