South Africa is a biodiversity hotspot and is home to an awesome variety of indigenous trees and shrubs to choose from for your garden. It is, however, important to select the right tree for your garden as not many are suitable for small gardens where paving, walls and house foundations need to be taken into account.
Often times, incorrect species or incorrect planting techniques are used and can leave homeowners with costly expenses to repair damage to property or to fell problem trees.
Fortunately, there are delightful indigenous alternatives that are ideal for planting in small gardens. Here is a list of our top 10! Use it as a guide and base your decisions on the height and spread that each species will eventually provide.
*Important: For very small gardens (10 square metres or less), consider growing trees in containers.
Wild peach | Kiggelaria africana
1 | Wild Peach
This fast-growing, semi-deciduous tree usually reaches between 8-10 metres and provides excellent screening. Kiggelaria is dioecious (male and female flowers on separate trees), so if you want a tree that attracts a host of birds with its fruit, you have to choose a female tree from the nursery. It is quite hard to identify male and female trees when the specimens are small, and would be best to look for the small green-grey fruit cases during the fruiting season (February-July). No harm done if you’ve only managed to find a male tree, as both sexes attract the Acraea horta butterfly which lays its eggs on the underside of the leaves and when the black caterpillars hatch by the dozens, it attracts numerous insect-eating birds to your garden.
2 | Lavender Tree
This one is a favourite for small gardens given its pale bark, beautiful shape and semi-deciduous foliage. In the wild, they are frequently found on rocky hillsides. The lavender tree is an ideal replacement for the exotic Silver birch (Betula pendula) or the Leopard tree (Caesalpinnea ferrea). They require a little bit of patience as they are slower growing than the other species referred to in this list.
3 | False Olive
The False Olive can grow between 1-1,5 metres per year and can reach a height of 3-4 metres in just a few short years, thus providing excellent screening in a very short time. The disadvantage of its fast growth rate though is that it can look a little untidy, and because the branches are not very sturdy, it can start drooping after heavy rains. Nevertheless, it is still a wonderful species and can easily be pruned according to the desired shape e.g. to encourage a tree shape cut away lower branches or shape into a hedge when plants are still young. The Buddleja creates a spectacular show of white flowers, attracting a multitude of insects to the garden during its flowering season.
4 | Pompon Tree
By far one of the most beautiful trees in the garden with an explosion of pink flowers in summer, making it an excellent substitute for the exotic Pride-of-India (Lagerstroemia indica). The Pompon tree is frost tolerant and a relatively fast grower that can reach heights of between 6-8 metres. It is often grown along sidewalks and pavements and is an outstanding choice for your small garden.
5 | River Indigo
The River indigo is a semi-deciduous tree, shedding some of its leaves in winter. It is easily grown from seed and is also a very fast grower. Being a fast grower can also have its drawbacks as the branches may be weak and may break during heavy storms. Nevertheless, it is still an ideal species for a very small garden, and the pink and white flowers attract a host of insects to create a wildlife haven. It can also be pruned to encourage tree shape.
6 | White pear
An outstanding choice for a small garden as it grows at a medium pace and can reach heights of about 6-8 metres in 8 or more years. Its dark green foliage also makes for an outstanding screening tree, and it can also be pruned into a hedge. An excellent replacement for the alien Privet (Ligustrum).
7 | Cheesewood
The Cheesewood is an evergreen, medium-paced grower that sports beautiful yellow, edible berries at the end of the flowering season. This indigenous Pittosporum has a non-invasive root system, making it an excellent tree to plant alongside retaining walls or paving. Often used as a screening plant.
8 | Parsley Tree
With its distinctive brown bark that peels off the trunk and branches, it is relatively easy to identify this tree. It creates a beautiful crown and grows a height of 8-10 metres. When young, it has a tendency to spray its branches in all directions, but with patience, it will grow into a magnificent specimen in your garden.
9 | Tree Wisteria
This stunning medium-sized tree grows at a medium pace and is an ideal replacement for the exotic Jacaranda as it also produces a beautiful display of bluish-mauve flowers in spring. With its non-aggressive root system, it is a welcome addition to any garden.
10 | Wild pear
The Wild Pear is an indigenous, deciduous tree and can grow to a height of more than 8 metres. It is a stunning specimen in summer when it explodes into masses of white flowers. It has a non-aggressive root system which makes it suitable to plant closer to walls and paving.