Tree Choices for Small City Lots

Find the perfect tree for a small city lot.

Credit: Bailey Nurseries

Your typical small urban lot comes with some specific design challenges, including a lack of privacy, noise and air pollution, and an abundance of hard landscaping features courtesy of surrounding buildings.

Trees are one of the stalwarts of any backyard. They enhance quality of life by bringing some serenity and privacy to your property, along with moderating climate, improving air quality, conserving water and offering wildlife habitat. Smaller yards mean fewer trees, so choose carefully. Pick trees that offer year-round interest, and allow for a tree’s potential mature height and width in your design to avoid overcrowding your own yard, or encroaching on neighbours. Trees have specific soil, light, exposure and drainage needs, so select a tree to match the conditions in your yard.

Deciduous tree choices

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) Don’t be confused by the common name, this is one of many dogwoods to consider as a specimen shrub or small tree. A distinctive characteristic is this dogwood’s mass of yellow flowers in late winter before the leaves and fleshy bright red fruits appear in late summer. Height/ width: five metres. Zones: five to eight.


When designing your garden, pay particular attention to areas of your landscape that lie near power lines. Select trees and shrubs that are suitable to your climate zone and can be easily maintained under or near power lines. Consult with a landscape designer or qualified garden centre staff, or go to the BC Hydro website for information on recommended species for this purpose.

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) Two examples of several suitable cultivars for small spaces are ‘Cherokee Chief’, with dark ruby/pink bracts, or ‘Cherokee Princess’, which produces abundant flowerheads with large white bracts. Dogwood tree sizes vary somewhat, as do leaf colours, but most offer showy flowers, bright ovoid fruits and stunning fall colours, making them great choices for small-space gardens. Height: six metres; Width: eight metres. Zones: five to eight. Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) Two size-appropriate varieties of Japanese maples are ‘Bloodgood’, with dark red-purple leaves and red fruits, and ‘Sango-kaku’, which has striking, colourful bark and deeply dissected leaves. Many maples have great fall colour and these two are no exception. Height: six metres; Width: five metres. Zones: five to eight. Gold full-moon maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ syn. Acer japonicum ‘Aureum’) A tree or large shrub for a small space, with striking, shallow-lobed, bright-yellow leaves turning brilliant red in fall, and tiny red/purple upright fl owers. Height/width: six metres. Zones: five to seven. Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii) This small specimen tree, an absolute gem in the northern landscape, has much going for it: its truly four-season attraction starts with showy racemes of fragrant white flowers in spring, and continues with cheery bright-green foliage in summer, chains of reddish-black berries in late summer, and a delightful lemon-yellow fall colour. For added interest, the bark is a rich bronze-to-cinnamon colour, peeling somewhat like birch bark, and looks magnificent in winter. Height: 10 metres; Width: eight metres. Zones: three to seven. Cutleaf staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’™) Unlike other sumacs, ‘Tiger Eyes’ is noninvasive and maintains a manageable height and width of just six feet. Its new growth is vivid chartreuse, changing to a bright yellow in summer. With fuzzy purplish-pink leaf stems forming dramatic contrast to the lemon-lime foliage, the branches of this boldly architectural shrub or small tree angle upward while its deeply cut leafl ets drape downward, giving the whole plant an elegant, oriental look. This sumac’s fall colours are magnifi cent, turning a luminous combination of yellow, orange and intense scarlet. This shrub-like tree is drought tolerant once established. Height: 10 metres; Width: eight metres. Zones: four to eight. Eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’) This spreading and often multi-stemmed tree, with heart-shaped dark red/purple leaves has an upright open growth pattern and blooms in showy clusters of deep pink flowers on bare stems in April. This is a colourful tree that won’t overpower a small space. Height/width: five metres. Zones: five to nine.

Evergreen plant choices

Blue Colorado spruce (Picea pungens f. glauca ‘Montgomery’) this slow-growing dwarf cultivar has silvery-grey-blue leaves and a broadly conical shape – a stand-out conifer to complement any rockery planting without overshadowing its neighbours. No need to prune this small specimen, unless you want to promote denser foliage, in which case, prune off half the fresh growth on each candle in spring. Height: one and a half metres; Width: one metre. Zones three to eight. Irish yew (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’) This yew tree is columnar and upright, and a group could create an evergreen privacy screen, or an attractive backdrop for a flower border. Height: 10 metres; Width: six metres. Zones: seven to eight.


For advice on which tree species are suitable for your yard, visit a retail nursery or garden centre. Some of these retailers have Certified Horticultural Technicians on staff. These individuals have proven their level of skill and knowledge through rigorous testing. Or ask the pros right here on

Japanese holly (Ilex crenata) Not your usual prickly, traditional holly tree, Japanese holly has small shiny dark-green leaves and produces glossy black, white or yellow fruit. This evergreen takes pruning easily and the small, detailed leaves are perfect for flower arrangements. Height: five metres; Width four metres. Zones: five to seven. Burkwood osmanthus (Osmanthus x burkwoodii) As with many large rhododendron species, the Burkwood osmanthus is usually grown as a shrub but can be trained as a multi-stemmed tree. With a dense growth pattern, it has glossy evergreen leaves and fragrant white flowers. Height/width: three metres. Zones: seven to nine.