Though large trees provide shade and cooling effects, smaller ornamental trees have plenty of visual impact and attract birds and pollinators to the area, while still adding a little shade cover. Dwarf trees typically reach a maximum height of 30 feet, whereas standard trees like oaks, pines, maples, and walnut trees can grow to 80 feet or higher.
Before choosing a tree for your yard, consider your USDA hardiness zone as well as the amount of sunlight your yard receives.
Jelly King Crab Apple (Malus “Jelly King”)
While many small trees are ornamental, adding visual interest to your landscaping, others offer a bonus of edible fruit. Growing to a maximum of 13 feet, Jelly King crab apple trees are a relatively new introduction from New Zealand. They produce orange-pink fruits that—as their name implies—are perfect for making jelly. In springtime, the tree displays stunning large white blossoms. They’re also a low-maintenance choice, requiring minimal pruning and enjoying full sun or partial shade.
Japanese Maple (Acer japonicum)
Japanese maples are popular because of their brightly colored leaves, which provide a visual centerpiece for landscaping in several seasons. There are many types of Japanese maples, which range in size from 8 to 30 feet. For a small space, look for a dwarf variety that will grow to only about 10 feet tall with a spread of 8 to 10 feet. Japanese maples thrive in zones 5 to 7 and most prefer some partial shade.
Dwarf Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinoides)
The average oak tree is 65 feet tall, with chestnut oaks ranging in height from 59 to 72 feet. Dwarf chestnut oaks, however, grow to a maximum height of about 20 feet. They’re commonly found in eastern and central North America and do best in dry, rocky soil. They produce small acorns that taste sweet, so people and wildlife alike can use them as a tasty treat.
Related: 6 Fast-Growing Shade Trees
Hawthorn trees feature picture-perfect flowers in spring, and in fall and winter, their red berries attract songbirds. One downside is that Hawthorn trees are prone to diseases like leaf blights and leaf spots.
Spray hawthorns with neem oil in the spring to prevent infection. Some popular types of Hawthorn trees include Crimson Cloud (C. laevigata) and Washington Hawthorn (C. phaenopyrum), the latter of which is more resistant to disease.
Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Redbud trees feature beautiful heart-shaped leaves and flowers that come in an array of shades, depending on the variety. In springtime, the pink, white, or purple flowers will add a pop of color to your yard. Growing up to 10 feet high, the redbud does best in zones 5 through 9. Grow redbuds in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil with a moderate moisture level.
Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana)
Made by cross-breeding lily magnolia and lily tree in the 1820s, saucer magnolia grows as either a shrub or small tree in both Europe and North America. In spring, the magnolia produces large, showy blooms with a pink and white hue. It does best in hardiness zones 4 through 9 and likes moist, well-drained soil. Avoid planting saucer magnolia on a southern exposure because this could cause it to bloom too early in the season.
Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina)
Native to the southeastern United States, Carolina Silverbells do best in hardiness zones 4 through 8. This tree is notable for its delicate blossoms, which attract bees, making it a great choice if you’re also growing fruit trees on your property. Maintain it as a shrub or prune it down to one central trunk to encourage it to grow as a tree. It reaches a maximum of 26 feet high and requires acidic soil, with a pH level of between 5 and 6.
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
This ornamental tree is native to North America, growing in zones 5 through 9, and produces pink or white flowers each spring. At summer’s end, flowering dogwood trees produce bright red fruit that birds love, so ornithophiles should consider this option for their yards. The dogwood matures at up to 30 feet high, and 10-year-old specimens typically have a height of around 15 feet.
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Chaste trees bloom with lavender and violet flowers in the fall and grow to about 10 feet in height. Their fruit and leaves are both used in alternative medicine remedies to relieve menstrual cramps and balance hormones. One major advantage of Chaste trees is that they’re drought tolerant, so these small trees are an ideal choice for desert climates in zones 6 through 9.
Japanese Snowbell (Styrax japonicus)
With their pretty white flowers and pleasant aroma, Japanese Snowbell trees are a great, low-maintenance choice for small lots. They look best in spring but maintain their leaves into the fall. Grow Japanese Snowbells in USDA zones 5 through 8a. In zones 7 and 8 they will appreciate partial shade, while they can handle full sun in zones 5 and 6.
Golden Chain Tree (Laburnum)
With show-stopping yellow flowers that grow up to 20 inches long, Golden Chain Trees are visually enchanting and produce a remarkable scent. They're best grown by experienced gardeners because they can be somewhat fussy, requiring regular maintenance. The trees have a hard time growing successfully outside of hardiness zones 5 through 7. Since the seed pods are toxic, this tree is best for homes without small children or pets.
Related: How to Plant a Tree
Wintersweet (Chimonanthus Praecox)
Those looking for a tree that provides color in the winter should consider this option, which thrives in zones 7 through 9. Wintersweet can be grown as a shrub or pruned to grow as a tree and has a maximum height of approximately 15 feet. The yellow blossoms produce an intoxicating smell, which is best appreciated in small spaces, making this tree an excellent choice for small yards.
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