London (change)

Five great trees for small gardens

Planting a tree is one simple action that can give a garden an entirely fresh outlook. A tree will add height to any garden, however small the garden may be. Without a tree, even the best border can look disappointingly flat.

A tree also makes a great focal point, and attracts birds, giving them somewhere to perch. And if you choose a fruit tree, you'll have a useful contribution to your housekeeping.

If you're still not convinced, you can always keep a tree in a pot. This has two key advantages: you can move it around to wherever you need it, and it can be taken with you when you move.

Take inspiration from our guide to five of the best trees for small gardens.


Apricot trees are handsome trees with good blossom and heavy crops of fruit in July and August. Generally, their yield is more more reliable than peaches or nectarines. New varieties such as 'Tomcot' and 'Jennycot' seem hardier and more prolific. Apricot trees crop well in mild locations as standards, but wall-train them elsewhere.

Height x Spread: 3m x 3m if trained.

Topiary shapes

Topiary yew, box and bay are the versatile stars of small gardens, adding instant 'style' - even if they're not conventional trees. They're available ready-trained at a price, but if you'd rather save cash you can train your own, given time. Choose tall upright spirals, lollipop-shaped standards, cubes or pyramids, for focal points and doorway features.

Height x Spread: as required.

Acer palmatum 'Dissectum'

Acer palmatum 'Dissectum', along with the purple-leaved form, 'Dissectum Atropurpureum', is outstanding for small gardens. These trees have a great shape and their lacy foliage gives a colourful autumn bonus. Both are very slow-growing and require a sheltered spot out of direct sun (such as in large tubs in a shady corner of a patio).

Height x Spread: 2m x 2m, but slow growing.

Crab apple

Crab apple trees are great all-rounders, offering good wildlife value, spring blossom and colourful fruit. Grow 'John Downie' for making crab apple jelly; for winter looks 'Red Sentinel' retains its fruit until March (unless it's eaten by birds); and upright 'Golden Hornet' is a space-saver. Crab apples can be bought on dwarfing rootstocks.

Height x Spread: 4m x 3m on dwarfing rootstock.

Espalier apple tree

Choose a 'family tree' (where each arm is a different variety of apple, all chosen to cross pollinate) to make best use of limited space. The Espalier apple tree makes a great feature for a warm, sunny wall, or as a light screen or 'garden divider'. They're a reliable fruit supply, with beautiful spring blossom, and a compact clematis can be grown up through them.

Height x Spread: 1.8m x 3m, if trained.

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: Five great trees for small gardens
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

ogster 23/01/2014 at 19:11

Whens the best time to plant these small tree's ?

Verdun 23/01/2014 at 19:13

Now is best time to plant trees ogster 

higgy50 23/01/2014 at 19:43

Yep I agree now!

I planted about 20-30 trees and shrubs only a couple of weeks ago and this wet weather will settle them in nicely.

Depending on how big they are remember to stake them to keep them firm in the ground but stake them low on the trunk so that the top of the tree can still move and just the very bottom of the trunk remains firmly in place.

Verdun 23/01/2014 at 20:08

Hi higgy

What trees did you plant?  We all now know where to go for tree planting advice 

Ruth Thompson 23/04/2016 at 12:37

We have a small garden, and I mean SMALL!! We also have raised borders, but would like to have a stunning tree in one corner. We have been looking at Exochorda macrantha 'The Bride' as it seems pretty, on the face of it, as good as I can think of as an amateur gardener! I'm wanting something that looks flamboyant during the summer and add some structure. Problems: is it easy to look after; we live in an extremely exposed area which is subject to high winds; and how will it cope in battling for sustenance against the demands of a near-by Beech hedge? Alternatives we have been looking at are Gardenia jasminoides 'Crown Jewel' and Gardenia jasminoides Kleim's hardy. Japanese Cherries (particularly Prunus Kiki-Shidare-Zakura') and 'Mock Orange' philadelphus virginal seems nice. Has any body got any ideas or advice?

See more comments...