Best Small Trees for Tiny Yards

Written by Julie Joyce and published on

We don’t all have room for a giant sequoia or huge a oak in our backyards. But there are many small trees that should suit your space. Whether you are looking for a little shade or a bit of color to brighten your property, these trees mature at around 15 feet tall and generally require minimal maintenance to look great. Here are 16 small trees that are ideal for landscaping tight spaces.

The 16 Best Ornamental Trees for the Landscape

Ornamental trees add an interesting focal point to any landscaping.

One common focal point is an ornamental or flowering tree. These focal point trees are typically smaller than standard shade trees and boasting annual flowers or colorful leaves that draw the eye and brighten the landscape.

Most ornamental trees grow only to about 25 feet so they provide little shade. Their main purpose is to add color and accent. There are many beautiful ornamental trees that are very hardy in Northern Illinois: flowering crabapple, flowering dogwood, tri-colored beeches and Canadian red cherry, flowering plum, flowering pear, hawthorne and magnolias to name a few.

Here is a list of our favorite ornamentals.

1. Eastern Redbud

This native tree is definitely a treasure to behold in the April landscape.  Its magenta buds unfold into an explosion of pink flowers before the leaves even appear on the tree.  Between the flowers and the unique heart shaped leaves this plant should adorn everyone’s landscape. Pretty yellow fall color.

Height 30’  Width 25’

2. Cornus Mas


Bright yellow flowers in early spring give way to red berry clusters in mid summer.  Definitely a bird favorite.  Great plant for use in screens, hedges, or used as a specimen.

Height 20-25’ Width 10’

3. Serviceberry

Serviceberries are great specimen plants that work well with almost any landscape. Brilliant white flowers in early to mid spring precede clusters of berries that birds love and can also be used in pies.  Fall color is a spectacular red/orange. The Autumn Brilliance, shown to the right, features gorgeous fall colors. A problem free tree!

Height 20’ Width 15’

4. Kousa Dogwood


This handsome small tree adds year-round beauty. White flowers in May and June give a milky way effect; purple and scarlet fall leaves add intense color. Beautiful tree form, with horizontal branching. Partial shade to full sun. The Satomi Kousa Dogwood has splendid pink to red bracts followed in fall by hanging red fruit. Autumn leaves have red-scarlet tints.

Height 15-20’  Width 20- 25’ 

5. Japanese Tree Lilac

This is a great tree for tough sites.  In addition to surviving in less than ideal conditions this is a very showy ornamental tree.  Fragrant white flower clusters on this tree can be up to 12’’ long and usually emerge in late spring to early summer. Problem free tree!

Height 20’  Width 15’

6. Dwarf Korean Lilac (standard).

This formal tree has masses of fragrant, light lilac purple blooms in early spring. Attractive dark green foliage. Perfect for small spaces.

Height 3-4’  Width 5-7’

7. Ornamental Pears


Pears are fantastic ornamental shade trees that have amazing white flowers in early to mid spring.  Can be single stem or multi stem trees.  Aristocrat Pears have a open pyramidal shape while the Cleveland Select Pears or Chanticleer have a more upright cylindrical shape to them.

Height 30-50’  Width 20-30’

Cleveland Select Pear – Height 20-30’ Width 15-20’

8. Japanese Maple


These are probably the most popular ornamental tree on the market.  They come in weeping and non-weeping forms as well as maroon and green leaves.  NEEDS TO BE PLANTED IN A PROTECTED AREA!

Height 15-20’  Width 15-20’

13.  Star Magnolia


Magnolias are definitely a crowd favorite.  With beautiful white flowers that emerge in early spring and can last from one to three weeks.  Who wouldn’t love a magnolia in their yard?

Height 15’  Width 10-15’

15.  Crabapples: Red Jewel, Royal Raindrops, Prairiefire


There are few plants that create greater intrigue or visual impact during all four seasons than the flowering crabapple. In the spring all eyes are enticed with delicate colors offered by emerging leaves and buds. Unopened flower buds may hint of one color and as flowers open, other hues are revealed in a spectacular floral display. As flowers fade the rich foliage offers another subtle contribution to the landscape.

As autumn arrives, crabapple foliage and fruit transform to match the vibrant colors of an artist’s palette. Falling leaves reveal the glorious color of the fruit. The snow of winter accents fruit, branches, and tree shape. It is no wonder crabapples are called “jewels of the landscape.”

16.  Jack Dwarf Flowering Pear

A perfect specimen for tight spaces. White blossoms appear in the early spring. Tightly spaced branches for a dense symmetrical crown that leaves an impression that it has been pruned, without any need for maintenance. The glossy leaves produce fall color that is a mixture of orange, yellow and red. Very disease resistant.

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