10 Narrow Trees for Small Gardens and Tight Spaces

Narrow trees for small gardens and tight spaces

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Let’s face it. Most gardeners aren’t working with an endless amount of space. We have small yards and gardens and a limited amount of time to dedicate to taking care of our outdoor spaces. Small-space gardening is a must for many of us in today’s fast-paced, urban world. All too often big trees are planted in small gardens and yards where they quickly outgrow the space and have to be drastically pruned or removed altogether. Today, I’d like to tell you about some absolutely amazing narrow trees for small gardens. These columnar trees are also perfect for tight spaces, such as the area between your home and driveway, along a fence line, or when planted in a row, they’ll even serve as a privacy shield against nearby neighbors.

The benefits of narrow trees for small gardens

Narrow trees like the ones I’m about to introduce you to are perfect for today’s ever-shrinking landscapes. Their slender growth habit means they don’t take up much horizontal space while still giving the beauty only a tree can give. Yes, some of these varieties grow quite tall, but even in the smallest of gardens, the sky is the limit! More often than not, making use of vertical space is the best way to expand a small garden and add another dimension and layer of interest.

Narrow trees for containers and small gardens.

Narrow evergreen trees, like this one, look great in containers and provide additional interest in the winter.

Compact gardens and yards can benefit from these narrow trees in many other ways, too. Not only do they add design flair, but many of these trees for small gardens also produce edible berries, cones, and seeds enjoyed by birds and other urban wildlife. Plus, though only one of the trees on this list has showy blooms, even the small, nondescript flowers of the other trees provide pollen and nectar for pollinators. Plus, the leaves of some of them even serve as caterpillar host plants for several species of butterflies.

Top 10 narrow trees for small gardens

  1. Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’: This narrow, upright evergreen is a smooth-leaved holly that reaches about 6 feet in height but is only 2 to 3 feet wide. Like other hollies, the male and female plants are separate. The females of this species produce tiny purple berries, but only when a pollinating male plant is nearby. ‘Sky Pencil’ hollies are lovely trees for small gardens, and their evergreen growth habit means they provide winter interest, too. Hardy in zones 5-9. Source.
Sky Pencil hollies are great columnar plants for small gardens.

‘Sky Pencil’ hollies make great additions to small backyards and containers. Their upright growth means they don’t take up a lot of room. Photo courtesy of Doreen Wynja from Monrovia Nurseries.

2. Crimson Spire™ oak (Quercus robur x Q. alba ‘Crimschmidt’): This unique oak tree is very tall — up to 40 feet — but remains fairly narrow at just 15 to 20 feet wide (yes, that’s quite narrow for an oak!). The fall color is exceptional. A stunning tree all around, but an especially valuable tree for small gardens due to its ability to support a wide array of native insects and the songbirds who eat them. Hardy in zones 5-9. Source.

3. Prunus serrulata ‘Amanogawa’: This lovely flowering Japanese cherry is slender and columnar, making it the perfect tree for small yards and gardens where color is desired. It blooms in early spring when the branches are covered in pale pink flowers. The blooms are followed by green leaves that turn a beautiful orange in the autumn. ‘Amanogawa’ will reach 25 feet in height but only 10 feet in width. It’s a seriously beautiful narrow tree. Hardy in zones 5-8. Source.

Flowering cherry 'Amanogawa' produces pink flowers in the spring.

Pink cherry blossoms, including those that occur on the narrow variety Prunus serrulata ‘Amanogawa’, are beautiful additions to the spring garden.

4. Populus tremula ‘Erecta’: This thin cultivar of the Swedish aspen tree is great for slender garden areas and small yards. It’s very cold hardy and has heart-shaped leaves that move in the wind. Though it’s deciduous and looses its leaves in the winter, this columnar tree’s structure is lovely even without its foliage. Though its width is very limited, it can grow up to 40 feet tall. And, it’s hardy all the way down to zone 2. Source.

5. Betula platyphylla ‘Fargo’: Otherwise known as the Dakota Pinnacle® birch, this columnar tree has leaves that turn a brilliant yellow in the fall and white, peeling bark. It’s also resistant to the bronze birch borer, which is another definite plus. Among the most statuesque of all the columnar trees for small gardens, the Dakota pinnacle birch grows upwards of 25 feet tall at maturity but is only 8 to 10 feet wide. Hardy in zones 3-7. Source.

6. Carpinus betulus ‘Columnaris Nana’: Though hornbeams are fairly rigid, narrow trees to begin with, this variety is even more well-behaved. They’re like perfect garden sculptures that reach only 5 feet tall at full maturity. The slow growth rate of ‘Columnaris Nana’ means it takes a long time for this columnar tree to reach that 6 foot height, which is yet another reason that makes this tree a must on any list of trees for small gardens. Rich, medium green leaves grace the branches; they turn a brilliant yellow in the autumn. Hardy in zones 4-8. Source.

Columnar hornbeams add a lot of interest to small landscapes.

Hornbeams are well-mannered plants to begin with, but the small variety known as Carpinus betulus ‘Columnaris Nana,’ shown here at a nursery, only reaches 5 feet tall at maturity.

7. Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’: Though most Japanese maples are wide spreading, this cultivar boasts very upright growth, making it one of the best trees for small gardens and tight spaces. The foliage is deep red all season long; even the stems are red. ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’ maxes out at 15 feet in height and spreads just 6 feet wide. Hardy in zones 5-8. Source.

8. Liquidamber styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’: This beautiful variety of sweetgum, grows upwards of 60 feet tall, but its very tight, short branches mean the plant’s spread is a mere 6 to 8 feet, making it a real standout in the landscape. The red fall color is spectacular, and it’s fairly fast growing. Yes, this sweetgum variety also produces spiky seed balls like other sweetgums, but not huge quantities of them. ‘Slender Silhouette’ is also a larval host plant for many different butterflies and moths. It’s a great narrow tree for a small garden! Hardy in zones 5-8. Source.

Columnar sweetgum varieties are exceptional narrow, but tall, trees for small spaces.

Sweetgums are known for their beautiful fall color and their ability to serve as a food source for many different butterfly and moth caterpillars.

9. Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Wissel’s Saguaro’: A slow-growing tree unlike anything else you’ve ever seen, this narrow tree is straight out of a Dr. Seuss book! It’s upright branches look a bit like a saguaro cactus, hence the cultivar’s name. This unique false cypress is evergreen and reaches a height of about 10 feet, with a spread of just 6 to 8 feet. In my opinion, it’s the most unique of all the trees for small gardens. It’s hardy in zones 4-9. Source.

10. Chamaecyparis nootakatensis ‘Vanden Akker’: Skinny is the best word to describe this columnar tree for small yards and gardens. The thinnest of all the weeping Alaska cedars, it reaches 20 feet tall but is only 1 foot wide! That’s right – 1 foot! The tight branches weep while the central trunk grows straight up. This extremely narrow evergreen tree is a truly amazing addition to any compact garden space. Hardy from zones 5-8. Source.

Want more choices? Visit this page for an additional list of: 15 Dwarf Evergreen Trees for Yards and Gardens

As you can see, small-space gardeners have lots of options when it comes to narrow trees for the landscape. All of these choices add vertical structure and interest, and let’s face it — they look downright fabulous while doing it! Include some of these trees for small gardens in your yard and enjoy everything they offer.

For more on gardening in small spaces, check out our list of recommended books:
Small-space Vegetable Gardens by Andrea Bellamy
Small-space Garden Ideas by Philippa Pierson
The Less is More Garden by Susan Morrison

Gardener's Guide to Compact Plants

And for more advice on growing in tight quarters, check out these other posts:

Do you have a small yard? Tell us how you bring it to life in the comment section below!

10 Beautiful Narrow Trees for Small Gardens and Tight Spaces

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24 Responses to Narrow trees for small gardens and tight spaces

  1. Alison Venugoban says:

    Hi Jessica. I love your suggestions, particularly the Japanese pink cherry, that is spectacular.
    I only have a small townhouse with a little yard, but I’ve had a lot of success with a Bottlebrush tree. I found it in the bush once when the family were hiking and dug it out and took it home with me. That was fifteen years ago, and it was at first in a pot, then transplanted into the garden bed. It is still not much taller than me, but every autumn and winter it is a riot of lush red bottlebrush flowers, truly beautiful. It tends to attract the honeyeaters and rosellas for its nectar. With a little pruning, it keeps a tight and compact shape which still allows for the flowers and is extremely drought-tolerant, which is good here in Australia. I think I’ve only ever watered it once or twice in fifteen years! Definitely one you could consider!

  2. Evelyn says:

    Hi I was wonder what tree is in the very first picture on the left, the tall cylinder shaped tree. Thanks

  3. kerlos adib says:

    hi Jessica I’m looking for evergreen tree but tall and skinny like 20′ to 25′ tall
    3′ to 5′ w can you help me to fined the right tree i live in Nashville tn i believe is zone 7

  4. Jean says:

    Can you recommend any narrow beeches?
    Zone 6
    Thank you~

  5. Lisa says:

    I live on the eastern coast of an island in the UK. I cannot find any information online about exposure for the Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’. I am in zone 9 and it is extremely windy here sometimes gale force winds. Do you think I could grow these against a wall?

    • Hi Lisa. That’s a great question. If you’re worried about how the high winds will affect ‘Sky Pencil’, I’d suggest using an anti-desiccant product like Wilt-Pruf to protect the foliage and keep it from drying out in the high winds.

  6. Isabelle F. says:

    I’m in zone 3, and I see the birches die all over town (no one really knows why). Any other suggestion for a deciduous tree that wouldn’t get taller than 25 feet but still be not more than 10″ wide?

    • Sounds like the birch borer is probably to blame for the birches dying in your town. They’re a prominent pest in several regions. As for a tree selection, there aren’t many trees that only grow to ten inches wide. Did you mean ten feet, perhaps? If you did, I would suggest a Crimson Spire oak, an Apollo sugar maple, or a Slender Silhouette sweet gum.

  7. Austin says:

    Jessica, thank you for your article. I was recommended a Juniperus virginiana ‘Idyllwild’ for it’s size (15 ft tall x 5-7 wide), edible cones and year round columnar privacy appeal. However, I am having such a hard time finding this specific variety. Do you have any suggestions of a more common species that meets this same criteria? I’m in Zone 7–Virginia. Thank you!

  8. Lupe Gallegos says:

    Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for your recommendations. I’ve decided to go with Prunus serrulata Amanogawa but I’m having an impossible time finding it in Southern California. I’ve looked on the internet and tons available in the UK, but they don’t ship. Any recommendations? Also, any other columnar trees similar that bloom similar to the amanogawa?



    • Sorry to hear you’re having trouble finding this variety of flowering cherry. I’d suggest a Regent serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’), a Sargent Tina crabapple (Malus sargentii ‘Tina’, or a Kikuzak dwarf star magnolia as alternatives, though you’ll want to investigate how well they’ll perform in your climate.

  9. Graeme Brown says:

    Hi Jessica.

    Can you give me some advice.. I am in Winnipeg, Canada. 3a zone i believe. Looking for vertical trees (20 or above) with very minimal width (maximum width of 6-8 feet). Soil-wise here there are three types – sand, silt, and clay. It would be placed in a partial to full sun area. Looking to create a border along a fence, perhaps having two of them side-by-side.
    Any help is appreciated!
    Thank you

  10. Sam says:

    Hi Jessica,
    I am in Zone 6b and looking for some Evergreen Container Privacy trees. Can you please help?

  11. Linda says:

    Hi Jessica,
    What size planter do you recommend for a 15 foot arborvitae (similar to your cover picture).

  12. Linda says:

    Thanks Jessica! I’m having trouble finding a planter that big. Any suggestions?

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