Steve Bender

These fab five won’t eat your yard.

Autumn foliage is peaking in Grumpiana. It’s also a great time to plant. Unfortunately, many trees planted for glorious fall color grow too big for small yards. Here are five suggestions for small trees that illuminate the season without devouring your house and garden.

Japanese Maple

Whenever anyone asks me to recommend a nice small tree for a confined space, my first choice is always a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). The photo above shows an allee of coral bark Japanese maples (A. palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’) planted many years ago in my narrow side yard. About a zillion different Japanese maples exist, growing anywhere from 4 to 25 feet tall depending on the selection. Some cascade; some grow upright. What they have in common is that they grow slowly, seldom need pruning, like full to part sun, and turn brilliant shades of scarlet, crimson, orange, gold, yellow, and purple in the fall. Grow them in USDA Zones 5 to 9. Peak color: mid- to late autumn.

Apple Serviceberry

Many people don’t know this tree, but they should. A hybrid of two of our native serviceberries, apple serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora) is a delightful, trouble-free tree that grows 15 to 25 feet high. It combines showy, white flowers in early spring with edible fruits that taste like blueberries and also orange and red leaves in fall. ‘Autumn Brilliance’ and ‘Diana’ sport especially fiery leaves. Plant in full to part sun and well-drained soil in USDA Zones 4 to 9. Peak color: mid-autumn.

Flowering Dogwood

Native to the eastern U.S., flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is an old favorite in the South. Many consider it the finest all-around ornamental tree for its showy spring flowers (white, pink, or red), handsome shape, red fall fruits that feed the birds, and scarlet to crimson fall foliage. Slowly growing to 20 to 25 feet tall, it likes acid, moist, well-drained soil with sun in the morning and light shade in the afternoon. It doesn’t like drought, so water during summer dry spells. Plant in USDA Zones 5 to 9. Peak color: early to mid-autumn.

WATCH: Escape in Fall Color

Japanese Persimmon

An Asian cousin to our native persimmon, Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is quite simply the prettiest and easiest to grow of all fruit trees. It combines sweet, non-puckering fruit the color and size of tomatoes with glossy foliage that turns bright red in fall. It reaches 20 to 25 feet tall. Give it full sun and well-drained soil; no spraying necessary. ‘Fuyu’ produces fruit without a pollinator. Plant in USDA Zones 7 to 10. Peak color: mid- to late autumn.

Common Witch Hazel

Native to the eastern U.S., common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a multi-trunked tree growing 15 to 20 feet tall. Folks make “divining” or “water witching” rods from its branches. It’s very carefree, needing only acid, well-drained soil and full to part sun. Leaves turn bright yellow in fall. Shortly after they drop, spicily sweet, yellow flowers appear. Plant in USDA Zones 3 to 9. Peak color: mid- to late autumn.