The 7 best trees for a small garden – top choices for a small garden or patio

These are the best trees for a small garden, according to the experts

An example of the best trees for a small garden, with white L-shaped outdoor sofa.
(Image credit: Future)

Experts have shared their insights on the best trees for a small garden that will help make the most of a compact space, and shared their top tips with us on how to plant them.

Planting a tree can benefit even the most compact garden, by attracting wildlife, cleaning the air, and adding color and interest throughout the seasons. But what are the best trees for a small garden?

The best trees for a small garden

Bay trees, eunymous and the Japanese maple are among some of the top choices for a compact outdoor area.

If you’re concerned about your tree growing too tall, don’t worry: many are suitable for the most compact of small garden ideas and most trees can be pruned regularly to keep them small. Or simply plant your tree in a large container – this will restrict how big it can grow and is also perfect if you are looking for courtyard garden ideas or small garden decking ideas that incorporate some greenery. 

Every garden deserves a tree, and spring is the perfect time to plant one. Trees can bring you flowers in spring and summer, radiant leaf colour in autumn, plus interesting bark and stems in winter.

The best trees for a small garden can be multifunctional too – screening an unattractive view or helping to filter noise and air pollution in balcony gardens and if you live near a busy road. They also benefit nature significantly: providing pollen for insects and shelter for birds, and converting air-borne carbon dioxide into oxygen.

A potted Japanese maple showing the best trees for a small garden

Japanese maple

(Image credit: Future / Amateur Gardens)

Sarah Squire, Chairman of Squire’s Garden Centres believes that planting a tree should be at the top of everyone's wishlist, whether you are planning a small garden or have the luxury of a larger space: 'If there is one thing I think we could all do for our world fairly easily, it is to plant a tree.

'Trees are fantastic as a habitat and food source for wildlife, and as a source of carbon capture. They also give garden ideas structure and architecture. 

'There are trees for every size and shape of garden, from a small acer in a pot on a balcony or a gorgeous flowering cherry in a back garden, to birch, whitebeam and hornbeam (my personal favourite) for larger spaces.'

Close up of witch hazel, one of the best trees for a small garden.

Witch hazel

(Image credit: Future)

The 7 best trees for a small garden or patio pots are:

  1. Bay tree (laurus nobilis)
  2. Euonymus
  3. Japanese maple (acer palmatum)
  4. Magnolia
  5. Christmas berry (photinia ‘little red robin’)
  6. Privet (ligustrum) topiary lollipop
  7. Witch hazel (hamamelis)

A potted magnolia tree in a small garden with hedge.


(Image credit: Future)

How to plant a tree in a pot:

  1. Choose a container with plenty of room to house the rootball, with space to grow.
  2. Most trees thrive in loam-based compost, such as John Innes No 3.
  3. Water regularly – keep the compost moist.
  4. Use a slow release fertiliser every spring to keep the plant healthy.

A lemon tree in a terracotta pot demonstrating the best trees for a small garden.

Lemon tree

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

Plant a tree and watch it grow over the coming years. It will benefit the environment and wildlife for years to come, making the best trees for a small garden a lifelong investment.