Tree out of sight garden 1 of 1
By Mark Lane

Trees make a wonderful addition to any garden, whether you have acres or just a patio.

There is a tree for every situation, every soil type, some are evergreen while others are deciduous. You can even get ones that are semi-evergreen. Trees also come in various shapes and sizes, colours, textures, some with flowers, others with fruit or interesting bark and stems.

Before heading off to the garden centre or nursery, however, to buy a tree there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, think about the final height and spread of the tree. Most trees respond well to pruning, so you can always keep them in check, but if you want a low maintenance tree then a few minutes looking at the spot in your outdoor space where you want to plant a tree and thinking about how tall it will get and how far it will spread will save you pounds and unwanted grafting in the future.

Think about the planting of the tree in the ground if close to a property. A little research on how far a tree’s roots will spread is invaluable

Mark Lane

Do you want evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous? What type of soil do you have and does it become waterlogged? If growing in pots will it need ericaceous soil for acid-loving trees, how big a pot can you go for? Do you want a tree for privacy or just to attract wildlife into the garden?

And, finally, think about the planting of the tree in the ground if close to a property. A little research on how far a tree’s roots will spread is invaluable. Ideally, never plant a tree up close to a house unless you can restrict the root run or you intend to train the tree and keep it small.

Eriobotrya japonica Wiki
Eriobotrya japonica is an evergreen ideal for small gardens. Photo: Wiki Commons

For small gardens you cannot beat Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Ballerina’, Japanese maples, the evergreen Eriobotrya japonica (pictured above), Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ or Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’.

The Amelanchier has clusters of white flowers in spring, followed by bronze-colour foliage in spring changing to green for the summer and then in autumn changing to red-purple.

It’s a tree that does everything. It even has berries which the birds love. It gets to about 4 metres in height and 4 metres in width.

For wonderful foliage colours then Japanese maples and Cercis really are wonderful. For some scent, why not plant Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, with sunflower-yellow-scented flowers in late winter.

Japanese maple 1 of 1
A Japanese maple in the autumn sunshine.

Trees can also be trained in the garden, which keeps them more manageable, but you can also have fun using espaliered, pleached or topiarized trees.

Yew (Taxus) or box (Buxus) make excellent topiary, while the crabapple Malus ‘John Downie’ or Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) make excellent pleached trees. For fruit in the smallest of spaces, espaliered fruit trees are an excellent choice, as are stepover fruit trees. Pears, apples, peaches and apricots respond really well to this way of growing.

Crabapple Malus Flickr Andy Fogg
Crabapple Malus. Photo: Andy Fogg/Flickr

If you want to grow a tree in a container or pot, then you need to go for the largest pot you can get that will fit your space.

There is a lovely dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’) with very fragrant, sweetly-scented flowers. The Persian silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) has large mimosa-like leaves and pink flowers that look like powder puffs.

Magnolia stellata or the Star Magnolia will need to be grown in ericaceous compost, because it is an acid-loving tree, but in spring time it will be covered in white star-shaped flowers with a soft scent.

If you want an over-the-top topiarized tree, then the Flamingo Dwarf Willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-Nishiki) is the tree to grow. Throughout spring and summer, the small white and green variegated leaves are tipped with flamingo pink. Grow this as a lollipop shape for an eye-catching display.

Crape myrtle Flickr Andres Bertens
Crape Myrtle is a tree that won't require too much work. Photo: Andres Bertens/Flickr

For low maintenance trees you cannot beat Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) with conical panicles of flowers, the Sacred bamboo (Nandina domestica), which is not a bamboo, but has red berries for the birds and superb foliage colour with bright red tips.

For a scented tree why not try something that not many people grow, the Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) with maroon flowers with a sweet fruity fragrance.

Trees provide oxygen, store carbon, stabilise soil and are home to many forms of wildlife. Cities and towns are getting hotter, yet trees can help cool the location by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit or -12 degrees Celsius. They provide food, shield us from ultra-violet rays by reducing the UV-B exposure by c. 50 per cent.

For me though, trees in the garden mark the seasons and attract birds, bugs, beetles, bees and squirrels, giving life to my garden. So, go on plant a tree in your garden. You will not be disappointed.

* Mark Lane is a garden designer, author, BBC gardening presenter and Ambassador for Thrive.

Planting a small tree

In this guide we will show you how you can plant a small tree in your garden.

Find out more