The best small trees for small gardens
It's lovely to have the luxury of a large acreage garden, and plenty of space to plant large leafy trees. But many of us live in urban and suburban streets, where space is tight.

These man-made locations are the very places that need trees the most - to bring essential cooling shade to the built environment; and to provide visiting birds somewhere to rest on their journey.

Which trees will fit into these tight spaces? We've selected some of our favourite exotic small trees to squeeze into your garden, however small the space. Take a look at our partner post too, The Best Small Native Trees for Small Gardens, for small native Australian trees.

There's always room for a tree

There's always room for a tree

These images from urban places around the world - Poland, US, Italy - show that however built up the place and however small the space, you can squeeze a tree in.

The main challenge to overcome when growing trees in very manmade environments is getting water to their roots. Hard surfaces are not permeable; rainwater does not trickle through pavement and asphalt as it does through soil and grass.

Setting up irrigation points at the trunk and if possible the drip line - the reach of the outer point of the tree branches - or being diligent about hand watering, will help.

Flowering Trees For Tiny Gardens

crepe myrtle

Our favourite exotic tree for smaller gardens may be the crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia).
They have lots of interest year-round, so they really earn their keep in a small garden where every centimetre counts.

You'll enjoy beautiful bark in winter, shady foliage in spring, masses of bright pink or white flowers in summer, and rich leaf colour in autumn.

They also take well to hard pruning, should the need arise - we've even seen them grown as tight formal hedging.

Lilac blossom provokes nostalgic romantic feelings in many gardeners. The compact Manchurian or wolf's lilac (Syringa wolfii) is relatively drought tolerant, fast-growing, and bursts into blossom each spring with fragrant flowerheads of pastel purple.

magnolia Susan

Most spring-flowering magnolias are big bold trees, far too large when full-grown for most suburban spaces. Which is a pity as they are stunning in full bloom, especially in a cool-climate garden.

Magnolia Susan is an exception, reaching only 3m across, and flowering from a young age in such spectacular fashion she's worth giving her room to shine.

If you're looking for even more purple and pink to fill your sub-tropical garden with, you can't go past a tibouchina.
Bi-colour Noelene, musk-pink Kathleen, and vibrant purple Alstonville will all reach a few metres high, can be pruned to a single trunk, and - as our nursery tibouchinas regularly are - be cut very hard back to regrow again.

trees in pots

Trees To Grow In Pots

Plenty of trees don't mind being raised in pots, like these trees above - a Norfolk Island pine by a Marrakesh pool, a travellers' palm in a beachy backyard, a callistemon on a Riviera patio, and orange trees in the Netherlands.

potted citrus

Growing trees in large pots helps you find room for them in a smaller space, and helps keep their size to manageable proportions. The pot restricts the root growth, which in turn limits the amount of leafy growth above ground.

In the days pre-central heating, rich Europeans grew their fruit trees in pots, in specially-built rooms called orangeries, where they could shelter the tender plants from the cold over winter.

Bay trees (Laurus nobilis) and olives (Olea) are often pot-grown, have attractive foliage, and are currently very fashionable for urban doorsteps.

Japanese acer

Many enormous rainforest trees find a new home in a much-reduced size when grown indoors; especially those from the ficus family.

The fiddleleaf fig, broad-leaved rubber plant, and small-leaved weeping fig will all develop into huge trees when planted out into a tropical garden; indoors in a pot they stay small enough to fit into single-storey homes.

Japanese acers are very happy in large pots - especially if your soil is on the alkaline, or dry-and-dusty, side, and unsuited to growing these woodland maples.

If you've only got a windowsill, why not try your hand at the ancient art of bonsai? You could grow an acer forest in your lounge room...

foxtail palm

Pocket-Sized Palms for Gardens

The ultimate tall skinny tree has to be the palm tree - it's - all height and no width until you reach the top!

Australian-garden palms don't boast the extreme heights of the Californian Washingtonia palms, affectionately called skydusters; and there's heaps of smaller-sized garden-friendly palms we can enjoy. Dwarf date palms, (Phoenix), grow in small clumps little taller than head high. The golden cane palm (Dypsis) readily clumps and may need thinning out every few years; otherwise it's very front-garden-friendly.

If you have a slender space that faces east or west, position a travellers' palm (Ravenala) along that axis and its flat fan of leaves will turn to catch the sunlight.

Sure, palm trees might drop the odd big leaf now and again, but they need no regular clipping; their broad fronds provide welcome shade; and their slim trunks leave lots of space for planting and playing underneath.

Rooftop trees around the world

Still not convinced you have room for a tree?
Well, if trees can grow in the shallow soil and restricted space of these rooftops in Monaco, Japan, and in the famous Bosco Verticale balconies in Milan, they can grow in your back yard! With modern advances in plant breeding, there's tiny trees for even the most pocket-sized of plots.
So you see - even in the smallest of spaces, there's room for a tree!

Use our Plant Height filter on our website to find one that's the right height for your space. You'll find it on the left side on desktop, and at the end of the screen on mobile.