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Choosing the Right Tree for a Small Space

From an aborist’s perspective, or that of any tree lover, it’s particularly upsetting to see a tree that is too large for the yard it’s in.

Most people plant trees without much of an understanding about how big they will become. Trees seem to grow slowly, but before you know it, they’re encroaching on fences, power lines and roofs. Not only do these trees cause a hazard, but inexperienced pruners or utility workers will do silly, short-sighted things like topping a tree, or cutting branches right in the middle. This does nothing but ensure the tree works twice as hard to grow big.

So, if you have the option, choose a tree that will fit your space. Don’t choose a white oak, not realizing that it will grow 80 feet wide if left to its own devices. What should you plant instead?

Plant Trees Designed To Be Small

Most trees are big. In general, the kinds of trees that do well in yards must be specially bred to be small. The easiest way to find trees that will fit in your yard are to search for “dwarf” or “semi-dwarf” varieties.

A dwarf tree has a top height of 10 feet. This is a really good size for a smaller yard, or a larger yard if you want two or three. If you want fruit trees in your yard, and you need several to pollinate properly. As an added benefit, shorter trees are much easier to harvest from. Ever been to a U-pick orchard? Most trees are only 10 feet tall.

A semi-dwarf tree has a top height of 12-15 feet. These trees are a little harder to pick from, but they provide more shade, so it’s a trade-off.

Some “standard” sized trees are also small, but you have to be careful. I’ve seen standard apple trees more than 30 feet tall, which is really pushing it for an urban yard. On the other hand, an standard apricot is only 15 feet tall.

Explore Ornamentals

Other than fruit trees, ornamentals are bred to be small as well. They are also bred to have more interesting growth habits, such as a “weeping” form. If you get a tree with an unusual growth habit, though, be sure to check that they don’t need special pruning to maintain their shape.

Ornamental trees make great features for a front yard or a patio. There is an ornamental for every desire, for wildlife food, for fall color, for winter interest, for spring blooms.

With all these options, there’s absolutely no reason to plant an oak where there’s only room for an apricot.

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