Space-Saving Trees for Today’s Smaller Gardens
Don't have room for a tree? You might be surprised at what is available these days. Check out these space-saving trees for today's smaller gardens.
Photo: Luke Miller
Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria) gets its name from the smokelike puffs of flower inflorescences that appear in summer. Newer cultivars bring another quality to the table: colorful foliage. Note the purple leaves of 'Grace' and the chartreuse foliage of Golden Spirit ('Ancot') smoketrees in this yard. 'Grace' grows about 12 feet tall, while Golden Spirit tops out at 8 feet. Both are hardy in Zones 4–8. Learn about tree hardiness zones here.
Growing up to 30 feet tall but just 10 feet wide at maturity, this columnar 'Apollo' sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is well-suited to limited spaces. The dark green foliage withstands summer heat and is resistant to Japanese beetles. Best of all, it's got that awesome sugar maple foliage-on-fire spectacle to look forward to each fall! See some other outstanding trees. Photo: J. Frank Schmidt Co.
Buckthorns have a reputation for being thugs, but Fine Line fern-leaf buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula) is more refined. The columnar buckthorn grows just 5 to 7 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide, so it's suitable for front entryways as well as hedges and lining the back of a flower border. The lacy fern-like foliage adds texture and shape to the garden, turning yellow in the fall. Fine Line buckthorn is hardy in Zones 2–7. Photo: Luke Miller
Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce
If you've ever wanted a blue spruce tree for your yard but simply didn't have the space—well, you're in luck. This globe-shaped blue spruce (Picea pungens 'Globosa') grows slowly to 3 to 5 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide. And it is easy to keep even smaller with pruning every couple of years. The bright blue needles hold their color all year long. It's available in shrub or tree form (shown) and is hardy in Zones 2–8. Photo: Luke Miller
Tricolor European Beech
This is a tree that should be called "Oohs and Ahhs"—because that's what you hear when people see the striking purple, pink and white variegated foliage. Tricolor European beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor') is slow-growing—this specimen was planted a decade ago—eventually reaching about 25 feet tall. It is hardy in Zones 4–7 and appreciates some afternoon shade and protection from hot, drying winds so those beautiful leaves don't scorch. Photo: Luke Miller
Tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima), also known as salt cedar, isn't a well-known garden plant—but it is mentioned in the Bible, so it does have that going for it. Often forming thickets in the wild, it can be grown as a graceful standalone specimen with occasional pruning. (See more on pruning.) The juniper-like foliage belies the fact that tamarisk shows off bright pink flowers in summer. It's drought- and deer-resistant, grows just 10 to 15 feet tall, and is hardy in Zones 3–8. Photo: Luke Miller
Tiger Eyes Sumac
With chartreuse foliage that takes on orange and red tones in fall, Tiger Eyes cutleaf staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger') makes a great addition to the ornamental garden. This shrublike tree reaches only 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, so it won't outgrow small spaces. It also produces showy fruit in summer. Tiger Eyes sumac is hardy in Zones 4–8. A word of warning: some people are allergic to the sap of sumac. Photo: Luke Miller
Upright Flowering Plum
What's not to like about flowering plum? An outstanding spring display of white flowers followed by bronze to maroon foliage should be reason enough to plant this tree. Crimson Pointe flowering plum (Prunus x cerasifera 'Cripoizam') takes it a step further with a strongly columnar shape that fits in nearly any landscape. You could even use it as a tall hedge. It grows quickly to 20 to 25 feet tall but just 5 to 6 feet wide. Crimson Pointe is hardy in Zones 4–9. Photo: J. Frank Schmidt Co.
Weeping White Pine
Weeping white pine (Pinus strobus 'Pendula') takes an unorthodox approach to saving space in the garden. Instead of growing upwards, it grows outwards, reaching out 10 to 20 feet. Height, on the other hand, is a rather modest 6 to 15 feet at maturity. Pair it with other evergreens, such as the dwarf spruce seen here at the Iowa Arboretum in Madrid, Iowa. Weeping white pine is hardy in Zones 3–8. Photo: Luke Miller
Slender Silhouette Sweetgum
A 60-foot-tall tree for small-space gardens? Sure, when it only spreads 8 feet at maturity. Think Lombardy poplar—but without the canker disease. Then replace the nondescript green leaves with star-shaped gems that turn red, burgundy and gold in fall. Slender Silhouette sweetgum (Liquidambar styracifula) is one of the tightest and narrowest trees available. You could even use it as a tall screen to block out the view from a neighbor's second-story window. It is hardy in Zones 5–9. Photo: J. Frank Schmidt Co.