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Yards that are too small to accommodate a large shade tree can still benefit from a specimen tree of some kind. Trees bring seasonal color to the garden in the form of flowers or foliage, lend a vertical element to a flat landscape, and offer winter interest whether deciduous or evergreen. Here are some suggestions for trees for small spaces.


Japanese maples. There are hundreds of varieties, the most exquisite of which can cost hundreds of dollars. Look for red or variegated foliage, or fine-textured, dissected leaves for a strong visual appeal. One variety has tri-color leaves, variegated with pink, green, and white. There’s a great deal of size variation within Japanese maples, from varieties that reach 20 feet to those that grow more wide than tall, remaining a bonsai-like shrub.

Spring-flowering trees. Most of these, including dogwoods, redbuds, and silverbells grow slowly to a maximum height of 20 to 25 feet. In wooded areas, they occur naturally as understory trees – those that grow beneath the forest canopy. They tend to bloom early, before the taller trees can shade them, and before they leaf out themselves. They can, however, be used as specimen trees, offering spring color. Dogwoods are white (though there are pink varieties), four-petalled flowers. Redbuds feature branches lined with bright, rose-pink florets, and silverbells sport dangling, translucent, bell-shaped blossoms.

Weeping trees. Because their branches grow downward instead of spreading out, weeping varieties of trees are excellent candidates for small spaces. For spring color, try a weeping cherry. For evergreen interest, use a weeping Yaupon holly – an excellent choice for a screen to create privacy.

Crepe myrtle. These southern favorites are really large shrubs grown into a tree-like form. They grow well where winters are mild, and bloom in the heat of summer when everything else is looking parched and wilted. Colors range from white (rather dull and muddy looking) to pale lavender to bright, watermelon pink.

Crabapples. When choosing a crabapple at a nursery, check the specific variety to see what its mature height and spread will be – some crabapples can grow quite large. Like any fruit tree, however, crabapples respond well to pruning that will limit its size and shape. Fragrant, white or pink blossoms line the branches in late spring, and fruit ripens in fall. Some varieties sport bright red fruit that hangs on the branches long after the leaves have fallen, providing winter interest to the garden.

Rose-of sharon. Really a large shrub, the rose-of-sharon is a summertime favorite. Related to the hibiscus, it blooms from June through September, with pink or rose flowers. Since the tree flowers on new wood, it will bloom most heavily when pruned well in late winter. This is a good candidate where space is really limited, as it can be pruned back to a nub when necessary.