10 Great Trees for Small Yards

A small fig tree planted in a green lawn in front of a fence.

Treehugger / Kaitlyn Kilpatrick

You don't need a sprawling yard to enjoy the benefits that trees can provide — even smaller species can offer shade, attract wildlife, and increase biodiversity. With hundreds of species and varieties to choose from that top out around 30 feet in height, there's a small tree for just about any location. It's always worth considering native species, which will thrive in your local climate and can play a vital role in the ecosystem. Often, the best guidance can come from local gardeners, orchardists, and arborists, who can recommend small trees to consider and how to care for them. 

Here are 10 tree varieties to start your search for the perfect companion for your small yard or garden.

Warning

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

1
of 10

Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)

A stand of small serviceberry trees in bloom.
Stephen J. Krasemann / Getty Images

The downy serviceberry is flowering tree that grows to 15-25 feet in height with a 15-25 foot spread at maturity. It blooms in spring, producing delicate white flowers. In summer, it produces a berrylike fruit that is highly prized by mockingbirds and cedar waxwings, and can be used in jellies and pies. Also called saskatoon, juneberry, shadbush, or sugar-plum, serviceberry trees produce a flash of fall color when their leaves turn, and can thrive in a wide variety of climates.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, acidic, well-drained soil.
2
of 10

Common Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)

A bushy tree with pink flowers in front of a house.

Treehugger / Kaitlyn Kilpatrick

The common crape myrtle can tolerate poor soil and has flexible roots that are unlikely to cause damage to foundations or sidewalks, making it a good choice in tight spaces. It's a sun-loving tree that is best known for its long-lasting summer blossoms, with delicate flower structures reminiscent of crepe paper. At maturity, it grows to a height of 15 to 25 feet with a spread of six to 15 feet. The flowers can vary from pink, to red, to white. It's cultivated in warm climates around the world, and is native to Southeast Asia and India. 

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Average soil.
3
of 10

White Dogwood (Conrus florida)

A close-up shot of a dogwood tree in bloom in front of a brick wall

Deb Perry / Getty Images

The white dogwood flower is one of the most recognizable signs of spring, with showy blooms in April and May. There's more to this tree than its flowers, though, with leaves that transform to a vibrant purple in fall and red berries that attract winter songbirds. At maturity, white dogwoods have a height of 25 feet and a spread of 25 feet. They thrive in moist, shady locations and will grow in cooler climates than most other flowering trees will tolerate.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Most will suit; acidic, sandy, loamy rich, well-drained, and clay.
4
of 10

Japanese Red Maple (Acer palmatum var. atropurpureum)

Japanese maple with red leaves at the edge of a lawn.

Mark Turner / Getty Images

The Japanese red maple is a landscape tree popular for its small stature and delicate, colorful foliage. It occupies little space, with a mature height of 15 to 25 feet and a spread of 20 feet, and is a slow grower that's easy to prune. It has distinctive reddish-purple foliage, even in summer. It's best suited to partially shaded locations and consistently moist soil. If you're interested in an even smaller version of this tree, the Japanese red maple is one of the most popular species cultivated in the art of bonsai.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial sun.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers slightly acidic, moist soil; tolerates most soils and some drought.
5
of 10

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

A short and squat witch hazel tree with yellow flowers.

Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

Witch hazel grows as a small tree or a large shrub bearing fragrant yellow or orange flowers in November and December—which is why it's also sometimes called winterbloom. It grows to a height of 15 to 30 feet and a spread of 15 to 25 feet. Depending on how it is pruned, it can grow as a small tree with a single stem, or a multistemmed shrub. It tolerates a variety of conditions, but does not grow well in clay soil.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3-8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained soils; tolerates variety of moisture conditions.
6
of 10

American Elder (Sambucus canadensis)

A bushy green elderberry bush with white flowers.

apugach / Getty Images 

The American elder, also known as the common elderberry, is a shrublike tree native to eastern North America and Central America. If it's pruned regularly, it can be trained into a treelike form with a single trunk. It grows quickly, reaching a height of five to 12 feet, with a spread of five to 12 feet as well. Due to its small size and bushy nature, it's a popular choice as a border tree, and is often planted in groups or rows. It produces white and yellow flowers in early summer and edible berries in late summer that attract pollinators. The fruit is also prized for making jam, wine, pies, and tinctures.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Tolerates most soils.
7
of 10

Dwarf Apple (Malus domestica)

Young dwarf apple trees in a yard, heavy with fruit.

np-e07 / Getty Images

Full-sized apple trees can grow to over 30 feet and produce enough fruit to easily overwhelm an average homeowner. Small yard owners should look for dwarf varieties instead, which grow from five to eight feet tall, have a five to 10 foot spread, and produce a more manageable yield. For a great eating apple, try the Braeburn variety, which is long-lasting, sweet, and grows well in most climates. Dwarf trees are also a good candidate for the tree-training art form known as espalier, which can help maximize what you can grow in a small space.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained soil.
8
of 10

Common Fig (Ficus carica)

A close-up shot of fig tree limbs.

Treehugger / Kaitlyn Kilpatrick

The common fig is a fruiting tree that grows from 15 to 30 feet tall, with a spread of 15 to 20 feet. They do well in small spaces, and in contrast with other fruit trees, can benefit from heavy pruning each year. Well-pruned fig trees will remain very small, and can even be grown indoors in containers. Fig trees are native to warm, Mediterranean climates, but can grow well in protected areas in colder temperatures. It will produce green flowers in spring, from which the fruit emerges in summer and early fall.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Prefers sandy-clay loam; tolerates most soil types.
9
of 10

Monk's Pepper (Vitex agnus-castus)

Vitex tree limbs with purple flowers before a blue sky background.

Treehugger / Kaitlyn Kilpatrick

Monk's pepper is a multitrunk shrubby tree with clusters of lavender flowers and lacy gray-green leaves. For a shrub, it can grow quite large—up to 25 feet tall with a 25 foot spread. The fruit resembles a peppercorn and has been used in traditional medicine for many centuries, and its pain-relieving properties are borne out in modern studies. The light purple flowers, which grow in clusters, are a favorite of butterflies and bees. It grows best in full or part-sun locations with well-drained soil.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Highly adaptable; prefers acidic, well-drained, loose soil.
10
of 10

American Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Redbud tree limbs with leaves against a blue sky.

Treehugger / Kaitlyn Kilpatrick

American redbud trees, which can actually have white, pink, red, or purple flowers, are a staple in many gardens and yards. It can grow 20 to 30 feet tall with a spread of 25-35 feet, but with attentive pruning can be trained to a smaller size. Its seeds are good forage for birds, and its nectar is an important food source for honeybees and other pollinators. It's a member of the pea family and can extract some of the nitrogen it requires from the air; it only requires light fertilization and adapts to a variety of soils. Its leaves will emerge as reddish in color before turning green in the summer and yellow in the fall.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun; prefers partial shade in windy and dry areas.
  • Soil Needs: Acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained, and clay soils.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.