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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening:

UPDATED: Thu., May 6, 2021

A Kousa dogwood thrives in Pat Munts’ partially shaded garden. Dogwoods are a good choice for small, somewhat shady gardens. This variety blooms in mid-June after the shiny green leaves have come out. In the fall, it is covered with small red berries.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
A Kousa dogwood thrives in Pat Munts’ partially shaded garden. Dogwoods are a good choice for small, somewhat shady gardens. This variety blooms in mid-June after the shiny green leaves have come out. In the fall, it is covered with small red berries. (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

Years ago, when I worked in a local nursery in between other jobs, one of the most common plants people came looking for was a “small tree.”

They didn’t have much space in their yard for big trees, but they still wanted a tree. Which is a good thing, as carefully selected trees can add a lot of character to a garden.

So, what is a small tree? The definition can vary a bit but generally it’s a tree that grows no more than 15 to 25 feet after 10 years in the garden. If people were looking for something smaller than that, we would suggest tall shrubs that had some treelike qualities.

Picking the right tree depends on a few factors. How much sunlight will the area get? Most smaller trees can be in partial shade in the afternoon and do fine.

The scale of the tree in the garden setting is important – too big and the tree will dominate the space and reduce the impact of the other landscape plantings. This is particularly important in the very small yards found in most new residential construction these days. Here are a few suggestions for small trees for you to consider.

Dogwood trees do well in our area if they get enough water and some protection from the afternoon sun. These trees have a moderate growth rate and will get to 15 to 20 feet. They will grow to about 10 to 15 feet across. While the Florida or pink dogwood is the most popular, there are several other varieties to choose from. The Florida dogwoods are popular because they bloom earlier, and the flowers come out before the leaves, giving the tree the appearance of a cloud. Unfortunately, the Florida dogwoods are susceptible to anthracnose, a disease that attacks the leaves and can eventually kill the tree. The white kousa dogwood is much more immune to the disease and might be a better choice. It blooms in mid-June after the leaves have emerged.

Japanese maples are another popular small tree. Like the dogwood, they prefer shade in the afternoon and need a steady water supply. Good Japanese maples can command a princely price, but their delicate shape and colorful leaves are often worth it if they add character to a garden. The leaves can range from almost chartreuse to deep purple and turn a wide range of yellows, golds, oranges and reds in the fall.

Lastly if you want a fruit tree, look for espaliered apple, pear, plum or peach trees. Espaliered fruit trees are trained to grow flat against a wall to fit into small spaces. You can buy already trained trees or start your own from a 1- or 2-year-old whip. The tree will have to be pruned and trained every year to keep its shape. While they won’t produce bushels of fruit, they will produce enough for a few good pies and peach cobblers. Like other trees, they will need consistent watering.

Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com

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