Our Favorite Small Trees

Small trees can pack a big punch into your landscape. Here are some of our editors' favorite varieties.


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Crabapple
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Crabapple

    Add spring flair to your landscape with crabapples. There's a wonderful array available that bears flowers in shades of white, pink, and red; has weeping, rounded, or columnar habits; and produces orange, gold, red, or burgundy fruits. Many varieties offer exceptional fall color and great disease resistance as well.

    Name: Malus selections

    Size: From 6 to 30 feet tall and wide, depending on variety

    Zones: 3-8

    Standout Varieties: 'Prairifire' has dark pink flowers, reddish-purple foliage, and great disease resistance; 'Centurion' has rose-pink flowers, an upright shape, and great disease resistance.

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Redbud

    Valued for its outstanding display of pink or white flowers in spring, redbud is an easy-to-grow small tree with delightful heart-shape leaves that turn golden-yellow in fall. It thrives in sun or partial shade and is native to areas of North America.

    Name: Cercis canadensis

    Size: To 30 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 5-9

    Standout Varieties: 'Forest Pansy' has purple foliage that fades to dark green in late summer; 'Silver Cloud' has white-splashed leaves; 'Royal White' has pure-white flowers.

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Crape Myrtle

    A Southern-garden gem, crape myrtle offers big clusters of frilly flowers in shades of pink, red, lavender, or white in summer and fall. Many varieties show off beautiful red, yellow, or orange foliage in autumn, as well as interesting patches of green or silver under their peeling cinnamon-color bark.

    Name: Lagerstroemia selections

    Size: From 6 to 25 feet tall and wide, depending on variety

    Zones: 7-9

    Standout Varieties: 'Arapaho' has red blooms and purple-tinged foliage and good disease resistance; 'Catawba' has purple flowers, brilliant fall color, and good disease resistance.

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Flowering Dogwood

    One of the most beautiful North American native trees, flowering dogwood bears pink or white springtime flowers, bright red fruits in late summer, and outstanding purple-red fall foliage. An understory tree, it does well in partial shade.

    Name: Cornus florida selections

    Size: From 10 to 25 feet tall and wide, depending on variety

    Zones: 5-8

    Standout Varieties: 'Cherokee Sunset' has rich pink blooms and variegated foliage; 'Cloud Nine' is a floriferous variety with extra large blooms.

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Kousa Dogwood

    Count on kousa dogwood to put on a terrific spring show with its attractive pink or white blooms. And this tree keeps performing once spring ends; it bears red fruits in late summer and wonderful reddish-purple autumn foliage. It's typically more disease-resistant than its North American cousin, flowering dogwood.

    Name: Cornus kousa selections

    Size: From 10 to 25 feet tall and wide, depending on variety

    Zones: 5-8

    Standout Varieties: 'Milky Way' has more flowers than most; 'Satomi' has pink flowers.

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Saucer Magnolia

    Saucer magnolia offers some of the most beautiful flowers of any tree. Its large blooms appear in shades of white, pink, and purple in mid- to late spring.

    Test Garden Tip: Do some research before buying a magnolia to make sure you have the best selection for your climate. Some types, while hardy, suffer flower damage from late frosts.

    Name: Magnolia x soulangeana

    Size: To 20 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 5-9

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Fringe Tree

    Native to areas of Eastern North America, fringe tree is a versatile plant you can grow as a large shrub or small tree. Regardless, it offers clouds of fragrant white flowers in late spring that turn into clusters of blue-purple fruits in fall. The fruits are sure to attract birds.

    Name: Chionanthus virginicus

    Size: From 12 to 20 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 4-8

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Golden Chain Tree

    Magnificent when it blooms in late spring and early summer, golden chain tree produces hanging clusters to 2 feet long of yellow flowers that resemble wisteria. The dark green, fine-texture foliage is attractive, too.

    Name: Laburnum x watereri

    Size: To 25 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 6-7

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Carolina Silverbell

    Enjoy a delightful early-spring show from Carolina silverbell. This small tree (or large shrub, depending on how you prune it) displays dangling clusters of white bell-shape flowers just before it leafs out. Then in fall, its foliage turns a delightful shade of yellow.

    Name: Halesia tetraptera

    Size: To 25 feet tall and 30 feet wide

    Zones: 4-8

    Standout Varieties: Named varieties can be hard to come by, but look for 'Rosea', which has pink flowers or 'Tyler's Variegated', which has yellow-and-green foliage.

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Hawthorn

    Hawthorn announces early summer with its sprays of white flowers. Pollinators such as bees and butterflies love the blooms. Then in late summer and fall, it attracts birds with its small red fruits. The orange-red autumn color adds another layer of appeal.

    Name: Crataegus crus-galli

    Size: To 25 feet tall and 30 feet wide

    Zones: 4-7

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Japanese Maple

    Few plants are more beautiful than a Japanese maple in its full fall finery. And happily, there are numerous ways to use this little tree in your yard -- try it as a specimen in a partly shaded spot, for example, or use it as a focal point in a mixed border.

    Name: Acer palmatum selections

    Size: From 6 to 25 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 6-8

    Standout Varieties: 'Bloodgood' is a common selection with fine-texture burgundy foliage that turns red in autumn; 'Sango-kaku' has red branches that stand out after it loses its foliage in fall.

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Golden-Rain Tree

    Add summer color to your landscape with golden-rain tree. It shows off clusters of yellow flowers from mid- to late summer. The foliage emerges pink, fades to green, and then becomes golden-yellow in fall. This beauty tolerates heat, drought, and air pollution, as well.

    Name: Koelreuteria paniculata

    Size: To 30 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 6-9

    Note: This tree may be considered invasive in some areas; check to see if it's problematic in your area before planting it.

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Serviceberry

    The ultimate in four-season beauty, 'Autumn Brilliance' serviceberry bears clusters of white flowers in spring, delicious dark blue fruits in summer, outstanding red fall color, and attractive silvery-gray bark. It thrives in full sun or part shade and moist, well-drained soil.

    Name: Amelanchier 'Autumn Brilliance'

    Size: To 25 feet tall and 30 feet wide

    Zones: 5-8

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Mountain Stewartia

    An elegant small tree with beautiful flowers in midsummer, mountain stewartia is an unusual choice that deserves to be planted more. It's a relatively slow-growing native of Southeastern North America that puts on a terrific fall show when the leaves turn orange and red.

    Name: Stewartia ovata

    Size: To 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide

    Zones: 5-8

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Snowbell

    This tree offers subtle beauty to the landscape. In late spring, it produces white bell-shape flowers that hang from the branches among the leaves. They're mildly fragrant blossoms and become blue-gray fruits in fall when the leaves turn shades of reddish yellow.

    Name: Styrax japonicus

    Size: To 30 feet tall and 25 feet wide

    Zones: 5-8

    Standout Varieties: 'Pink Chimes' bears pink bells instead of white; 'Pendula' has an exceptionally graceful weeping form; 'Crystal' has a columnar form.

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Pagoda Dogwood

    A favorite of wildlife gardeners, pagoda dogwood is a North American native plant that produces clusters of blue-purple berries in summer that attract birds. The early-summer flowers attract bees and other pollinators, too. Like other dogwoods, it develops wonderful fall color and tolerates shade.

    Name: Cornus alternifolia

    Size: To 20 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 4-8

    Standout Varieties: 'Golden Shadows' has bold, yellow-edge foliage in spring and summer; 'Argentea' has leaves edged in white; Gold Bullion has golden-yellow foliage.

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Japanese Tree Lilac

    If you love lilacs, check out Japanese tree lilac. This wonderful plant has clusters of fragrant creamy-white flowers in early summer -- after all the other lilacs have finished blooming. Though its fall color isn't particularly showy, the shiny copper-color bark stands out in winter.

    Name: Syringa reticulata

    Size: To 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide

    Zones: 4-7

    Standout Varieties: 'Snowdance' is especially floriferous and blooms at a younger age than most; 'Golden Eclipse' has golden-edge foliage.

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Chaste Tree

    Drought-tolerant chaste tree starts its show in early- to midautumn, producing delightful clusters of lavender, blue, or white flowers. The toothed, dark-green foliage is attractive from spring to fall and makes a wonderful foil for the flowers.

    Name: Vitex agnus-castus

    Size: To 25 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 6-9

    Standout Varieties: 'Abbeville Blue' has deeper blue flowers than most; 'Silver Spire' has pure-white flowers.

    Note: This tree may be considered invasive in some areas; check to see if it's problematic in your area before planting it.

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Powderpuff

    Whether you grow it as a large shrub or prune it as a small tree, powderpuff is a delight with its fluffy and fragrant red, pink, or white summertime flowers. It's a heat-loving, drought-resistant variety good for the warmest areas of California, Texas, and Florida.

    Name: Calliandra haematocephala

    Size: To 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide

    Zones: 10-11

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Mimosa

    This fast-growing tree has become a favorite in the South for its fine-texture foliage and fluffy clusters of pink summertime flowers. It tolerates drought well and attracts hummingbirds. But it can also be short-lived and self-seed profusely.

    Name: Albizia julibrissin

    Size: To 20 feet tall and wide

    Zones: 6-9

    Standout Variety: 'Summer Chocolate' bears rich purple foliage all season long.

    Note: This tree is considered invasive in some areas; check to see if it's problematic in your area before planting it.

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