A tree will bring year-round interest and colour into even the smallest garden – but consider how big it will eventually become.
WHICH TREE TO CHOOSE
- If you’d prefer a tree that doesn’t need any pruning, and grows to no more than about 3m tall, look at varieties that cross over between trees and shrubs. Small varieties of Japanese maple such as Acer palmatum ‘Garnet’ fit this bill.
- If you’re prepared to prune after a few years, then you’ll have more options. You could consider the Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ with its lovely dark purple leaves, or the Juneberry.
- Unless you have a very big garden, steer clear of quick-growing trees such as poplars and Leylandii. Also consider the root run of some types. For example, eucalyptus, even when pruned regularly, sends roots out a long way and blossom trees and poplars have roots very close to the surface, which means they can lift paths and ruin lawns.
WHERE TO PLANT
- Think about what you want the tree for. If it’s to screen, it needs to be positioned carefully. Trees are difficult to move so it’s worth imagining a tree in different spots in the garden before planting. A good tip is to take a picture from where you need the screening and sketch in the tree to the right size to gauge the effect.
- Always position away from the house, as roots can affect foundations by sucking water out of the soil. Some types of soil are more susceptible than others to problems. For instance, clay soil shrinks a great deal when it becomes dry and that can shift foundations.
- The best place to plant is at the boundary, to provide screening from neighbours. Deciduous trees are excellent as they create a barrier and shade in the summer when you’re out in the garden, but they lose their leaves in winter, letting light filter through the branches.
- If you are planting a tree to give height and structure to your outside space, perhaps to form an arch over a path or to create a barrier halfway down the garden, you could keep it in a pot. That way, as long as you prune it carefully and regularly, you need never worry about where the roots are going.
Usually, fruit trees are grafted on to a different stem, so the top, which determines what the fruit is like, is attached to a specially selected stem that will keep the whole plant small. They also come fan-trained for placing against a warm wall, or as cordons – just one main stem that again can be tied up to a wall. Always buy self-fertile ones, so the flowers will result in fruit.
With fruit you also get different seasons of interest – from blossom in the spring to fruit in the autumn, while the shapes of tree give structural interest through the winter. This so important in a small garden because as you’ll be looking at these trees all year round, they need to be worth it! Juneberry has strong all-year interest, with white flowers in early spring, reddish-purple berries in summer and wonderful orange-red leaves in autumn. Or plant trees with interesting bark such as the white-stemmed silver birch or the rich red shining bark of Prunus serrula. Although this one grows eventually to 8m, it does so quite slowly.
HOW TO PLANT
- Dig a hole a wider and a little deeper than the roots of your tree. Loosen the soil around the roots.
- Put the tree in the hole and check the depth. Look for the mark on the trunk that shows where it originally grew above ground. This should be level with the top of the soil. If a tree is not deep enough the roots above ground will die.
- Fill the hole around with soil while holding the tree upright.
- Press the soil down onto the roots. Don’t compact the soil as this will stop water and air circulating but make sure the tree is steady.
- Water well.
- Support with a stake, if necessary.
THE TOP 10 TREES FOR SMALL SPACES
- Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’, a white flower mountain ash, which grows to 10m.
- Prunus serrula, a cherry with good autumn colour. It can reach 8m.
- Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’, which matures to a height of 8m.
- Betula albosinensis, this tree has a peeling bark and may top 12m.
- Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Ballerina’ can advance to 6m.
- Acer palmatum ‘Garnet’ has a delicate weeping shape. It grows to 1.5m.
- Arbutus unedo, a slow-growing evergreen tree or large shrub that can reach 8m.
- Magnolia × loebneri ‘Merrill’ has pale pink star-shaped flowers in spring and may reach 8m.
- Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ can be grown in a container and will top 3m.
- Prunus‘Kursar’, a dwarf flowering cherry that grows to 8m.