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Small Trees for the Landscape

3 min read | Oct 13, 2016 | Plants 

Since the 1950’s the average size of newly  built, single family homes has continued to increase while the average lot size has been on the decline.   With a decrease in landscape space comes a need for trees that mature to smaller heights than the average maple, oak or pine.   A fully grown specimen of eighty feet in height and sixty in width is overkill in many instances, and sometimes dangerous in others.   Here are some of my favorite options for trees that mature to less than thirty feet in the landscape.

Magnolia ‘Jane’


Also known as Tulip Tree or Saucer Magnolia, this tree is typically a multi-trunked and grows to 15’ tall and about 10’ wide.   Jane Magnolia has an absolutely gorgeous display of large flowers (white on the inside, purple outside) in March or April depending on weather.  Full sun to part afternoon shade.

Magnolia ‘Little Gem’


A dwarf version of the traditional southern magnolia maturing to 25’ in height and 10’ in width.  The leaves are evergreen, lustrous dark green on top and velvety brown underneath.  Large, white, 6-7” lemon scented  flowers appear in late spring and sporadically in the early summer, then again in fall.  Can also be used as a screening hedge.

Redbud “Rising Sun” (Ceris c. ‘JN2’)

rising-sun-redbud-color“Rising Sun” is a great yellow leaved form of our native redbud.  I often find that many yellow leaved cultivars of plants will look “washed out” or “bleached out” during the summer months but this plant has thrived in our display gardens.  The leaves emerge golden in color after the purple, sweet pea like flowers have fallen in March.  “Rising Sun” matures to around 15’ in height and 12’ in width.  Leaf color will be best in full sun but a little afternoon shade works as well.

Japanese Maples


Too many awesome cultivars to list!  I love Japanese maples for their pest and disease resistance, delicate foliage and interesting architectural forms.  They can range in size from just a few feet tall to over 25’ in height while the foliage can be green, purple or variegated.  Upright forms, cascading forms and weeping cultivars can all be found.  Cultivars like ‘Coral Bark’ (‘Sango-kaku’) display vivid coral colored stems adorned with vibrant green leaves.   Everyone needs at least one Japanese maple!

Crepe Myrtles (Lagerstroemia sp.)

Crepe Myrtles Raleigh

Again, too many plants to list but please make sure to talk to someone in our nursery to ensure you are getting a cultivar that will mature in the medium sized group of crepes.  Yes, they are frequently planted but they should be.  Crepes are true four seasons of color plants.  Summer flowers from June to September, great fall color and awesome bark patterns and color during the winter and spring seasons (my favorite).

Do not forget to consider some shrubs that mature in the 12-18 foot range when looking for trees of this height.  Plants like Ligustrum, Osmanthus and Vitex can be limbed-up to create really unique trees.  Ask one of our nursery professionals to show you our example of a tree-formed Vitex (Chaste Tree) in the nursery.  It is pretty cool and a showstopper when it flowers.

Happy Planting!