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GardenSMART :: Terrific Small Trees for Yards of Any Size

Terrific Small Trees for Yards of Any Size

By Justin Hancock, Monrovia Horticultural Craftsman
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

Trees add beauty and curb appeal to your garden. They increase your property value, bring year-round structure, and provide habitat for wildlife. There is no doubt planting a tree is a good thing. Happily, there is a tree for every yard, even small ones. Here are 10 of the finest.

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Acer palmatum Velvet Viking™

An ideal tree for a deck or patio, shade garden, or front yard, Velvet Viking™ Japanese maple is small and slow growing. You do not need to worry about it taking over or getting out of bounds. It is a beauty, too, showing off finely cut reddish-purple foliage from spring to fall. It is also hardy—perhaps the hardiest—so it allows gardeners in Northern regions to enjoy its beauty. In about 15 years, Velvet Viking™ Japanese maple only grows about 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide. Zones 4-9

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Cedrus atlantica Horstmann

Blue Atlas cedar is a spectacular evergreen tree that bears silvery-blue needles all year long. Capable of growing more than 50 feet tall, it is not a good fit for every garden. Happily, Horstmann Blue Atlas cedar solves that. It gets about 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide after 10 years—but features the same color and year-round interest. Once established, it is also relatively drought tolerant. Zones 6-9

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Elaeocarpus Shogun® Little Emperor™

Beautiful and practically carefree, Little Emperor™ Japanese blueberry tree is a fabulous pick for California gardens. It features dense evergreen foliage, fragrant white flowers, and attractive blue fruits. As the oldest leaves mature throughout the year, they turn brilliant red, adding an extra splash of color. It reaches about 10 feet tall and wide, so it fits well in small yards—and even thrives in a large container on a deck or patio. Zones 8-11

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Ginkgo biloba Jade Butterfly

Ginkgo is one of the most stately deciduous trees around. It features elegant leaves that turn a breathtaking shade of gold come fall. While slow growing, it can reach more than 100 feet tall. Jade Butterfly is a fabulous dwarf selection that only reaches about 12 feet tall in 10 years, but otherwise bears all the same benefits as the species. And being a male variety, it will not produce foul-scented fruit. Zones 4-9

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Jacaranda Bonsai Blue™

It is tough to miss jacaranda trees in late spring and summer. These majestic trees practically cover themselves with lavender-purple flowers. Bonsai Blue™ now brings its beauty into smaller gardens. Growing only 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide, it is ideal for adding color and texture to subtropical yards. You can enjoy it in a large container on your deck or patio, as well as in your garden. Zones 9-11

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Magnolia Burgundy Star

Magnolias are longtime favorites for springtime bloom. Burgundy Star is a newer columnar variety with a convenient size (about 12 feet tall and 4 feet wide in 10 years). It fits in practically any sunny spot in your garden. In early spring, its large, claret-red flowers burst open and reveal a light fragrance. Zones 5-9

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Plumbago Royal Cape®

Royal Cape® plumbago is a small tree you can grow anywhere. It is an excellent annual in cold climates and a year-round-flowering evergreen in frost-free regions. Available as a shrub or pruned as a small tree, it tops out around 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide. You can keep it smaller with regular pruning. Royal Cape® holds up like a champ to heat and drought. Its constant display of sky-blue flowers attracts scores of pollinators like butterflies. Zones 9-11 as a perennial. 

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Podocarpus Icee Blue®

Elegant and easy to grow, Icee Blue® podocarpus bears silvery-blue foliage, reminiscent of a blue spruce. This makes it a fine blue spruce alternative in areas too warm for spruce to thrive. As it grows, it shows off a lovely pyramidal shape that does not need pruning to maintain. Icee Blue® podocarpus tolerates part shade, where its silvery foliage adds a cooling effect to the garden. It slowly reaches about 25 feet tall and wide. Zones 9-11

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Styrax japonicus Fragrant Fountain

There is a lot to love about Fragrant Fountain Japanese snowbell tree. It features attractive, bell-shaped flowers in spring that are sweetly scented. It shows off a weeping habit, adding year-round interest. And it offers outstanding golden-yellow fall color. Fragrant Fountain snowbell tree grows about 6 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

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Tsuga canadensis Golden Duke®

Northern gardeners value hardy shade-tolerant evergreens. Those that add a little color are a bonus. Golden Duke® hemlock is a newer variety (discovered at Monrovia Nursery) that checks both boxes. Plus it stays small (only 10 feet tall and 3 feet wide in the first 10 years). It offers stunning golden-yellow foliage that goes yellow orange in winter, brightening shaded spots all year long. Zones 4-8


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