The list of small garden trees is a relatively short one—most trees will grow taller than 20 feet as they mature, and many trees become nearly as wide as they are tall over time. Most small garden trees prefer filtered light or dappled shade, as they are naturally found in the understory with taller trees providing them with shade.

Recent plant breeding introductions have produced dwarf selections and smaller cultivars of normally larger specimens such as ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Baby Grand’ Evergreen Magnolias, and more varieties become available each year. While we are focusing on deciduous and broad-leafed evergreen trees, there are many fantastic conifers that stay small and would look great in any size garden. In addition to traditional single-trunk trees, many shrubs can be grown as small, multi-trunked trees, or even trained into growing with a single trunk for a more formal appearance.

Acer/Maple

  • Vine maples (Acer circinatum) grow to 20 feet tall/wide and have fresh, light green leaves that turn orange and red in fall with partial to full sun; one of our best native trees for small gardens
  • Full Moon Japanese maples (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’) and many other upright Japanese maples, including Flame maple (Acer ginnala) and Paperbark maple (Acer griseum), can grow to 25 feet tall
      Paperbark Maple Tree

      Cornus/Dogwood

      • ‘Satomi’ (20 feet tall and wide) has pink flowers that bloom in June; disease-resistant cultivar with red fruits and orange/red fall color
      • ‘Wolf Eyes’ (10–20 feet tall and wide) has creamy white flowers and wavy, variegated foliage that turns red/pink in fall with occasional red fruit
          Wolf Eyes Japanese Dogwood Tree

          Azara

          • 20–25 feet tall at maturity
          • Tucked amongst the tiny, evergreen leaves are clusters of small yellow flowers that have a vanilla fragrance in January and February
          • Mature plants have gracefully layered branches
              Box-Leaf Azara Tree with yellow flowers

              Magnolia

              • ‘Leonard Messel’ (15 feet tall and wide) is usually multi-trunked with fragrant, light pink, star-shaped flowers on bare branches in early spring
              • ‘Black Tulip’ (15–20 feet tall by 10 feet wide) has huge, deep burgundy/purple flowers that bloom on bare branches in early spring
                  Leonard Messel Magnolia Tree

                  Evergreen Magnolia

                  • ‘Little Gem’ (20–25 feet tall by 10–15 feet wide) is a dwarf form of southern magnolia with dark green, shiny leaves and fuzzy, brown undersides; fragrant, large white flowers bloom sporadically in late spring through fall
                  • ‘Baby Grand’ (8–10 feet tall and wide) has large, creamy white, fragrant flowers from spring into summer with a compact, rounded habit
                      Little Gem Dwarf Southern Magnolia Tree

                      Lagerstroemia/Crape Myrtle

                      • Can be found as single-trunk specimens or often grown in multi-trunk form
                      • Wide range of mature heights vary by cultivar in addition to flower color
                      • Late summer flowers last into fall and foliage turns brilliant colors of red, yellow, orange, and purple before dropping to reveal patchy, interesting bark in winter
                      • Very late to break dormancy in spring!
                      • ‘Tuskegee’, ‘Tuscarora’ and ‘Arapaho’ each grow to about 20 feet tall with dark coral pink or red flowers
                      • ‘Catawba’ (8–10 feet tall) has violet purple flowers
                      • ‘Hopi’ (10 feet tall and wide) blooms with clear pink flowers from late July into the fall
                          Hopi Crape Myrtle Tree blooming

                          Sambucus/Elderberry

                          • Our native Sambucus nigra ssp. Caerulea a.k.a. Blue Elderberry grows with multiple stems to about 12 feet tall and wide with large, creamy white lacey flowers followed by showy clusters of blue/purple edible berries
                          • Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’ a.k.a. Black Lace Elderberry (8–10 feet tall and wide) is a dramatic version with dark burgundy colored, finely cut foliage and large clusters of pink flowers followed by purple, edible berries in fall
                              Black Lace Elderberry Tree

                              Cercis/Redbud

                              • ‘Merlot’ redbud (12 feet tall and wide) has dark leaves and a dark pink flower in early spring on bare branches that last a few weeks
                              • ‘Rising Sun’ (8–12 feet tall by 8 feet wide) has lavender flowers followed by lime green, heart-shaped foliage that is heat-resistant
                                  Merlot Redbud Tree

                                  Serviceberry/Amelanchier

                                  • ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (20 feet tall by 15 feet wide at maturity) is an upright form with reliable, white spring flowers and small, edible fruits in autumn
                                  • Can be prone to disease
                                      Autumn Brilliance Apple Serviceberry Tree

                                      Fringe Tree/Chionanthus

                                      • 20 feet tall by 10 feet wide
                                      • This uncommon tree has lovely, white spring flowers, yellow fall color, and attractive fruits (fruit can be a little messy)
                                          White Fringe Tree

                                          Assorted Crabapples/Malus

                                          • Certain cultivars can be prone to disease
                                          • ‘Prairifire’ (20 feet tall by 15 feet wide) is a popular disease-resistant variety with dark pink-red flowers in early spring and maroon leaves that turn dark green in summer and bronze in fall; maroon fruit that lasts well into winter
                                              Prairifire Crabapple Tree

                                              Flowering Plum/Prunus

                                              • 20 feet tall and wide
                                              • ‘Thundercloud’ and ‘Newport’ are both popular and widely planted varieties
                                              • Can be disease prone
                                              • Reddish-purple leaves hold color well
                                                  Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum Tree

                                                  Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’)

                                                  • 20 feet tall by 15 feet wide
                                                  • Large plumes of small, white flowers in early summer are lightly fragrant
                                                  Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac

                                                    Shrubs that Can be Pruned into Multi-Trunked Trees

                                                    • Camellia japonica
                                                    • Burning Bush/Euonymous alata
                                                    • Forsythia
                                                    • Lilac/Syringa
                                                    • Mock Orange/Philadelphus
                                                    • PG Hydrangea/Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora
                                                    • Privet/Ligustrum texanum
                                                    • Rose of Sharon/Hibiscus
                                                    • Smoke Tree/Cotinus
                                                    • Snowball Viburnum/Viburnum opulus

                                                    Images from Monrovia

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