We're incredibly fortunate to be able to grow hundreds of different trees in the UK! The choice is huge and to limit my choice to just ten has been tough. But I've managed to narrow it down to the most reliable small trees that you can grow in your garden.
I wanted to include a few conifers, a palm tree or two and even some great ornamental but fruiting trees because many of these are suitable for small spaces. But, unfortunately, they didn't quite make the cut.
Nevertheless, I've gone for ten great small trees that are widely available and will form a focal point in your garden, provide shade and shelter for wildlife.
I listed them alphabetically and not in order of personal preference. It was hard enough to get the list down to ten without all the angst I'd have about sorting out my favourites!
An old Japanese maple in autumn
- Most Japanese maples are perfect for small spaces. They are fairly informal looking and especially valued for great autumn leaf colour.
- These are slow-growing, so if you're in a hurry to fill space plant an older tree (pot-grown trees transplant well).
- Ultimate height will be 4-6 metres.
- I'd particularly recommend varieties 'Bloodgood', 'Osakazuki' and 'Seiryu' but there are hundreds of great Japanese maples!
A mature Amelanchier tree
- Find out more about Japenese maples here:
- Better known by its Latin name Amelanchier, Serviceberries are outstanding small trees.
- With small leaves that are rich in colour in autumn, a blizzard of tiny white blooms in spring and summer berries perfect for birds, this tree has everything.
- This tree is very tolerant of poorer soils and very hardy.
- Serviceberry trees have a ultimate height of 4-5 metres
- Judas Trees (Cercis silaquastrum) are perfect for thin and shallow soils that may dry out. It will grow just as well in normal soils.
- This small tree has the curious ability to produce flowers from just about anywhere on its trunk.
- In April and May, it has purple pea-like flowers across every branch, followed by bunches of seed pods.
- The purple leaf form of Judas tree (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy') is a beautiful foliage tree to grow!
Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'
- Judas trees have an ultimate height of around 5 metres, but a large spreading crown.
Crataegus laevigata 'Paul's Scarlet'
- Hawthorn (Crataegus) trees are very common trees native to Britain, and frequently form a major part of countryside hedgerows.
- The common hawthorn is referred to as 'May Blossom', as this is the month that it produces the heavily scented white flowers.
- Pink flowered forms are more popular garden trees, and many double-flowered varieties are planted. Unfortunately, these doubles do not produce fruits (known as "haws").
- When in flower, single-flowered hawthorns are good for bees and other insects. They also provide dense foliage for birds to take refuge and nest in, and the haws are a good source of winter food for wildlife.
- Most Magnolia trees are either too big or bushy for small gardens.
- A notable exception is a selection of the 'Bull Bay' magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora.
Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'
- This is Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'. It is evergreen, has a narrow upright growth habit and flowers all summer long.
- As it's a new introduction, the ultimate height is unclear, but it is slow-growing and can be pruned if necessary.
- Crab apples make excellent small garden trees. They offer a great show of scented flowers in spring which insects love.
- Many varieties have showy fruits in autumn and some are superb for making crab apple jelly and other culinary delights.
- Many crab apple trees can pollinate other fruiting apple trees in the garden.
- Some crab apple varieties can be bought grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks, but trees generally grow to around 4 metres tall.
- There are many great varieties some of which have been awarded the accolade of the RHS Award of Garden Merit. Among others look out for 'Gorgeous', 'Harry Baker', 'Aros', M. transitoria 'Thornhayes Tansy', 'Wedding Bouquet', 'Evereste', 'Jelly King' and 'Red Sentinel'.
- Cherries are commonly planted in small gardens but often get too big.
- It's best to avoid the Japanese hybrids and get varieties that have a smaller ultimate height and spread. Many of these also have smaller flowers but are no less showy.
- As with crab apples, cherries can be obtained grown on dwarfing rootstocks. 'Colt' is often used and is semi-vigorous. 'Gisela 5' is a dwarfing rootstock that is well worth looking out for.
- The Kilmarnock Willow is a small growing (under 2 metres) weeping tree and is one of my favourites.
- In late winter and early spring, the branches are covered with pussy willow catkins.
Salix carnea 'Kilmarnock'
- As with many other willows, this tree will grow in a wide range of soils and will tolerate a fair amount of water.
- Most often grown as a large shrub or trained as a hedge, this evergreen can be trained to grow as a small tree.
- Ready trained trees of Photinia are available and it is important to maintain their shape by trimming the head of the tree once or twice a year.
- Red Robin is grown for the bright bronze-red colour of new growth. Some forms have better colour than others.
Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin'
Rowan or Mountain Ash
- Rowan trees are well known for autumn leaf colour and the bunches of coloured berries that birds love!
- Rowan (Sorbus) are very hardy and will tolerate exposed positions and poor soils.
- Whilst the native rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), with its distinct orange berries, is a great choice for the garden, those with other coloured berries are worthy of consideration.
- Rowan trees rarely exceed 4-5 meters.
Others to consider
- All are very ornamental but, with the exception of the last one, they will also provide you with fruit!