Small Trees Anchor Outdoor Rooms

“Get out of the way, I’m going shopping!”…for trees! Yep, small trees like dogwood, crape myrtle, Japanese maple, redbud and many more that form a long list of “people scaled trees”.

When shopping for small trees look for ones that will have a mature height of six to thirty feet. These trees will create a garden ceiling to complement the floors of turf and groundcover and walls of shrubs, tree trunks and architectural walls. Trees that for the most part are deciduous, but with an array of evergreen species added to the mix.

Crape Myrtle

Crape Myrtle

Trees that form outdoor rooms and add year round interest to your garden are indispensable in creating comfortable, effective and functional spaces. In addition to flowers, berries, color and fragrance, trees offer interesting form, structure, bark and texture. Small trees are the best candidates for dramatic night lighting.

Were you aware that there are literally hundreds of species of dogwood? There are also more than one hundred species of Japanese maple, crape myrtle and redbud. And this is just four of the many tree families that would thrive in your garden. Any garden center in this region will probably stock 50 to 100 different small tree species.

'Thunderhead' black pine/JC Raulston Arboretum

'Thunderhead' black pine/JC Raulston Arboretum

Whew. So, how do you make a decision with so many candidates? What do you look for? How do you know the tree is healthy? How many trees will you need? And how do you know if you are getting value for your dollar?

Shop and compare not only for availability and price, but search for good looking, healthy species from reputable nurseries. Large balled and burlap trees (B&B) are abundantly available if you are looking for a mature tree. I prefer a five to seven foot tall tree in a large container for ease of handling and immediate effect.

'Thunderhead'black pine/JC Raulston Arboretum

'Thunderhead' black pine/JC Raulston Arboretum

The number of trees you need depends on your landscape plan and budget. What could be more spectacular than 25 Serviceberry trees (Amelanchier arborea) scattered through the woodland. Or consider a single Thunderhead Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii) situated in the Japanese garden as the standout plant. Groups of three are a good starting point, but a single multi-trunk species can be an outstanding feature in the garden.

Trees, more than any other plant, add value to your property. They create garden rooms, beautify our surroundings, and purify our air. Trees small and large save energy by providing cooling shade in the summer and wind reduction in the winter.

Hoyt Bangs, a Raleigh native and landscape designer is owner of WaterWise Garden Design. You may reach him at

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