How to - Gardening Resources

Skinny trees for tight spaces

Trevor Cole
Photography by

These slender specimens will squeeze into the tiniest garden

As much as I love huge, stately old trees, they don't fit comfortably into smaller gardens. Yet gardens need trees, which not only clean the air and offer shade, but also provide handsome vertical interest. Choosing specimens with a slender growth habit is the answer. Here are a number of worthy, slimline options to consider.

Please note that sizes given on the charts are for mature, 40- to 50-year-old specimens. When selecting a tree, keep in mind its eventual size, and site accordingly, especially if planting near walls or windows. Otherwise, things could get ugly when your tree grows bare and lopsided from insufficient light and cramped quarters. Note too that some will spread further after reaching their ultimate height.

If you're willing to part with them once they outgrow available space, any of these trees can also be grown in containers on a balcony or patio, providing you choose plants that are at least two planting zones hardier than where you live (for example, in Zone 6, select plants hardy to Zone 4). Remember that soil in a container freezes more solidly than garden soil and is more vulnerable to freeze/thaw cycles, so the extra hardiness is essential. All these trees should be grown in full sun, in a moderately fertile, well-drained soil (any special caveats are noted in the charts). Remember that trees stressed from growing in the wrong conditions are more prone to problems from pests and diseases.

Care & feeding
To plant, dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball, and position tree at the same level it was in the nursery row (as indicated by a change in colour of the bark). Add compost to the planting hole only if soil is very poor and sandy. Support the tree with a short stake for the first two years (use three supports if the location is very windy); attach with a commercial tree-tie. Don't tie too tightly; the top of the stem should flex in the wind. Water as needed for the first two years, then only in prolonged drought. If planting in fall, do not mulch until the following spring; then apply a thin layer of organic mulch (2 to 5 cm), keeping it away from the trunk. Do not apply fertilizer until the tree is well established; this forces the tree to produce a good, wide root system.

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