Horticulture Magazine

19 Fantastic Trees For Small Gardens

small tree being planted by gloved hand

If you’re looking for a tree to plant in a small garden, you probably want something that will stay small throughout its whole lifespan.

Because all tree saplings start small – the problem starts when they begin to get too big, and need to be cut down or relocated to prevent damage to paths or even property.

This guide explores the best trees for small gardens: ones that can be planted near a house, and that won’t wreak havoc when they hit full size.

How Do You Choose A Tree For A Small Garden?

apple tree at the centre of a small garden with a white painted house visible in the background

There are a few key features to look for when deciding on a tree for an especially small garden.

You’ll want something that’s easy to grow, that stays small, and, most importantly, that is safe to plant near a house.

It’s worth bearing in mind the eventual shape of the tree.

Columnar trees and fastigiate trees are good for small spaces: they are both narrow varieties with height to width ratios of about 5-to-1 and 10-to-1 respectively.

tall columnar trees planted side by side

You’ll probably be interested in how the tree will look, especially considering you’re working with a space that may not be able to fit any others.

Choosing one with bright colours or an interesting shape can be a great way to maximise the aesthetic contribution it brings to your space.

Luckily nature paints a very pretty palette, and the range of trees suitable for small gardens includes many that are exceptionally colourful and beautiful.

What Are The Best Trees For Small Spaces?

suburban garden with a cherry blossom tree in the foreground

Here are nineteen small flowering trees suitable for small spaces, each of which ticks all of the boxes outlined above.

All trees in this list – with the exception of the cherry Amanogawa – have received the Award of Garden Merit by the RHS, which recognises the ability of a plant to thrive in the growing conditions typical to the UK.

That means any tree in this list is acknowledged as being decorative, easy to grow, and resistant to disease.

They are sorted by likely maximum size, with the smallest at the top.

1) Japanese Apricot

Japanese apricot in bloom
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Prunus mume
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • MAX HEIGHT: 2.5M
  • MAX WIDTH: 2.5M

This tree – also called ‘beni-chidori’, an English transcription of its Japanese name – is a popular choice for gardeners thanks to its bold pink flower blossom in spring.

It provides light shade making it ideal for planting under and smells lovely while blooming.

This tree is great for pollinators, meaning it will attract bees, butterflies, and more to your garden.

Over 10-20 years it will grow to a maximum size of 2.5 by 2.5 metres.

2) Weeping Purple Willow

white weeping willow catkins in focus
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Salix purpurea ‘Pendula’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: FULL SUN
  • MAX HEIGHT: 4M
  • MAX WIDTH: 2.5M

A weeping willow is way too big for my garden!” you may be thinking, but it’s OK: this variety doesn’t grow anywhere near as big as its popular counterpart.

Over a period of 10-20 years, you can expect the tree to reach a height of 2.5-4 metres with a spread of 1.5-2.5 metres.

The droopy canopy offers a nice difference to the more traditional tree foliage, but expect to pick catkins off of your lawn.

3) Cherry Amanogawa

Prunus 'Amanogawa' with a large field in the background
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Prunus ‘Amanogawa’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: FULL SUN
  • MAX HEIGHT: 8M
  • MAX WIDTH: 4M

This tree boasts a lovely colour spectrum: its yellow foliage with pink blossoms in spring moves through green in the summer to a lovely orangey-red in autumn.

The RHS notes that this tree lends itself particularly well to city and courtyard gardens.

It will grow to a height of 4-8 metres, and to a spread of 2.5-4 meters, over 20-50 years.

4) Cootamundra Wattle

small Cootamundra Wattle tree
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Acacia baileyana
  • HARDINESS RATING: H3
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • MAX HEIGHT: 8M
  • MAX WIDTH: 4M

This tree – also called the golden mimosa – is an evergreen shrub that flowers vibrant yellow in late winter and early spring, providing a splash of colour to any space it inhabits.

It will reach a similar size to the cherry Amanogawa blossom over a time span of 10-20 years.

5) Koehne Mountain Ash

Koehne mountain ash in bloom
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Sorbus koehneana C.K. Schneid
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: ANY
  • MAX HEIGHT: 8M
  • MAX WIDTH: 4M

A tree with a quintessentially autumnal palette of brown and red foliage with white fruit.

This is another tree that lends itself well to city gardens and will grow to a similar size as the cherry Amanogawa and the Cootamundra wattle over a period of 10-20 years.

6) Forest Pansy

forest pansy tree with burgundy leaves growing alongside many garden plants
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: ANY
  • MAX HEIGHT: 8M
  • MAX WIDTH: 8M

This tree is captivating with its heart-shaped leaves that remain a deep red-purple for most of the year, presenting more autumnal shades of bronze and orange as the year progresses.

The eye-catching colours, and the fact that the leaves are never green, make this a popular choice for gardeners wanting a tree that makes a design statement.

Over 10-20 years this tree will grow to a maximum height and spread of 8 metres.

7) Paperback Maple

autumn leaves of a paperback maple tree
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Acer griseum
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED
  • MAX HEIGHT: 10-12M
  • MAX WIDTH: 6M

This tree originally hails from China, and its name comes from bark that peels off in papery layers.

It boasts green throughout most of the year with yellow flowers in spring and red foliage in autumn.

The paperback maple will grow to a maximum height of around 12 metres, and a spread of up to 8 metres.

This will take 20-50 years.

8) Hemsley Snowball

styrax tree with hanging white flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Styrax hemsleyanus
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED
  • MAX HEIGHT: 4M
  • MAX WIDTH: 2.5M

Another tree originally hailing from China, called “one of the loveliest of small trees” by the RHS.

You can expect to see pleasant white flowers in summer.

Over a span of 20-50 years the tree will reach its maximum height and width of 8 and 4 metres, respectively.

9) Red Windsor Apple

apple tree in an orchard
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Malus domestica ‘Red Windsor’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • MAX HEIGHT: 2.5M
  • MAX WIDTH: 2.5M

10) Rocky Mountain Juniper ‘Blue Arrow’

Juniperus scopulorum with pointed green foliage
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Juniperus scopulorum ‘Blue Arrow’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: ANY
  • MAX HEIGHT: 2.5M
  • MAX WIDTH: 0.5M

11) Cockspur Coral

Erythrina crista-galli tree with red flowers
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Erythrina crista-galli
  • HARDINESS RATING: H3
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • MAX HEIGHT: 2.5M
  • MAX WIDTH: 1.5M

12) Flamingo Willow

multiple white flowering flamingo willow trees at the end of a long garden

13) Japanese Maple ‘Elegans’

magnified foliage of Japanese Maple 'Elegans'
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED
  • MAX HEIGHT: 2.5M
  • MAX WIDTH: 2.5M

14) Redbud ‘Ruby Falls’

short redbud 'ruby falls' trees
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Cercis canadensis ‘Ruby Falls’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H5
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: FULL SUN
  • MAX HEIGHT: 2.5M
  • MAX WIDTH: 2.5M

15) Blue Fan Palm

small blue fan palm tree against garden lawn
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Brahea armata
  • HARDINESS RATING: H1C
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED; FULL SUN
  • MAX HEIGHT: 12M
  • MAX WIDTH: 4-6M

16) Mediterranean Fan Palm

Mediterranean Fan Palm growing outwards
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Chamaerops humilis
  • HARDINESS RATING: H4
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED; PART SHADE
  • MAX HEIGHT: 2.5M
  • MAX WIDTH: 1.5M

17) Kousa ‘Miss Satomi’

pink flowering tree of Kousa 'Miss Satomi'
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: ANY
  • MAX HEIGHT: 4M
  • MAX WIDTH: 4M

18) Star Magnolia ‘Jane Platt’

Star Magnolia 'Jane Platt'
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: SHELTERED
  • MAX HEIGHT: 2.5M
  • MAX WIDTH: 3M

19) Spindle ‘Red Cascade’

Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade' with hanging red and pink leaves
  • BOTANICAL NAME: Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’
  • HARDINESS RATING: H6
  • PREFERRED ASPECT: ANY
  • MAX HEIGHT: 4M
  • MAX WIDTH: 2.5M

Why Plant A Tree In A Small Garden?

“No garden is too small for a tree”, says the Royal Horticultural Society.

So while you may feel like your garden is too small for a tree, the likelihood is that there will be something suitable and that you won’t have to go without.

Plants and bushes are great, but there’s nothing quite like the majesty of a tree to bring an outdoor space to life.

low growing Acer palmatum 'Dissectum' in a garden

Whether you go for one that bears fruit or something purely ornamental, a tree will contribute something quite special to your garden.

They are also great for providing shade and privacy – shade can be useful when planning seating areas and similar, or for growing plants that do not thrive in full sunlight. 

Key Considerations

young sapling growing in an autumnal garden

When planting a sapling, leave enough space around it for the fully grown tree.

This ensures that it won’t cause any problems as it grows.

You should double-check that the full size of the tree – including canopy, trunk, and roots – won’t interfere with nearby property or structures.

A good guideline is to plant the tree away from any buildings, one and a half times further away than its expected maximum height (so if your tree’s maximum height is 8 metres, plant it 12 metres away). 

beautiful small garden with furniture in the foreground and many plants including ivy, bamboo and more in the background

It’s worth following this piece of advice even when that seems like a lot of extra space: though the width of the tree may fit comfortably into the space around it, the roots are prone to spread way beyond the confines of the canopy.

Having to dig up and relocate a tree that has begun to establish itself is a big job!

And There You Have It…

Despite what you might think initially, a small garden doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the majestic presence of a tree.

There are many trees that lend themselves well to small spaces, and these span a range of shapes, sizes, colours, and histories. 

The nineteen trees in our list are just a small sample of the trees available for a garden where space is at a premium.

Happy planting!

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