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Trees for Small Areas

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As development trends towards higher densities, landscape architects get creative with constricted outdoor spaces.

Trees are a critical portion of the experience of an outdoor space. Building clearances, utilities and other obstructions can make fitting trees difficult. Instead of giving up on trees and their benefits, consider these smaller selections. They can fit in tight spaces, provide some shade and give vertical interest to your project.

Cercocarpus betuloides
Mountain Ironwood

This western native can be grown as a large shrub or small tree. Native Californians used its hard wood for arrows and spear fishing. It has small evergreen leaves and tolerates drought and clay soils. You can expect small white flowers followed by curly feathery fruits that sparkle in the sunlight. 8’- 20’ tall and 10 -12’ wide.

Cotinus coggygria “Purpureus”
Smoke Tree

Usually multi-trunked, but can be trained into a tree, its leaves emerge purple and gradually turn to green. Typically in late spring flowers will develop, followed by airy plumes of purple giving it the appearance of smoke. Along with being drought tolerant you get the benefit of yellow to orange-red fall color. 12’-15’ tall and wide. Potentially larger with age.

Dodonaea viscosa
Hopseed Bush

This evergreen shrub can be trained into a tree and has elongated willow like leaves. The most commonly found variety is “Purpureus” which has reddish purple leaves. Use this as a colorful accent that will provide color year round. It’s tolerant of drought and pruning.  10’-15’ tall and wide.

Photinia x fraseri
Red Tip Photinia

Commonly seen as a large evergreen screening shrub. You can also find it sold in a standardized tree form. New growth delivers a bright red show, followed by clusters of white flowers. Its named is derived from Greek in reference to its glossy foliage. 10’-15’ tall and wide.

Pittosporum eugenioides
Lemonwood

Another plant good for a screen or hedge. It is sold in both multi trunk and stand forms. The yellow green foliage brings brightness to the landscape and contrasts well with darker plant materials. In spring it produces sweet smelling flowers. Give it some shade in the hotter parts of the Bay Area. 20’-40’ tall and 10’-15’ wide.

Rhaphiolepis “Majestic Beauty”
Majestic Beauty Indian Hawthorn

This genus is best known for its smaller shrubs with a profusion of pinkish flowers. The “Majestic Beauty” variety is a larger tree like version of these popular shrubs. Expect clusters of fragrant pink flowers in spring. It can be used as an evergreen background or accent tree in your designs. Up to 25’ tall and 10’ wide.

Article written by Erik Gellerman

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