Small Trees for Intimate Gardens and Courtyards

  15′ – 20′

PeeGee Hydrangea: This hardy little tree
packs a big punch for it’s size. Its’ rounded form begins to sag from the weight of large midsummer creamy flower pyramids. After August the blooms turn pinkish bronze and hold on through winter. Abundant flower heads make great dried flowers. Can reach 15-20 feet high and wide.‘Grandiflora’ is slightly smaller, and ‘Tardiva’ is also a little smaller, blooming in August.

 10′ – 15′

Winged Euonymus: (Euonymus alatus)Hardy Ornamental Tree/Shrub Winged Euonymous Tree  Part to full sun  Zones 4-8.  The large form, rather than the dwarf, of the ‘Burning Bush’ will prune to a striking tree, especially in fall when it turns blazing red.Adding to the winter interest is a bark of corky “wings”, that will catch and hold snow that sunlight sparkles from. The bark and young stems of Euonymus are susceptible to rabbit and rodent damage in winter.  Wrap the stems/trunk with a collar or hardware cloth available at garden centers to protect them.Reaches a height and spread of 10-15 feet. Grow in full sun for best fall color

Betula pendula‘Youngii’.  It grows from 6 to 12 feet with “weeping” branches, drooping toward the ground.  Birch tend to have a shorter life expectancy than most trees and grows quite quickly.  It is hardy to zone 3.


Weeping Pussy Willow

Pussy Willow ‘Kilmarnock’:  (Salix caprea)  Full sun HardySalix caprea 'Kilmarnock' Pussy Willow in zones 4-8.  “Kilmarnock’ is the most common pussy willow cultivar for garden use.  It is a male clone, the similar female clone is‘Weeping Sally”.  ‘Pendula’, for weeping, is often attached to the cultivar name.  It is quite a delightful little tree, despite some of its’ potential problems.  Branches are stiffly weeping, and beautiful in winter when covered with catkins.  The male catkins are a quite showy, 1 1/2-2 inch silvery white, followed by golden anthers in April and May.  Fine green foliage follows.  They are grafted on erect stems of other willow, so the height is determined by the height of the trunk on which it was grafted.  They are generally sold as a small tree, the taller ones are generally marketed as a large full standard.  If sold on it’s own roots, it will creep across the ground.  Mature height of the actual bush is 18-24 inches.  Pussy Willow is fast growing, prefers moist soil conditions, and adapts to pH.  Will grow well in a large container and transplants easily.  Will also tolerate some shade.  Ideal for wet open sites.  Drawbacks in a garden or landscape:  prone to insect, disease and canker problems; suckers; constant “litter” under the tree; and prone to wind and ice limb breakage.

‘Diana’ weeping larch
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner
‘Diana’ weeping larch
Name:Larix kaempferi ‘Diana’
Zones: 5 to 7
Size: 8 to 15 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soilA contorted, upright tree like ‘Diana’ weeping larch is strong enough visually to work as an accent and bold enough to separate a space, yet remains open to what lies beyond it. ‘Diana’ will eventually reach a height well above eye level, and although it has foliage down to the ground, it won’t act as a solid wall, blocking off the rest of the garden. This deciduous conifer has year-round interest, with pendulous, needled branches draping gracefully in summer; turning bright golden orange in fall before dropping; and exposing a contorted, branching silhouette in winter. It reemerges with soft, tufted, lime green needles in spring.

 8′ – 15′
‘Twisted Growth’ deodar cedar
Photo/Illustration: Ancil Nance

‘Twisted Growth’ deodar cedar
Name:Cedrus deodara ‘Twisted Growth’
Zones: 6 to 9
Size: 8 to 15 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

The sturdy, open, lush foliage of ‘Hillside Upright’ spruce makes it a good back­drop for a smaller garden. This tree has truly unique, irregular branching. These trees, with their narrow, twisting branches, pull the eye up, expanding the sense of space.

…consider trees that add space—visual space—to your limited area with narrow, upright habits. Trees that grow above eye level take up only a little precious yard space by, instead, claiming a certain amount of the overhead sky and helping alleviate the cramped feel common to small spaces.

Some trees ideally suited for this situation are ‘Twisted Growth’ deodar cedar and ‘Hillside Upright’ spruce. The deodar cedar has distinctive slender silver-green needles. Its branches casually droop, carving arches in the skyline. This elegant tree is drought tolerant once established in well-drained soils.

 6′ – 8′

‘Hillside Upright’ spruce
Courtesy of Iseli Nursery, Inc

‘Hillside Upright’ spruce
Name:Picea abies ‘Hillside Upright’
Zones: 3 to 8
Size: 10 to 12 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

 5′ – 8′
‘Tamukeyama’ Japanese maple
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner
‘Tamukeyama’ Japanese maple
Name:Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Tamukeyama’
Zones: 5 to 8
Size: Up to 7 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil
A deciduous tree with similar characteristics is ‘Tamukeyama’ Japanese maple. Through the growing season, ‘Tamukeyama’ maintains a consistent dark purple color better than most red Japanese maples, even in high heat and humidity. In fall, the leaves flame out to a breathtaking bright scarlet. I also like ‘Tamukeyama’ because it takes well to staking, which creates additional interest with a more open, irregular structure. As with most Japanese maples, consistency in watering is more important than volume for optimal health

 5′ – 8′

‘Viridis’ Japanese maple
Photo/Illustration: Danielle Sherry
‘Viridis’ Japanese maple
Name:Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Viridis’
Zones: 5 to 8
Size: 4 to 6 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soilTrees with a strong weeping nature anchor small gardens. A good example is ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple. The name ‘Viridis’ is used for many green laceleaf maples but always refers to a tree with narrow, deeply cut, bright green foliage. The branching is arching, pendulous, and dense, forming a low, compact, rounded dome. These trees can be as much as 8 to12 feet tall and wide but are more commonly found in the 3- to 4-foot range. ‘Viridis’ can grow in full sun (if not too hot) and turns a beautiful golden hue in fall.

 3′ – 5′

‘Green Prince’ cedar
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner

‘Green Prince’ cedar
Name:Cedrus libani ‘Green Prince’
Zones: 6 to 9
Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

With the right small trees as a foun­dation, even the most disorganized and unimaginative, cramped space can be transformed into a unique garden sanctuary.

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