Gardening Tips > September > ‘How to’? Choose a Tree for a Small Garden

‘How to’? Choose a Tree for a Small Garden

A tree creates a stunning garden feature, it gives structure, dappled shade, and provides a valuable haven for wildlife. Having small gardens doesn’t rule out being able to plant a tree, there are plenty suitable for a limited space, even on a balcony or small patio. However, when choosing your tree, there are a number of things to take into consideration to ensure that it will flourish without outgrowing its space. Once you have chosen a suitable tree, use our step by step planting guide to ensure it is given the best start in your garden.


Remember, even a small tree will grow both upwards and outwards, you can keep the branches pruned but make sure there is room for some growth. Fortunately, there’s plenty of tree species and cultivars with a compact habit that won’t outgrow their surroundings.  A well-chosen tree, positioned effectively and kept pruned, will make a beautiful focal point and provide interest throughout the year.

Look for trees grafted onto small growing rootstocks (rootstocks are used to control the size and rate of growth)  our plant area team are always on hand to help you select a tree suitable for your space.

Why do you want a tree?

Consider what you want to gain from your tree

A feature for your garden – look for year-round interest such as spring blossom, colourful seasonal foliage, autumn colour. Tress such as Acer, weeping willow, cherry tree

Salix caprea – also known as goat or pussy willow. With pretty weeping branches and attractive pom-pom catkins in spring. Smaller varieties will be happy in a pot.

Salix caprea – also know as goat or pussy willow. With pretty weeping branches and attractive pom-pom catkins in spring. By GAP Photos

Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ – a small cherry with pale pink blossom, this tree grows in a column shape so it’s spread won’t become too wide for a restricted space. Photo provided by Frank Matthews

Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ – a dwarf weeping Japanese maples, it has an elegant cascading structure and dramatic colour which changes seasonally.  With an eventual height and spread of only 1 x 1.2 metres, it’s an ideal choice for a container grown tree or to use at the front of a border. Photo provided by Frank Matthews

To attract wildlife – choose a flowering tree to attract bees and other pollinators, the flowers will become autumn berries (or fruits) which the birds will enjoy. Birds also benefit from dense branches for a sheltered perch. Fallen fruit and berries will also be enjoyed by ground creatures. Hawthorn, holly, and cotoneaster, are loved by birds, they are commonly grown as hedges but can be encouraged to grow ‘tree-shaped’ by pruning lower branches. Crab apples are also great for attracting pollinators and birds and are generally able to grow in most aspects and soil types.

Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ – this crab apple is perfect for a small garden and can even be grown in a large pot on a balcony or patio. White apple blossom in spring followed by decorative bright red fruit adored by birds! Photo provided by Frank Matthews


Cotoneaster ‘Coral Beauty’ – evergreen and dense this shrub is the perfect safe haven for garden birds and provides them with plenty of rich red fruit in the autumn. It will only grow to 1m in height and spread can be controlled by pruning. Photo provided by Frank Matthews

To produce your own edible fruit – apples, pears, plums, or cherries can be grown in a small garden, they will most often provide beautiful spring blossom and autumn colour too. If you want an abundant harvest try:

Pyrus communis ‘Conference’ Pear – a popular dessert pear that can be grown in a small garden when on a small rootstock. With white spring blossom and a heavy fruit crop. By GAP Photos


Malus domestica ‘Scrumptious’ Apple – named as it tastes so good, this apple tree is perfect for a small garden when on a small rootstock. The fruit is thin skinned, so very popular with children, and can be eaten straight from the tree. Photo provided by Frank Matthews

To provide dappled shade – A tall tree with a dense canopy can create a nice shady spot in an otherwise unsheltered garden.  Silver birch is perfect for casting a dappled shadow without completely blocking the light and have a very attractive bark that remains looking fantastic all seasons, making it good for winter interest in the garden. There are some varieties that are suitable for a small garden but do remember a birch tree will reach a good few metres in height.

Betula utilis jacquemontii ‘Snow Queen’ – offers a winter wow factor with its snowy white, exfoliating bark. In autumn, leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow. It will grow to a height and spread of 7 x 3.5 metres in 20 years and is is a tough tree which will grow in virtually all soils and conditions. Photo provided by Frank Matthews

Container grown trees   If you don’t have a garden but a balcony or small patio areas, or you’re not sure where to place your tree, growing it in a container is a good solution. The container can be positioned in different locations around the garden until you find the perfect spot. This is a particularly good idea if you rent, so it can move with you! A potted tree is also useful if it needs protection over winter.

Potted Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ by GAP Photos

Make sure you pick a tree that will be happy in a container.  A few ideas are a restricted apple tree grown on a semi-dwarfing rootstock (ask our plant area for assistance in choosing) an acer – Japanese maple, a dwarf conifer or a citrus tree to be easily moved indoors for winter protection. For details on planting a container tree see our Tree Planting ‘How to’? guide


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