Teeny tiny trees for small gardens

by James Alexander-Sinclair

A few weeks ago I wrote about trees for small gardens. Among the comments was a request from Daphne for very, very small trees - "very small being up to three metres".

Trees in silhouetteA few weeks ago I wrote about trees for small gardens. Among the comments (well, to be honest, 33% of the comments) was a request from Daphne for very, very small trees - "very small being up to three metres".

Tricky. Three metres is barely a shrub, let alone a tree - I know of herbaceous plants that achieve that height in a season. It's difficult to choose a tree that is guaranteed not to get any bigger than the height of a short giraffe, but here is a small selection that roughly fits the bill.

I know conifers are deeply unfashionable but that's not a good enough reason to ignore them - for some people and certain situations they are the perfect solution. A good one is Pinus aristata, which was brought over by the Victorians from the Rocky Mountains: short needles and a resinous bloom to the undersides. Also, you could try Pinus parviflora 'Glauca', which only reaches about two metres but manages to avoid looking as ridiculous as many miniature conifers. I would also give house room to Podocarpus macrophyllus (or Japanese Yew).

Acer palmatum 'Atropurpureum' is a maple with dark red, lacy-edged leaves. It will stay within the height limit, although it is susceptible to middle aged spread and will cover a largish area. It can also be grown in a pot, which will restrict the growth, but be very careful: if it doesn't get enough water the ends of the leaves turn crispy. The formerly delightful foliage will appear to have been dipped in broken biscuits.

There are a series of miniaturised fruit trees that are worth looking into. Fruit trees are grown on different rootstocks and, depending on which one you choose, these regulate the eventual height of the tree - useful not just for small gardens, but also because it means that the best apples are never just out of reach. Be warned however, that tiny trees do not produce a lot of fruit. Rootstock M27 will support a tree that will grow no bigger than about ten feet. For more information try the Brogdale Horticultural Trust.

If you're in a very sheltered area, then there are a couple of exotic trees that are truly spectacular. The silk tree (Albizia julibrissin f. rosea) has large pinnate leaves and flowers like pink starbursts. Also, Weinmannia trichosperma, which is a Chilean evergreen with fern-like leaves. Neither tree will stand a chance in the north.

Salix exigua - the coyote willow. This is a bit of a wild card choice. I choose it because, unlike most willows, that grow big and fast this is a much wispier plant that spreads by suckers. This is not nearly as scary as it sounds as it is simple to manage. It sends up fast-growing, very vertical shoots, with tinkling silver leaves that bustle and worry in the breeze. When one trunk gets too big you cut it down and let another take its place.

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Gardeners' World Web User 02/05/2008 at 14:26

This is most interesting. After further research, I had realised myself that it was not such an easy question; I had to revise my spec. upwards to 5-6 metres. One plant I did buy was Cercis chinensis 'Avondale'. My garden is fortunately sheltered, so I will try to make space for the Albizia and/or Weinmannia. Thank you very much for your suggestions.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/05/2008 at 15:44

I've become the owner of a young grape vine planted in a large container in my greenhouse. The idea is to grow it as a single layer espalier. Trouble is I'm not sure when or how to prune. Currently the vine is around 18 inches tall, and has 6 tiny bunches of grapes. can anyone advise please?

Gardeners' World Web User 02/05/2008 at 19:07

What about a Kilmarnock Willow, fairly slow growing and I have never seen a huge one but then there are a lot of places still to visit!

Gardeners' World Web User 02/05/2008 at 19:30

I have just moved into a house with a lovely (if a little overgrown) small, established garden that has several healthy trees in it - I don't think there is enough space for anymore trees to be planted in the ground but there is a concreted area in the shade of the house where I would like to grow trees in containers. I guess that the smaller final size of the tree, the better it will do in a container - but if i intend to plant it on in 5-6 years, could i plant a bigger growing tree?

Gardeners' World Web User 06/05/2008 at 09:28

I've successfully managed to get three nice trees into a small garden without them dominating. I have a Prunus Cerasifera Nigra which has a five foot clear stem, the top is bushy but I prune out three year old branches, the simple pruning keeps it small.

The other two are 'multi-stemmed' Acer sacharinum and Betula jacquemontii. The acer has four stems the Betula has five. The fact they are multi stemmed reduces the vigour and growth rate. If they get too big I'll resort to pruning.

You could try Eucalyptus and 'pollard' it every couple of years.

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