Today’s post is focused on Trees for small gardens and constricted areas

This blog will be highlighting and discussing 6 smaller growing trees which we would recommend for small gardens and constricted or tight spots. These are not all the trees by far which can be used, we have simply picked six which we feel are attractive and will work in most areas. This is an extremely popular question asked at retail nurseries as people often don’t know which tree to choose for their small garden or a ‘tight spot’. Just to confirm by constricted areas we mean next to pools, structures like walls, retaining walls, buildings etc. Choosing a tree can be difficult and the repercussions of choosing the incorrect tree can hit your pocket heavily, give you some serious headaches and difficulties as well as have legal penalties if you choose the wrong methods to deal with your incorrectly chosen tree. Also a tree is usually a long term feature so a wise decision must be made. We would also not recommend the attitude of saying ‘Ah man, this tree will take so long to grow to full height that it will not be my problem but somebody else’s’. In regards to the trees which we have chosen, some are deciduous meaning that at a certain time of the year the tree will more than likely lose its leaves. Do not let this put you off. There are benefits to growing deciduous trees for example the fact that it is easier to grow lawn under them and that they will let more light in winter which is usually much needed. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a tree which makes no mess, between the leaves, flowers or fruits/seeds something is bound to make a bit of a mess. Without further or do here are our 6 trees which we would recommend including in your list when deciding to plant a tree in the above mentioned circumstances.

Dais cotinifolia – Pompon tree (5-6m H x 4-5m W)

This indigenous tree is deciduous to semi-deciduous (Cape Town only loses leaves for very short period at end of winter) depending on what part of the country it is grown in. It is a very fast growing tree which can reach its ultimate height within 4-5years. Pompon trees have a lovely rounded crown and can either be single stemmed or multi stemmed depending. The trees common name Pompon tree exists because of the masses of pink flowers which are formed in round clusters which look like fluff balls. This tree flowers usually from November to December depending on the area for a month to 2 months. The show that this tree puts on when in full bloom is truly spectacular. The flowers are followed by black seeds. The flowers are sweetly scented and attract butterflies and other insects. This tree is drought tolerant once established but appreciates being watered well whilst establishing. The soil must be well drained, but still have a good organic content so make sure to prepare soil properly with compost when planting.

Dombeya rotundifolia – Wild Pear (6m H x 4m W)

This deciduous indigenous tree has a neat attractive shape and in certain parts of the country is actually used as a street tree. It has a contorted trunk, which is often coarse and fissured. This tree is extremely showy sporting masses of white to sometimes pink blossoms from July through to September. The flowers are slightly scented and full of nectar and pollen which attracts masses of pollinators like butterflies and with that comes insectivorous birds. Certain butterfly larvae also feed on the leathery leaves. Dombeya rotundifolia is a fast growing tree with a non-aggressive root system, which is fairly drought tolerant and requires a well-drained soil with an organic content.

Grewia occidentalis – Crossberry (3m H x 2m W)

This indigenous deciduous scrambling shrub or small tree is extremely hardy (frost and drought hardy) and fast growing and will grow in most parts of our country. If you would like this to resemble a tree, pruning from young will be required as it is multi branched and can be messy if not trained and controlled. Throughout summer masses of purple star shaped flowers adorn the plant, which are followed by four lobed fruits which turn brown in colour and are loved by many different kinds of birds, mammals and even humans. Interestingly a type of milkshake is made by boiling the dried fruits as well as a beer is made out of the fresh fruit. The leaves are also browsed by livestock and game, as well as the leaves are a staple diet for some butterfly larvae. When planting Grewia make sure that the soil is well prepared with compost. Water well whilst establishing, but eventually very drought tolerant. This large shrub or small tree can be planted in either sun or a fair amount of shade as well.

Halleria lucida – Tree fuchsia (6m H x 5m W).

This is a shrubby tree which will require some training from young if you would like it to grow in a more traditional tree shape. If you let it grow naturally it forms an amazing hedge or screening plant. This indigenous evergreen large shrub or small tree is extremely fast growing and has a non-aggressive root system. It can be grown in full sun or even some shade, and needs a well-drained soil which has enough organic matter in it. Tree fuchsia’s produce masses of bright to brick red tubular flowers which are formed directly on the branches of the tree, making it quite an unusual tree. These flowers are full of nectar and attract masses of pollinators as well as nectar loving and insectivorous birds. The black berries which follow attract many different types of birds including robins, pigeons and mouse birds. This tree is truly what we would classify as a ‘bird restaurant’ and we would recommend it to any bird watcher.

Lagerstroemia indica & others – Pride of India/ Crepe Myrtle

 (4-6m H x 3-4m W)

This is a small deciduous multi stemmed exotic tree which is popular for gardens as well as street & municipal planting as it is extremely ornamental and is showy almost throughout the year and has low maintenance requirements. The growth pattern usually varies from type to type but all trees are neat and tidy. The bark is quite attractive being a greyish-pinkish mottled colour and this bark is shed every year. Leaves will turn lovely autumn colours before they also shed in winter. Leaves then re-appear in spring. The flowers are panicles of crimpled petals in various shades of colours like pink, white, mauve, purple etc. This tree flowers in mass and puts on a spectacular show which will catch anyone’s eye. Certain birds sometimes set up their nests in this tree. This tree can either be planted in full sun or semi shade for example under trees with light canopies. Plant in a well composted soil and keep fairly well watered whist establishing, but this watering is cut down once more mature as it is actually drought tolerant. Winter pruning is recommended and results in a lot more flowers in summer. Be aware when purchasing that dwarf versions of this plant also exist and these will be small bushes rather than small trees.

Plumeria rubra – Frangipani (4-7m H x 4-7m W)

This deciduous exotic tree has a tropical look to it and all though commonly grown in sub-tropical to tropical areas can also be grown in many other climates except obviously in frost prone areas. It has a spreading canopy and gets masses of clusters of large sweetly scented blooms in various shades of colours for example pinks, yellows, white red etc with usually a yellow centre. The flowers are extremely ornamental and this is one of the most popular trees and commonly grown. This tree is used for gardens, street & municipal planting etc.  Flowering usually occurs for quite a long period of time over summer and autumn. Please note that the sausage like branches of this tree are quite brittle and damage to this tree can occur quite easily. White latex oozes out when branches are broken and is important to note that it is to a certain extent toxic and can cause irritation to skin. Make sure not to get this latex in your eyes. These trees prefer growing in a well-drained sandy soil and will not appreciate growing in very wet soils as they will tend to rot. Plant in full sun or semi-shade. Frangipanis can also tolerate salt laden winds and can therefore be grown in coastal conditions as well.

The above mentioned trees are as we mentioned but only a few of the trees which can be used for small gardens and tight spots. Some other trees which are worth taking a look at are Nuxia floribunda, Olea europea Africana, the edible olives, citrus trees, Bolusanthus speciosus (if you can find it), Searsia lancea (and other Searsia’s), Tarchonanthus camphoratus (for coastal conditions) and the list goes on.

In conclusion we hope that you will find some of the trees which we have mentioned of interest to you when choosing your tree for your small garden or tight spot. The one thing we can recommend to you is to do your homework before planting a tree in order to make sure that you are getting what you really want and that it will be able to stay in its planting spot long term and not become a problem. If you need more information on any of these trees or have a tree in mind and would like some advice please let us know. Please email us on for any queries.

A lot of the images in this blog are from Trees SA website. Trees SA supplies us with many of our larger specimens of trees for our projects. Please visit their website to find out more about the company, the trees they supply as well as more info on the trees which we have mentioned and others.

Blog written by Jessica Ruger

We hope the hints and tips in this blog will help you to to maximise your garden this Summer and help your garden to thrive.

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