6 Perfect Trees for Small Gardens

Yes, you can have trees even in a small garden. And no, we aren’t just referring to bonsais. Trees come in a variety of shapes, sizes and present unique features to personalise your space. This guide showcases the best trees for small gardens in South Africa to help you make the best decision.

Small garden, big potential

Trees often bring to mind images of sprawling fields with tree-lined lanes. Our world is beautiful and better with large trees in it — and you can make a change by bringing them home into manageable spaces.

As a dendrophile (a lover of trees) wanting to welcome trees for small gardens, be sure to do your background reading on maximising your garden space. Understanding zoning is a great way of utilising space according to your needs and the resources available.

How to avoid barking up the wrong tree

When deciding the type of tree to bring into your garden, there are a few points to consider. Landscapers highlight important key features to add to your must-have list, including:

  • A tree’s potential height and spread of its root structure
  • Appropriate trees for your region
  • The ultimate goal you have for your garden

Plan for growth

These points are central to achieving the best garden design. Firstly, a fast-growing tree’s root structure can outgrow its pot, or if planted in the ground, it can cause damage to the foundation and building structure. Be sure to choose a location for your small tree about one or two metres away from a building.

Think local

Secondly, trees from a humid and damp environment won’t do so well in an arid one — do research on your region’s rainfall. Curating an indigenous space is not only putting a notch in your eco-awareness belt but doing yourself a favour, in the long run, to save on water costs and ensure your tree’s health.

Go for the goal

Thirdly, a tree needs to meet your needs. Think — what are you wanting to achieve? Are you looking to make a green haven for wildlife, create privacy, decorate or grow fruit? These parameters will help narrow your choices for your new small tree. To help, we have provided great suggestions for small trees suited to the highveld climate, as well as ideas for other main regions.

Tree by theme: choosing the best trees for small gardens

Whether you are looking to create something pretty or private, fragrant or fruiting, we have fabulous small trees specially for the highveld region.

Fragrant, fruity and flowering

Citrus hystrix

More commonly known as the Cooking Lime Leaf tree, the Citrus hystrix is a lovely citrus tree that enjoys full sun. You can expect bouquets of white blossoms, little fruits and fresh-tasting leaves. Mature plants reach about two metres in height and grow well in containers.

Magnolia grandiflora

This Little Gem has quite a fitting name. Its white blossoms pop against its contrasting dark leathery green foliage. You can expect this plant to grow up to eight metres tall, but with the right shaping from a young age, you will be a proud tree parent enjoying its fragrant flowers for years to come.

Tabernaemontana catharinensis

This tree doubles as a special topiary with a regular pruning schedule. You can expect white flowers in the summer and orange coloured fruit once ripened. It can withstand both full sun and the cold but needs some protection during frost.

Fancy foliage

Ficus microcarpa

If you are seeking a decorative plant, look no further than the Emerald Cream. This compact evergreen tree has a dazzling display of green with white frosting around the leaves. It does best in full sun to semi-shade and is a fantastic container plant.

Pretty privacy

Melaleuca bracteata

Get ready to change the way you look at trees with Revolution Gold. This golden beauty wears its crown upright as a large shrub or a small tree. Place it in a sunny location and its colours will pop. Not only is it easy on the eyes, but makes your home more comfortable, providing screening for privacy purposes and wind protection.

For the birdwatchers

Buddleja saligna

Lovers of wildlife, welcome this False Olive or Wit Olienhout home and watch the bird and butterfly thrive. Suitable as either a large shrub or small tree, this evergreen gives off a sweet fragrance and produces lovely small flowers ranging from white to cream. It enjoys full sun and is cold and frost resilient.

Trees for small gardens in South Africa’s three major climate zones

High and dry or coastline bound, we have the ideal trees listed for other main regions of South Africa.

Temperate highveld

This region is famous for its hot summers and dramatic thunderstorms with its occasional droughts and spots of frost in winter. We suggest planting:

  • Lavender tree
  • Forest bushwillow

Subtropical east coast (ranges from East London to Durban)

Think hot, humid, wet and pretty much frost-free along this subtropical coastline. If you live in these areas, consider choosing either:

  • Soap Dogwood
  • White pear

Fynbos coast (ranges from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth)

Beautiful yet rugged, this area experiences winter rainfall, hot, dry summers and occasional salty winds. For this region we love:

  • Wild pomegranate

Prep, plant and prosper

Once you have decided on your tree, make sure to prepare and care for it to ensure a healthy life in its new home.

Planting and digging

If you are planting your new tree in the ground, it will need a sturdy foundation. Dig a hole that is 50cm wide by 50cm deep. Then, mix a bag of compost with some of the surrounding excavated soil and add a handful of bonemeal. Place your tree in the centre, compact the soil and then spray a good dose of water around the base of the tree.

Study, shear, shape

Once you have secured your tree in the ground, giving it a good shape is next. Look at your tree from a few steps away and note its overall height. Visually divide the tree into three sections. The bottom third needs to have all its side growth removed. Then, in the middle third, cut the side stems back about one or two buds to encourage growth in its top third. For the tree top, leave it be. Continue pruning to direct upwards growth for a strong trunk, and well-structured crown.

Little trees — we’re rooting for you

All the best caring for your new tree. If you have more questions regarding trees for small gardens or the best products to use when caring for them, visit your nearest Plantland branch or contact us.