What are the Best Small Trees for a Garden?

If you think your garden isn’t big enough for a beautiful tree, it’s likely you haven’t seen the right one yet. From potted evergreen conifers to maples with vibrant autumn colours, there is a small tree for every garden.

With the help of various online gardening stores, you will find the right tree for your garden.

How to Choose a Tree for a Small Garden

Trees provide shade, attract wildlife, add height interest and make a striking garden focal point. But how do you decide which one is best for your small garden? Here are a few things to think about:

How Big Will it Grow?

When choosing trees for small gardens, the main thing to consider is the space available and the tree’s ultimate height and spread. Just because your favourite specimen would fit the small garden perfectly at the moment doesn’t mean it won’t grow too big in 5, 10, 20 or more years. Research how tall and wide your preferred tree is likely to reach before taking the plunge and purchasing it for your garden.

Evergreen or Deciduous?

Evergreen trees have foliage that remains in place throughout the year, making them ‘ever green’. Deciduous trees, on the other hand, lose their leaves towards the end of autumn, leaving the branches bare through winter before growing new foliage in spring.

Both types have advantages, and whether you choose an evergreen or deciduous variety is really down to personal preference and how you want the space to look. A deciduous tree can provide dramatic autumn colour and spring blossoms, while an evergreen tree will likely look much the same all year round.

Potted or Planted

When asked to picture a tree, most people will come up with an image of a tree planted in the ground. However, some trees thrive in pots and growing a tree in a container is a great way to limit its size. It also allows the tree to be moved around the garden or patio, making it much more versatile.

Consider whether you’d prefer your new tree planted in the garden or whether you’re willing to give a pot-grown tree the extra watering it requires.

Best Small Trees for Autumn Colour

Who doesn’t love seeing the leaves change from green to stunning shades of orange-red in autumn? Some of the best trees for autumn hues are also suitable for containers and don’t take up much space in the garden.

Japanese Maple

Also known as acers, Japanese maples are compact and slow growing, so they are ideal for small gardens. They are easy to grow and boast a graceful habit with truly striking foliage that packs a punch in autumn. Available in shades of green, gold, red and purple, the Japanese maple is a deciduous tree that reaches a maximum height of 8m in around 50 years. The palmate leaves change colour as the seasons progress, holding back their most dramatic hues until autumn.

Different cultivars of acer have individual light requirements. For example, a tree with red or purple foliage needs plenty of sunlight to make the most of its rich tones. On the other hand, a tree with light green leaves and variegated foliage prefers dappled shade to help prevent leaf scorch.

Acers do well in most soil types but prefer well-draining, moist soil. Japanese maples grown in the ground are fully hardy against harsh winter temperatures. But they need a sheltered spot out of strong winds. Container-grown acer trees need some additional winter insulation.

Mountain Ash

Also known as a rowan tree, mountain ash features lush green pinnate leaves that emerge in spring and mature through summer. Flat clusters of white flowers bloom in April and May. But autumn is when people really stop to take notice of this slow-growing small tree. Orange-red berries replace the white flowers in early autumn, perfectly complementing the newly yellow foliage to create a fiery appearance.

Rowan trees are a magnet for wildlife. Nectar-rich blooms attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators to the garden. Small mammals and birds love the autumn berries. Rowan is a low-maintenance tree that is somewhat tolerant of atmospheric pollution, making it ideal for urban gardens.


Amelanchier trees come in different varieties but generally don’t grow taller than 10m, making them ideal trees for small gardens. Lovely spring blossom emerges on bare branches before being joined by bronze-tinges leaves that turn green into early summer. By late autumn, the foliage morphs into glorious tones of orange and red, with clusters of small black berries completing the look.

These low-maintenance trees don’t require pruning (other than removing dead or damaged branches) and make a big impact throughout the seasons. They tolerate partial shade, but Amelanchier trees in full sun have the most vibrant colours.

Best Flowering Small Trees

Flowering trees are perfect for small gardens. If you don’t have enough space for both trees and flowering plants, trees that flower offer the best of both worlds.


Some varieties of magnolia grow quite large, but small magnolias are ideal for gardens with limited space. They make a statement in spring and summer when they bear large, showy flowers in myriad colours. These fragrant blooms are the perfect welcome for visitors to your home and, for this reason, magnolia is a popular choice for planting in front gardens.

Magnolias grow best in full sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. They prefer a spot where they’ll be sheltered from strong winds.

Japanese Dogwood

Japanese dogwood is a medium-slow grower that reaches up to 8m in 20-50 years. This small deciduous tree has a bushy habit. In summer, it is covered in clusters of tiny white flowers surrounded by creamy white bracts. These are replaced by raspberry-like pink fruits in late summer and early autumn when the leaves turn an attractive shade of reddish-purple.

Also known as kousa, Japanese dogwood is hardy to British winter temperatures and grows well in most soils, provided the ground isn’t waterlogged. It prefers a spot in full sun but is happy enough in light shade.

Crab Apple

Flowering from April to May, crab apple trees are compact, rounded trees ideal for small gardens. They have large, rich green leaves and bloom pinkish-white flowers in early spring. The fruit appears in autumn – crab apples are edible when cooked in sauces but shouldn’t be eaten raw.

Plant in full sun or dappled shade in moist but well-drained soil. Crab apple trees thrive in most soil types and acidity levels and are hardy against cold weather.

Best Evergreen Trees for a Small Garden

Evergreen trees provide interest and colour throughout the year and are a great way to maximise your space.

Snow Gum

Also referred to as Eucalyptus niphophila, snow gum is an appealing tree that provides year-round interest in small spaces. The trunk is covered in cream patchwork bark with touches of grey and green. White flowers bloom in spring, with the grey-green foliage remaining in place all year round.

Grow snow gum in a sheltered spot where it can soak up plenty of sunlight. Moist, well-drained soil is best, and the tree is happy in most soils, including loam, clay, chalk and sand.

Bay Tree

This is one of the best trees for small gardens because it grows equally well planted in a container or the ground. It can be left to grow naturally, creating a large shrub or small tree. Alternatively, it does well pruned into formal shapes, creating topiary pyramids or lollipop trees for a patio area or welcoming front garden.

Dark green foliage is complemented in spring by insignificant green-yellow flowers, but the aromatic leaves are the main attraction of this tree. As well as their attractive appearance, bay leaves have plenty of culinary value and can be used fresh or dried to add flavour to a range of dishes, including soups and stews.

Bay trees are quite versatile, and while they grow best in full sun, they tolerate partial and even full shade. They prefer a sheltered spot away from strong winds and thrive in moist but well-drained soil.


If you’re looking for the best evergreen tree for a small space, a loquat is a great contender. Also known as Eriobotrya japonica, Loquat brings more than just greenery to autumn and winter. Its fragrant white flowers appear from October to December and should produce apricot-like fruits in spring. However, as the flowers are prone to frost damage, it is unusual to see fruit ripen on a UK-grown loquat. The distinctive leaves are large and naturally attractive in shape, with the glossy foliage providing a slightly exotic look.

These small trees grow best in a sunny spot sheltered from strong winds. They prefer well-drained soil and don’t like to compete with other plants for nutrients in the ground.

Best Trees for Growing in Pots

Growing trees in pots not only allows you to move them around, but also helps limit the tree’s size and spread, making it much easier to maintain.

Ornamental Cherry

There’s nothing quite like the sight of a tree covered in cherry blossom. Several varieties of ornamental cherry trees are perfect for smaller gardens, filling the space with beautiful colours during spring.

The rose pink flowers of the Prunus Kurser are a precursor to the vibrant autumn display of red and gold foliage. Or choose Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis for a second flourish of flowers in late autumn. If frilly flowers are your thing, you’ll love Prunus Fragrant Cloud with its large white blooms that fade to pink flowers as they mature.

Many trees in the ornamental cherry family are suitable for growing in pots and make great trees for even tiny gardens. Choose a position in full sun, where the tree will be sheltered from strong winds that may strip away the spring blossom before you’ve fully enjoyed them.

Olive Tree

This slow-growing specimen is one of the best trees for small gardens. It boasts evergreen foliage, and the leathery green leaves have silvery undersides that shimmer in the sun. Panicles of creamy white flowers bloom in early summer, followed by green fruits that ripen into black olives in autumn. However, due to the relative lack of sunlight compared to Mediterranean countries, fruit is unlikely to ripen in the UK.

Even without the fruit, the early summer flowers and silvery foliage combine to create a fascinating focal point for any small garden. Olive trees can take up to 50 years to reach their maximum height of up to 8m, growing best in a sheltered sunny spot with well-drained soil. Dwarf varieties are perfect for a very small garden, as they reach just 3m tall.

Silver Birch

Best known for the silvery-white peeling bark on the trunks and branches, silver birch trees attract birds, pollinators and other local wildlife to small gardens. Toothed rich green leaves turn yellow in autumn before falling to reveal the interesting bark through the winter. Small brown-yellow flowers appear in catkins in March. The early spring flowers thicken after pollination, producing masses of small seeds that are carried off by the wind and enjoyed by birds and small mammals.

Silver birch does well in most moist but well-drained soils. It likes to be planted in full sun or partial shade and is hardy against cold weather.

Whether you’re looking to jazz up a patio with a potted tree or add height interest to your outdoor space by planting a tree, there are plenty of trees for small gardens. The best trees for small spaces make the most of vertical space through colourful foliage, pretty flowers or an evergreen nature without taking over the garden.

When choosing the right tree, opt for one that fits the space but won’t quickly outgrow it. Think about the rest of the garden and when it blooms, opting for a small tree that complements your other plants and adds value to the space you have available.


Tags: design, garden, home, landscape, trees

Recent posts in Gardens & Terrace

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments