Those tight spaces in landscapes can prove to be the ultimate design challenge. Finding the right plant material that provides contrast and proportion without being a space hog can make even the best designer or contractor want to hit their head against the wall. And if you’re looking for appropriate tree choices, the list gets even smaller. So, when you’re designing your next courtyard or micro backyard, keep these skinny trees in mind. Every space is different, so it's always a good idea to work with a local arborist when selecting your tree and shrub palate, but we hope this list gives you some ideas to get started!
(LandscapeHub suppliers, take note — with patio and “garden” homes becoming more popular, these skinny trees are sure to become big hits with designers.)
1. Ginkgo ‘Goldspire’: (Gingko biloba ‘Goldspire’) This deciduous tree has the same recognizable green fan-shaped leaves of other ginkgos but in a valuable smaller footprint. A moderate grower to 14-16 feet tall and only 4-6 feet wide, ‘Goldspire’ also boasts a brilliant golden yellow leaf color in the fall. Give it full to part sun and moist, well-drained soil for best performance. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9
Design Tip: Pair it with shrubs with burgundy-tinged foliage for a dramatic display.
2. Japanese Cherry ‘Amanogawa’: (Prunus serrulata ‘Amanogawa’) Who doesn’t love a beautiful, blooming Japanese cherry in the spring? You’ll love ‘Amanogawa’ even more with its 3-season interest and slimmer shape. While it grows up to 25 feet tall, the width stays at a manageable 10-12 feet wide, creating a more columnar effect than other Japanese cherries. Get ready for an onslaught of semi-double, pale pink blooms in the spring, followed by green leaves that turn orange in the fall. This stunning deciduous tree serves as an ideal specimen plant, as well as an ornamental hedge. Growing requirements include part shade to full sun and regular irrigation. USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8
Design Tip: Train ‘Amanogawa’ into an espalier for additional space-saving beauty.
3. Japanese Maple ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’: (Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’) Love ‘Bloodgood’ but need something a bit narrower? Reach for ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel,’ growing 10-15 feet tall but only 6-8 feet wide. Leaves start out red (on red stems, no less), then darken, and finally burst into a bright crimson shade in the fall. It prefers partial to full sun, regular water, and slightly acidic but well-drained soil. USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8
Design Tip: Plant against a backdrop of evergreens in a blue or gold hue for standout contrast.
4. Sweetgum ‘Slender Silhouette’: (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’) Although growing up to 35-50 feet tall, ‘Slender Silhouette’ has a surprisingly slim profile with its 4-6 foot width. This fast-growing deciduous tree has star-shaped dark green leaves that morph into a bright yellow before turning deep red in the fall. And once the leaves drop, you’ll appreciate its attractive furrowed bark in the winter months. It has fewer seed-filled spiky balls than other sweetgums, loves moist and well-drained soil, and full sun to part shade conditions. USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9
Design Tip: Have a client who loves attracting pollinators to the garden? ‘Slender Silhouette’ has inconspicuous flowers that draw bees.
5. Fagus sylvatica ‘Red Obelisk’: (Fagus sylvatica ‘Red Obelisk’) This slow-grower can reach 40’ T with age, but more typically grows to 10-12 feet tall and just 3 feet wide, ideal for adding drama to courtyards and other tiny spaces. It boasts dramatic crinkled purple foliage that reveals smooth silver bark after it drops in the fall. Full sun and regular irrigation are its biggest requirements. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-7.
Design Tip: Pair ‘Red Obelisk’ with lilacs and weigela for an outstanding display.
It's important to note, while all of these trees have a narrow canopy, at maturity Ginkgo ‘Goldspire’, Sweetgum ‘Slender Silhouette’ and Fagus sylvatica ‘Red Obelisk’ require suitably large rooting volume. Plan accordingly with your designs so that your trees have adequate rooting well into maturity!