5 Great Trees For Small Spaces

February 14, 2016 | By | Comments (3)
Japanese maple

Japanese maple at Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA. Photo: Steve Bender

People love planting trees in their yards, but often forget how big many trees grow. Soon what began as a sweet, little yard ends up looking like the Black Forest. But not if you follow Grumpy’s advice and plant smaller trees for small spaces. Here are five excellent candidates that won’t swallow your property or your dog.

Small Tree #1 — Japanese maple (above)
Mature size: Extremely variable due to vast number of named selections; anywhere from 3 to 4 feet tall and wide to 25 feet tall and wide

Light: Full to part sun; light shade in afternoon

Soil: Moist, well-drained

Growth Rate: Slow to moderate

Growing Zones: USDA Zones 5-9, depending on selection

Comments: When anyone asks me to suggest a good small tree, my first choice is always a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). Hundreds of different selections exist that combine different leaf colors, growth habits, and tree sizes. Leaves can be feathery or coarsely lobed in colors of red, purple, orange, yellow, pink, green, and variegated. Trees can grow upright or weeping. Many work well in containers. To see just how many choices you have, check out Mr. Maple.

Small Tree #2 — ‘Okame’ Flowering Cherry

Okame cherry

‘Okame’ flowering cherry. Photo: Steve Bender

Mature size: 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide

Light: Full sun

Soil: Moist, well-drained

Growth Rate: Rapid

Growing Zones: USDA Zones 6-9

Comments: I love ‘Okame’ cherry (Prunus x ‘Okame’). It’s one of the earliest trees to bloom, often by Valentine’s Day here in Zone 8. Gorgeous, deep pink blossoms open before the leaves appear. In fall, the leaves turn orange-red. And because it grows quickly, you won’t wait long for the show.

Small Tree #3 — Red Buckeye

Red buckeye

Red buckeye. Photo: Steve Bender

Mature size: 10 to 20 feet tall and wide

Light: Sun or shade

Soil: Moist, well-drained

Growth rate: Slow

Growing Zones: USDA Zones 4 to 8

Comments: Three things make red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) special — it’s native; bloom spikes of bright red or orange-red flowers stand 10 inches tall in early spring; and it blooms well in the shade. I know, because the one above grows in the woods behind my house. It’s one of the first trees to leaf out in spring and one of the first to drop its leaves in fall. No pests bother it and it’s easily grown from its “buckeyes” — seed capsules that look like chestnuts and ripen in fall.

Small Tree #4 — Carolina Silverbell

Carolina silverbell

Carolina silverbell. Photo: Horticopia

Mature size: 20 to 30 feet tall and wide

Light: Full to part sun

Soil: Moist, acid, well-drained

Growth rate: Moderate

Growing Zones: USDA Zones 4 to 9

Comments: If you love our native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) but find it difficult to grow, our native Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina) is your best substitute. Clusters of snow-white, bell-shaped blossoms hang beneath the length of its graceful branches in spring, giving the tree its name.

Carolina silverbell

Silverbell flowers. Photo: jeffpippen.com

Moreover, its leaves often turn a pretty yellow in autumn. Silverbell has no serious disease or insect problems.

Small Tree #5 — Japanese Persimmon

Japanese persimmon

‘Fuyu’ Japanese persimmon. Photo: Steve Bender

Mature size: 20 to 30 feet tall and wide

Light: Full sun

Soil: Well-drained

Growth rate: Moderate

Growing Zones: USDA Zones 7-9

Comments: Japanese persimmon is a rare combination of beauty, ease, and productivity. If it never bore fruit, that would be OK, as its glossy green leaves turn flaming orange-scarlet in fall. But it does bear delicious fruit and lots of it. My favorite selection, ‘Fuyu,’ produces non-puckering fruit the size, shape, and color of tomatoes and doesn’t need a pollinator. No pests bother it; you never need to spray.


  1. Elaine Whitton Davis
    February 18, 2016 at 9:56 am
  2. Sherry

    Really love the first two suggestions.

    February 14, 2016 at 2:52 pm
  3. emr153

    Hi, Grumpy! I recently bought a house, and discovered last fall that it had a persimmon tree in the yard. The fruit was the size of a golf ball. I don’t know if there is another tree in the area that would qualify as a pollinator. Can you tell me how to care for this tree, and maybe some idea what type of persimmon it might be? Thanks!

    February 14, 2016 at 12:31 pm

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