Trees for smaller gardens

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

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

    Acer griseum AGM. Commonly known as the ‘Paperbark maple’. A beautiful small tree with bark flaking and curling back to reveal cinnamon-coloured bark beneath. Rich autumn foliage colour.Amelanchier × grandiflora ‘Ballerina’ AGM. Profuse white spring flowers before the bronze tinted young leaves emerge. Good autumn leaf tints.Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’ AGM has white flowers in June followed by masses of showy bright orange-red fruits. Oval deep green leaves colour richly in autumn.Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ AGM has white flowers in late spring. Pale yellow fruits mature to amber-yellow are complimented by rich autumn foliage colour of red, orange and purple. Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ AGM is a small, columnar tree with greenish-bronze young leaves and dense clusters of fragrant semi-double, shell-pink flowers in mid-late spring.

    Practical considerations

    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 choose a large shrub. If spread is a problem, such as in a very restricted area, 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 throughout the year. But many deciduous trees provide lovely autumn foliage colours not available 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 trees

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

    (*) Suitable for neutral to acid soils
    (v) Variegated foliage
    AGM - The RHS Award of Garden Merit

    Trees under 5m (15ft) in height

    Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk' (*) 
    Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy', C. chinensis 'Avondale'
    Cornus kousa 'Miss Satomi' AGM (*)
    Corylus maxima 'Purpurea'
    Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade' AGM 
    Liquidambar styraciflua 'Gum Ball' AGM (*)
    Magnolia stellata 'Jane Platt' AGM
    Prunus 'Hally Jollivette'
    Ptelea trifoliata ‘Aurea' AGM
    Salix exigua AGM
    Sorbus pseudovilmorinii, S. villmorinii AGM (*)

    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 'Kiku-shidare-zakura' AGM - clear, deep pink, very double flowers mid-late spring  
    Prunus pendula f. ascendens 'Pendula Rubra AGM - single, deep rose flowers, carmine in bud early-mid spring
    Prunus × yeodoensis 'Ivensii' - snow-white fragrant blossom in early-mid spring
    Prunus × yeodoensis 'Shidare Yoshino' - pale pink flowers in early-mid spring 

    Flowering Trees

    Aesculus × mutablis 'Induta'
    Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet' AGM, C. laevigata 'Crimson Cloud'
    Exochorda serratifolia 'Snow White'
    Hamamelis including H. × intermedia 'Jelena' AGM, H. × intermedia 'Pallida' AGM (*)
    Genista aetnensis AGM
    Lagerstroemia indica AGM
    Magnolia × loebneri ‘Leonard Messel' AGM, M. 'Star Wars' AGM, M. 'Susan' AGM (*) 
    Malus including M. floribunda AGM, M. 'Gorgeous', M. 'Laura' AGM
    Prunus including P. 'Accolade' AGM, P. × blireana AGM, P. dulcis (almond), P. 'The Bride' AGM,
    P. 'Hanagasa' AGM (Pink Parasol), P. 'Pink Perfection' AGM, P. 'Pink Shell'
    Syringa vulgaris cultivars

    With particularly attractive fruits:

    Catalpa bignonioides 'Nana'
    Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii AGM
    Cydonia oblonga 'Vranja' Nenadovic AGM (quince)
    Euonymus cornutus var. quinquecornutus
    Malus 'Adirondack' AGM, M. 'Butterball' AGM,  M. [Jelly King] = 'Mattfru' AGM
    Sorbus 'Eastern Promise',  S. 'Sunshine'

    Flowering trees with autumn colour

    Amelanchier × grandiflora ‘Ballerina' AGM (*)
    Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' AGM
    Cornus kousa var. chinensis AGM (*)
    Koelreuteria paniculata
    Malus coronaria var. dasycalyx 'Charlottae'
    Prunus 'Beni-yutaka' AGM, P. 'Shizuka' (Fragrant Cloud), P. 'Pandora' AGM
    Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer'
    Stewartia rostrata (*)

    Colourful foliage in spring and summer

    Acer negundo ‘Kellys Gold' (lime-yellow)
    A. palmatum (Palmatum Group) 'Orange Dream' AGM, (orange-yellow) 
    A. palmatum (Matsumurae Group) 'Trompenburg' AGM, (rich purple),
    A. shirasawanum 'Aureum' AGM (greenish-yellow)
    Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum' AGM (mottled pink and cream in spring)
    Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' AGM (red/purple), C. canadensis 'Hearts of Gold' (bright yellow)
    Cornus florida 'Rainbow' AGM (yellow-edged green leaves with pink tints in spring) (*) (v)
    C. kousa 'Gold Star' (green leaves with a central golden-yellow blotch) (*) (v)
    Olea europaea (silver-grey)
    Prunus cerasifera 'Nigra' AGM (purple)
    Pyrus salicifolia var. orientalis ‘Pendula’ AGM (silver-grey)

    Trees with autumn foliage colour

    Acer griseum AGM, A. japonicum ‘Aconitifolium' AGM, A. micranthum AGM,
    A. palmatum (Amoenum Group) 'Ozakasuki' AGM,
    A. tataricum subsp. ginnala 'Flame'
    Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia' AGM
    Malus × zumi 'Golden Hornet'
    Nyssa sylvatica 'Isabel Grace' (*)
    Prunus 'Pandora' AGM
    Sorbus vilmorinii AGM (*)
    Styrax japonicus AGM (*)

    Autumn foliage colour and fruits

    Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium' AGM, A. japonicum 'Vitifolium' AGM
    Crataegus × lavalleei 'Carrierei' AGM
    Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade' AGM, E. hamiltonianus 'Indian Summer',
    E. oxyphyllus AGM, E. phellomanus AGM 
    Malus toringo 'Scarlett'
    Sorbus commixta 'Embley' AGM, S. 'Joseph Rock' AGM, S. 'Sunshine' (*)
    Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer'

    Colourful stems and bark plus autumn foliage colour 

    Acer griseum, A.palmatum (Palmatum Group) 'Asahi-zuru', A. palmatum (Palmatum Group) ‘Sango-kaku’ AGM
    Stewartia malacodendron AGM, S. serrata, S. sinensis AGM (*) 

    Colourful stems and bark

    Betula utilis ‘Moonbeam’
    Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila AGM, E. gregsoniana
    Prunus serrula, P. serrula
    'Dorothy Clive' AGM 
    Tilia cordata 'Winter Orange' AGM

    Evergreen

    Arbutus unedo AGM
    Camellia japonica (*) 
    Cotoneaster salicifolius ‘Rothschildianus’ AGM, C. 'Cornubia' AGM, C. 'Hybridus Pendulus' 
    Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila AGM
    Eucryphia milliganii (*)
    Ligustrum lucidum 'Exselsum Superbum' (v)
    Photinia × fraseri
    'Red Robin' AGM

    Tall and Narrow (fastigiate or columnar)

    Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk' (*)
    Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Rotfuchs' (*)
    Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette AGM (*) 
    Liriodendron tulipifera 'Fastigiatum' (*)
    Malus 'Adirondack' AGM, M. [Red Obelisk] = 'Dvp Obel', M. 'Van Esletine'
    Parrotia persica 'Vanessa' AGM (*)
    Prunus 'Amanogawa' AGM, P. 'Spire' AGM
    Sorbus aucuparia 'Fastigata', S. [Autumn Spire] = 'Flanrock' AGM

    Weeping

    Acer davidii 'Cascade'
    Betula pendula 'Youngii'
    Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendulum' (*)
    Cercis canadensis 'Ruby Falls' AGM
    Malus 'Red Jade', M. 'Royal Beauty' AGM, M. 'Sun Rival' AGM
    Morus alba 'Pendula'
    Prunus incisa 'Pendula' AGM, P. 'Snow Showers'
    Pyrus salicifolius var. orientalis 'Pendula' AGM
    Salix caprea 'Kilmarnock'
    Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’

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