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Montgomery column: Trees and Shrubs for smaller spaces

Betty Montgomery
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Italian cypress has a wonderful linear shape that adds drama to any garden.

Do you need a tree for a narrow space? Have you moved lately into a home with a smaller garden and want to plant a tree? Today, there are many trees that will grow quite tall yet stay rather narrow in width as they reach maturity. What kind of tree do you need for a particular space?

Today, there are many different trees that have a narrow silhouette that will work perfectly in that smaller space. Tree experts have been on the lookout for years, trying to locate and grow trees that fit into narrower spaces or spaces where their branches will not extend too far into neighboring property, a road, or even into power lines.

With today’s shrinking landscapes, narrow trees, like the ones I am going to mention, might be perfect for your garden or office. The slender growth habit means they do not take up much horizontal space while giving you the beauty that a tree gives. Some of these newer selections like ginkgo Goldspires are tall and slender while others are shorter in height and narrow in width. Adding one of these trees to your garden will add another dimension and layer of interest.

Some of the narrow trees, with their crisp, clean, columnar outlines can tend to be a little formal in appearance. Many appear to have been meticulously pruned, even though the shears may have never left the shed. These will fit nicely in the space between two houses, where the area is limited. Today, most gardeners aren’t working with an endless amount of space as in the past.

Look at the area where you want to plant a tree and determine how much air space you have. Next, you need to decide if you are looking for an evergreen or a deciduous tree. What is the purpose? Are you looking for shade or privacy or are you wanting to hide an unsightly object on a nearby property? There are many choices in trees when it comes to finding the right shape tree, both deciduous as well as evergreen.

Slender Hinoki cypress, Sky Pencil holly and Taylor junipers are three evergreen plants that will add interest to any garden. I just planted several Taylor junipers because of the narrow columnar shape and also because I like the semi-soft, blue-green foliage. They could reach 30 feet tall over time and will stay about 3 feet wide, a good substitute to an Italian cypress if you live in colder areas. If you live where the weather is warm, you are able to plant Italian cypress but where I live, they will not do. These trees make a dramatic statement every time I see them in a garden so I wanted to try to replicate that slender look.

Sky Pencil Holly (Ilex crenata) is a plant I see often planted around town. It reminds one of a boxwood because of the leaf shape and is grouped botanically with the broadleaf evergreen shrubs. It is a narrow, columnlike Japanese holly, which is valued for its small, tightly packed leaves and reliability.

Goldspire ginkgo is a tree that will light up your landscape in autumn. Large, fan-shaped, lobed leaves persist on trees for several weeks after they turn yellow in the fall for a long color show. Bred specifically for its narrow shape, Goldspire ginkgo is only 6 feet wide at maturity, which makes it an architectural landscaping gem for small yards or narrow spots.

A native tree to look for is a columnar sweetgum called Slender Silhouette. It is a beanpole of a plant, growing 50 feet tall or higher, with a spread of 5 feet at the base. It has pretty fall color and is easy to grow.

As you are aware, most oak trees grow into quite large trees. A new one called Crimson Spire is a tightly fastigiate oak with some nice characteristics like dark green leaves and reddish fall color. This tree gets to about 45 feet with a spread of about 15 feet, not typical for an oak.

If you are looking for flower color you might want to consider a lovely flowering Japanese cherry Amanogawa (prunus serrulate). This will make a perfect tree for a smaller yard where a flowering tree is desired.

We do not all have room for that mighty oak or deodar cedar in our garden but there are trees that will be perfect in your landscape. Whether it is a shade tree or a tree to shield you from an unsightly sign, there are trees that will work for you. I have only mentioned a few of the many that are available. You might have to visit several of your local garden centers because some of the larger chain stores might not carry these specialty trees.

Decide where you want to plant that new tree and do some research and find the perfect one for your garden. Trees are long-lived and will give you much pleasure for a long time. It is worth your time to find the right tree with the right shape for your garden. Think about it this way, trees are like people, they come in all shapes and sizes.

Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of “Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy,” and “A Four-Season Southern Garden.” She can be reached at bmontgomery40@gmail.com.

Slender cherry trees are a wonderful addition to a garden. [Betty Montgomery]