Small Trees for Food and Beauty


When planning your landscape, there is often a situation where only a small flowering or fruiting tree will do. The wrong tree can overgrow a space. Small trees are often the best choice near patios, driveways or sidewalks, within small gardens, beneath the understory of larger trees, in a corner, near a boundary or just the best fit for the landscape design.

When choosing small trees consider the color of the blossom, whether or not it has an edible fruit, soil and shade conditions, whether it is a native or exotic and its general shape and beauty. Often the trees we choose have a sentimental value, something that reminds us of trees we grew up with. Here are some fine choices for those of you looking to enhance your landscape with small trees.

Small Trees for Beauty and Wildlife

Good native small trees that flower; redbud, flowering dogwood, and crabapple. Redbuds reddish pink flowers are a harbinger of spring with stems full of blooms resembling sweet pea flowers. The leaves are heart shaped. Redbuds works well in the understory, are deciduous and offer great fall color.

Another early bloomer is the flowering dogwood tree. The blooms of the dogwood are actually leaf bracts, which surround the little yellow flower. Dogwoods prefer light shade to full sun, so are adaptable to a wide variety of sites. They are deciduous and have nice fall color.

Don’t forget about the native crabapple and plum for blooms and foliage. This deciduous tree produces beautiful fruit that can be made into jelly and attracts many species of birds.

Some exotic choices for flowering trees are Peggy Clark apricot, Taiwan cherry, Peppermint peach, crape myrtle, bottlebrush and Star magnolia. Star magnolia trees are among the first to flower. Most magnolias are too large for small spaces, however, small growers like the Star magnolia and the Little Girl series will fit well in tight spaces. These magnolias are deciduous.

A great choice for a long summer blooming tree is the crape myrtle. With a variety of colors to choose from, they are hardy trees for a variety of locations. They come in a wide variety of growth habits, the mid-size growers range in heights of 10 to 15 foot and are the best group for small gardens. The dwarf forms should be avoided if you wish to train them to become a tree. Prune in winter as blooms occur on new wood. Crape myrtle is also known for its decorative bark.

Another small tree that blooms through the summer is the bottlebrush. It’s red summer blooms and wispy foliage makes this salt tolerant tree a choice of many, including hummingbirds. They prefer sunny dry locations and add a tropical look to the landscape.

Small Trees for Foodscapes

If you prefer an edible small tree there are many great picks among the fruit trees. Most fruit trees flower nicely before they fruit so you get a double whammy. Among the smallest fruit trees are pomegranate, mayhaw, kumquat, fig, banana, some of the persimmon, papaya, and jujube varieties.

For dry sunny sites, the pomegranate and jujube are natural choices, Pomegranate has a natural narrow upright shape good for tight spots, they are beautiful in flower as well as in fruit. So jujube is a dwarf variety of jujube with bazaar zig-zag branches that add interest in the winter. 

Bajoo BananaFor wet spots or people with good watering habits consider the mayhaw and banana. Mayhaw are a native fruit tree whose fruits are said to make the best jelly. Mayhaws have clusters of fragrant white flowers in spring and great fall color. Bananas are broad-leaved and add a tropical look to the garden, small growers like Raji Puri and Truely Tiny stay under 6 foot. 

Nagami Kumquat Citrus FruitAmong citrus trees, the kumquats and limequat are the smallest growers. There are several kumquat varieties to choose from, some sweet like Meiwa, some sour like Nagami and some with variegated leaves like Centennial. Kumquats and limequats, like all citrus, have evergreen leaves.

Fig TreeFig trees make a great choice for a small tree with delicious fruit. They have interesting shaped leaves and especially attractive when leafless in winter. Two varieties of non-astringent persimmons, the Izu and Ichikikeijiro, are small trees which fruit in fall and early winter a time when the landscape needs color. Weeping persimmons are extremely attractive small growers, with an usual shape that is a real eye catcher. 

Weeping Persimmon 22So you see there is a lot to choose from, even if you think your yard is too small to plant trees. Given a little thought and careful planning, it is possible for even people with the smallest yards, to enjoy growing fruiting and flower trees.

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