The Best Small Trees for Small Yards in the South
For an array of shapes, sizes, and colors, including bright scarlet, crimson, orange, and yellow fall foliage, consider a Japanese Maple when looking for a small tree. Many of these easy-to-manage yet showy trees can top out at 15 feet tall or less and take a long while to get there. Candidates: 'Bloodgood' (15 feet tall), 'Crimson Queen,' (4-6 feet), 'Emperor 1' (15 feet), 'Fireglow' (12 feet), 'Garnet' (6-9 feet), 'Inaba-shidare' (5 feet), and 'Shaina'(3-4 feet).
Chaste trees offer showy blue or purple flowers in summer, colors which are a bit unusual as far as trees go. Steve Bender, a.k.a. Grumpy Gardener, has a Chaste Tree in his yard that is almost 20 years old and still less than 15 feet tall. According to Grumpy, he “prunes it a lot in winter to remove the internal twigs and let the sculptural trunks show. It blooms on new growth, so winter pruning is good for it.” Remove the first wave of flowers after they fade to ensure a second wave of blooms in August or September. Chaste tree is fully winter-hardy in USDA Zones 7-11 and may come back from the roots and still bloom in Zone 6.
Short Crepe Myrtles
You can still have the beautiful cluster of crepe myrtle blooms without an immense tree covering your yard. Instead of the ‘Natchez’ crepe myrtle, which can grow 30-35 feet tall, plant a smaller selection that doesn't grow very big. That way you will have a tree of manageable size that can be pruned every year in the proper method, and you won’t be tempted to commit crepe murder. Candidates: 'Acoma' (white flowers, 6-10 feet tall), 'Early Bird' (white or purple, 6-8 feet), 'Siren Red' (dark red, 8-10 feet tall), 'Velma's Royal Delight' (rich purple, 4-6 feet), 'Zuni' (lavender, 6-10 feet), 'Pink Velour' (neon pink, 10-12 feet), and 'Tonto' (red, 10-12 feet).
Carolina silverbell blossom
If you admire the South’s native flowering dogwood, you are sure to love the native Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina). Clusters of snow-white, bell-shaped blossoms hang beneath the length of its graceful branches in spring, giving the tree its name.
Little Girl Magnolias
Breeders at the U.S. National Arboretum hit the right whimsical note when they named a dazzling group of compact, spring-blooming magnolias the "Little Girl Series," giving different members of the group simple monikers including 'Jane,' Ann,' 'Susan,' and 'Betty.' Growing 10-15 tall, these trees are kind enough to wait until late spring, usually after any danger of damaging frost, to put on a beautiful show of deep-pink to reddish-purple flowers. Grow them in USDA Zones 3-8.
Offering a show of fleecy, white flowers in spring and bright yellow fall foliage, this lovely native tree makes a nice alternative to the flowering dogwood. Also known as grancy graybeard, fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) grows about 15 feet tall and wide and is hardy in USDA Zones 4-9. Better yet? In the South, it's pest-free.
Rose of Sharon
This tree used to be seen in yards across the South, loaded with colorful blooms in the summertime. Unless you had an heirloom plant, you were hard-pressed to purchase a quality new one, since nurseries mostly sold weedy and sickly-looking Rose of Sharon seedlings. Fortunately, today’s improved hybrids feature better blooms over a longer period, more colors, fewer seeds, and nicer forms. Blooming on new growth, they reach 10-12 feet tall and adapt to USDA Zones 5-9. Candidates: 'Ardens' (double lilac-purple flowers, few seeds), 'Blue Chiffon' (blue with ruffled center,) 'Blue Satin' (blue with red center), 'Blushing Bride' (double white, few seeds), 'Diana' (large white, few seeds), and 'Pink Giant' (rose-pink with red center).
Okame Flowering Cherry
This tree blooms early, often by Valentine's Day in Zone 8, so it is easy to understand why people look at it as a harbinger of spring. Gorgeous, deep pink blossoms open before the leaves appear. In fall, the leaves turn orange-red. This tree grows quickly so, once planted, you won't have to wait long for the show.