Small Trees for Small Lots

Branches of tree with light but bright green long leaves and a cluster of small red flowers

Red buckeye in bloom.

Not everyone has the space for sprawling trees, especially gardeners in urban areas. Fortunately, there are still plenty of options that stay compact throughout their life cycle while still providing the benefits of a tree-filled landscape.

Red Buckeye

The native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is an ideal choice for small spaces in zones 6A to 9A since it only reaches a maximum height of 20 feet. The crimson tubular flowers it produces in the spring are a favorite of hummingbirds. Even in the winter, red buckeye provides interest with its light brown, flaky bark. Establish red buckeye in winter or early spring in a location with partial sun.


Fringetree also maxes out at 20 feet tall and provides a springtime shower of snowy white flowers that emit a delicate perfume. The flowers are composed of narrow, ribbon-like petals that give fringetree its name. There are three options to choose from: the native white fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), the native (but rare) pygmy fringetree (C. pygmeus), and the non-native Chinese fringetree (C. retusus). All three can be grown in zone 9B and north in Florida. For prolific flowering, plant fringetree in full sun in moist, acid soils.

Texas Olive or White Geiger

This North America native is quite rare, but it is a treat for those who can find it. Also called wild-olive or Texas olive, white Geiger (Cordia boissieri) only grows to be 20 feet tall and produces white, trumpet-shaped blooms year-round with proper care. It also makes fruits that are enjoyed by birds and other wildlife. Plant white Geiger in full sun or partial shade in well-drained soils within zones 9A to 11. A note for coastal gardeners: white Geiger is moderately salt tolerant.

Saucer Magnolia

A tree's branches no leaves but absolutely covered in pink flowers; blue sky peeks through

Saucer magnolia in the spring.

Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) is prized for its early spring display of large flowers. The blooms can be anywhere from 4 to 12 inches across and come in shades of white, yellow, pink, or purple. The tree also happens to stay below 30 feet tall. Saucer magnolia thrives in fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny area with protection from late afternoon sun. It can be grown in zones 5A to 9A.

Flatwoods Plum

Flatwoods plum (Prunus umbellata) is a native tree that provides both flowers and fruit in zone 9A and north. It reaches up to 20 feet tall, with a round canopy. As winter draws to a close and before leaves reappear, flatwood plum erupts with small, white flowers that give it a cloudlike appearance. The blooms are followed by small, seedy purple fruits that range in flavor from tart to sweet. Even if your fruits are sour, the wildlife will still enjoy them. Flatwoods plum does well in full sun or partial shade and is not picky about soil type.


Ripe black olives on the branch of an olive tree

An olive branch laden with fruit.

Olive (Olea europaea) is another fruit-bearing tree that works well in smaller yards. Aside from producing delicious olives, the tree also provides standout silvery foliage. ‘Arbequina’ and ‘Mission’ are two popular cultivars to look for. Olive actually thrives in poor soil, so choose a planting location that is sunny with sandy, well-drained soil. Too much water can lead to loss of flowers and lower fruit production. Olive can thrive in zones 8 to 11.

Walter’s Viburnum

Walter’s viburnum (Viburnum obovatum) grows into a large shrub or small tree, maxing out at 20 feet tall. There are also dwarf cultivars available now, so be sure to select a full-size plant. This native produces attractive masses of small white flowers in the spring that attract butterflies. Then, its fall fruits feed birds and other wildlife. Walter’s viburnum is quite drought tolerant and prefers to grow in full sun to partial shade. It can be planted in zone 10B and north in Florida.


Hollies (Ilex spp.) come in a variety of sizes, from small shrubs to towering trees. A few are right in the middle: small trees. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) is both native and edible, and it reaches 15 to 25 feet tall. Myrtle-leaved holly (Ilex myrifolia) can be up to 18 feet tall and is a good option for wetter areas. If you want more of a pyramidal shape, Tensaw Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine ‘Tensaw’) fits the bill without exceeding 15 feet tall.

If you have any questions as you select the best trees for your landscape, please contact the experts at your county Extension office.

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