Best Small Trees for Landscaping Your Yard

By Amanda Lutz Updated May 13, 2024

Homeowners with small yards who don’t have space for big trees should consider planting small trees. Offering shade and privacy, small trees spruce up the look of a small garden without taking up too much of a small space or posing risks to a house’s roof, siding, or windows. Read our guide to learn more about small trees, the different climates and soils in which these ornamental trees thrive, and how to properly care for each.


Benefits of Small Trees for Landscaping

Arborists classify trees into three sized-based categories: small trees that grow to be less than 25 feet tall (including dwarf varieties), medium-size trees that can reach up to 40 feet tall, and large trees that can climb up to 100 feet tall. 

Small trees are particularly well suited for landscapes because they offer these benefits:


There are dozens of different varieties of small trees from which you can choose. Below are some of the most popular options: 

Crape Myrtle

Crape myrtles are iconic Southern classics, featuring pink flowers, red flowers, yellow flowers, and purple flowers. The backs of these plants peel throughout the seasons, giving the tree a dappled appearance. Crape myrtle roots won’t jeopardize structures or even sidewalks, so you can plant them virtually anywhere in your landscape.

These trees need moist soil that can drain easily, and they prefer sunny areas. Crape myrtles can grow by two feet a year and up to 25 feet tall. 

Golden Chain Tree

Golden chain trees grow branches that sprout dangling yellow flowers in the late spring and deep green foliage through the growing season. These small trees can eventually stretch to 30 feet tall at a growth rate of two feet each year, with growth starting again in the early spring.

Golden chain trees thrive in full sun or partial shade as long as they have access to moderately moist soil that can easily drain, making them a low-maintenance choice.

Hawthorn

Hawthorns grow branches that rest close to the ground, making them look like large shrubs, and their white blooms are fluffy and spherical when they appear in early summer. These blooms turn bright reddish-orange in the late summer to add beautiful fall color.

Hawthorns can grow up to 20 feet tall, especially if they have access to full sunlight and moderately moist soil. 

Japanese Maple

Japanese maples grow deep, rich red leaves in sunlight and orange or green leaves in the shade. The tree’s thin branches and trunk give it an elegant appearance and allow sunlight to reach plants all around it. 

Japanese maples grow at a rate of one or two feet per year until they reach a maximum height of 20 feet. Most varieties prefer full sunlight in moist soil that drains easily, and they have good disease resistance. 

Redbud

Redbud trees have a thin trunk and branches. They grow sparse, close-knit foliage and pink or white flowers. 

Redbuds prefer moderately moist soil that drains easily and thrive in sunlight or part shade. Most redbud varieties won’t grow taller than 10 feet, and they can reach their maximum height within five years.


Small Trees for Different Climates

Most varieties of trees are suited to particular climates and won’t grow as successfully elsewhere. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map divides American regions into corresponding zones, which are based on annual minimum temperature, presence of insects, and soil conditions. If a plant is rated for your region’s hardiness zone, that means it will likely thrive there. 

Below are some of our favorite trees that grow in different regions:

Zones 3–5 (Northern Midwest and Northern East Coast)

Homeowners in Zones 3–5 can choose from these popular small trees:

Zones 5–7 (Mid-Regions of the Continental United States)

Some of the most popular small tree varieties for Zones 5–7 include the following:

Zones 8–9 (Southern United States and Mid-Southern West Coast)

Some of the most popular small trees for this region include the following:

You can plant your favorite small trees in pots and containers if they aren’t a perfect match for your home’s hardiness zone. This allows you to move your plants into shade or sunlight as necessary. You can even bring potted plants inside during the coldest parts of winter or the hottest parts of summer. 

Meyer lemon trees are a popular choice for planting in pots, as they can thrive indoors and outdoors. 


Small Trees for Different Soil Types

The type of soil in which you plant a tree is just as important as the plant hardiness zone in which you live, and most trees prefer well-draining soil. You can test your soil’s drainage conditions by digging a hole that’s approximately one foot deep and one foot across and then filling it with water. Well-draining soil will drain away the water in approximately ten minutes, while poorly-draining soil may take an hour.

Trees will not be able to grow long roots in soil that is thick and compact. Slow-draining soil can also trap water against tree roots, leading to rot, mold, or fungus infections.

You can improve your landscape’s soil by adding compost, manure, or bark, which will lighten it. We recommend looking for trees that are suited to growing in clay or other slow-draining soils if you don’t want to change your soil’s composition.

Popular types of small trees that prefer slow-draining clay soil include the following:

Popular small tree varieties that grow in dry soil include the following:


Planting and Maintenance Tips

Start the process of choosing small or dwarf trees by determining your home’s plant hardiness zone and the drainage condition of your landscape’s soil. These factors will determine which types of trees can take root in your yard and thrive.

Next, consider where you want to place your trees. Most trees can grow to be as wide as they are tall, so space them at least one to one-and-a-half times their height apart. 

Consider any tree’s proximity to your foundation. Tree roots can be destructive to your foundation, pipes, and underground power lines. If you want to plant trees near your foundation, seek out foundation plants such as small cypress trees or emerald green arborvitae. These varieties have soft roots and can grow safely near your home.

Small trees require less maintenance than larger trees and don’t pose the same risk of overgrowth. You must water small trees precisely. Most small trees prefer deep watering whenever the soil is dry instead of shallow watering.

Inspect your trees for fungus infestations, signs of invasive beetles or pests, and other traces of damage every six months. You can also reach out to your local county extension office to learn more about pests and tree diseases that are unique to your region.


Our Recommendation

Research your area’s plant hardiness zone and take stock of the soil condition in your yard before choosing which small trees to make a focal point of your landscape. Ensure your soil drains well, and consider how much sunlight your landscape gets. Plant trees far enough away from other trees, plants, and elements of your home’s foundation. Water small trees regularly and prune them so they grow into elegant, pleasing shapes.


Small Trees for Landscaping FAQ

What are the hardiest small trees for landscaping?

The hardiest small trees for landscaping are Japanese maples. These trees can grow in virtually any type of soil or plant hardiness zone.

What is the best tree for a small front yard?

The best trees for a small front yard include perennials such as flowering dogwoods, kousa dogwoods, and golden chain trees. These trees are small and thrive in a variety of growing conditions.

What is the best tree to plant near a house?

The best tree to plant near a house is the emerald green arborvitae. It’s a semi-dwarf evergreen tree that can grow safely near your foundation or along garden paths without damaging the foundation or sidewalk. These trees also have dense foliage for extra privacy.

What flowering trees are under 10 feet tall?

Flowering trees under 10 feet tall include redbuds, the Olympiad rose tree, and the Hinoki cypress.

How do I maintain a small tree in my landscape?

Maintain a small tree in your landscape by giving it deep watering when the soil is dry and pruning to your desired shape when it’s young. Inspect it for signs of disease or pest infestations.