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Small trees for your tiny backyard

If you’re downsizing or have a small garden, a pint-sized tree might be the answer. There are plenty of options to plant as we move into the warmer months.

Small space trees

Trees are a vital part of the urban landscape. They provide valuable shade and shelter, important habitat and forage for birds, insects and animals, create structure and focus in a garden and can also have magnificent foliage colour and flowers.

As backyards shrink, choosing appropriately sized trees becomes more challenging. However, clever plant breeders and nurseries are regularly introducing new trees that are much more compact and perfectly suited to limited spaces.

Here are five fabulous pint-sized tree ideas:

• Forest Pansy is a stunning small deciduous tree that grows to around 3-5m tall. It has masses of pink flowers along the branches in spring, followed by eye-catching burgundy heart-shaped leaves which change to green during summer then autumnal tones as the weather cools. It does best in cool and temperate climates in moist but well-drained soil and prefers some protection from hot drying winds.

• Deciduous magnolias — Late winter and early spring are when the bare branches of deciduous magnolias are smothered in stunning large goblet-shaped flowers. They are truly gorgeous and absolutely traffic stopping. The range of flower colours include burgundy, white, magenta, purple, hot pink and eye-catching yellow. Some magnolias are fragrant and there are also variations in flower type, including the multi-petalled star-shaped stellata. Magnolias are slow growing trees that do best in fertile slightly acidic soil. They grow well in cool to warm temperate zones and need protection from winds and frosts. Leaves can be damaged during hot dry weather and so deciduous magnolias will look their best if grown in a semi-shaded position that is protected from harsh afternoon sun.

• Evergreen magnolias — Little Gem and Teddy Bear are some of the gorgeous smaller varieties of evergreen magnolias now available. They have beautiful large, perfumed white flowers during the warmer months and glossy dark green leaves with a coppery-brown underside, which creates an additional colour feature when the leaves are moving in the wind. The compact nature of these magnolias makes them perfect home garden trees, with Little Gem and Teddy Bear growing to around 4 - 5m tall. Evergreen magnolias can be pruned during winter if required.

• Gordonia is sometimes called the fried egg plant due to the way that the fallen white flowers with bright yellow stamens resemble fried eggs over the ground during winter. A wonderful evergreen tree, reaching around 3-4m tall, for a sunny or partly shaded spot. Bees adore the flowers.

• Frangipani — bringing a tropical feel to frost-free temperate and warm climate gardens, frangipanis are predominantly deciduous trees that have lush leaves and beautifully fragrant flowers in summer. Frangipanis can grow up to 8m tall. However, for small spaces look for compact varieties. During hot and dry weather, frangipanis will appreciate a deep watering once a week, especially if the tree is still young and the root system is small. There’s no need to keep the soil constantly moist as frangipanis do best in slightly drier conditions.

African violets

As the popularity of indoor plants soars, so does the not-so-humble African violet. They’re perfect plants for growing indoors, taking up very little room and provide delightful flowers over many months.

Here are some top tips to help keep your African violet thrive:

• African violets do very well in special ceramic self-watering or wicking pots, however, can also be grown in small 10cm diameter pots with good drainage holes.

• Choose a good quality, free-draining potting mix such as Yates Premium Potting Mix.

• Position the African violet in a brightly lit spot indoors, away from direct sunlight. Protect from cold draughts.

• Let the potting mix dry out slightly before re-watering. They detest wet feet so never let the pot sit directly in a saucer of water.

• Avoid wetting the leaves and stems, as this can encourage disease. Apply water directly over the potting mix.

• Feed African Violets regularly with a potassium boosted complete plant food such as Yates Thrive Roses & Flowers Liquid Plant Food.

SMELLS GOOD: Frangipanis are predominantly deciduous trees that have lush leaves and fragrant flowers in summer. During hot and dry weather, frangipanis need a deep watering once a week, especially if the tree is still young and the root system is small. NZME picture