A single, small to medium-sized tree, carefully placed for shade and visual impact, is sufficient for small yards. Trees in small gardens have a large impact on the landscape and should be carefully chosen. They should be less than 20 feet in height, non-suckering and tidy. Winter hardiness, disease resistance and insect resistance are welcome features as well. When tree shopping, consider color, bark and leaf texture, winter berries, fall foliage and winter silhouette.
Thornless Honey Locusts (Gledetsia tricanthos) are a great tree for the urban garden, courtyard or small garden. The fine small textured leaves and open crown of the honeylocust permits dappled sun and shade to filter through into the garden. There’s usually enough light beneath these trees to allow the growth of grass and part shade plants.
For a cylindrical display of year-round green, the Dwarf ‘Little Gem’ Magnolia
(Magnolia grandiflora) grows to around 15-20 feet and can be regularly trimmed for a tall, narrow appearance. The ‘Little Gem’ produces pleasant-scented white flowers and has non-invasive roots. Not looking for a floral display? A multitude of dwarf fruit trees grown in a tight ‘pole’ shape.
Flowering Cherry (Prunus sp.) trees are available in a a array of varieties. Most produce clusters of fragrant pink or white flowers before leafing out in the spring. Flowering cherries prefer full sun and well-drained soil and grow to about 15-25 feet in height.
Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida), like the cherry, grows to about 25’ tall and produces large pink, white, or cream colored flowers in the spring. The dogwood is a year-round joy as it has interesting reddish-brown rough bark which becomes exposed after the leaves fall from the tree. Also, the tiered branching structure give the dogwood a beautiful silhouette in the winter months.
For a formal evergreen, choose the Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) for its robust foliage and manageable size. This dependable evergreen grows 4-6 feet in sandy, loam or clay soil.
The River Birch (Betula nigra) grows upright with a pyramidal silhouette. With the attractive bark, persistent catkins, and interesting, finely-branched silhouette, gray birch makes a striking winter landscape planting, especially against a backdrop of dark green evergreens. Gray birch will grow about 2’ per year and will tolerate a wild range of soil conditions. Planted in a group, the river birch could create a pleasing interlacing of delicate branches. On its own, its silhouette is dramatic against a stand of evergreens or the sky.
Related Articles: Small Gardens, Selecting Trees, Bark, Plant Silhouettes