As property sizes continue to shrink, customers ask us more often about which smaller trees or shrubs to plant here in the Denver area foothills. Even on larger properties, there are spaces where a more petite or narrow tree would be best.
If you’re looking for a good tree or shrub for smaller spaces, you have several options to choose from, such as:
- a tree that naturally stays compact (for example, there are dwarf varieties of some of our favorite Colorado trees)
- a shrub or tree that can be easily kept in bounds with routine pruning, or
- a tall, narrow tree to add some summer shade or privacy without taking up a lot of space.
Choosing the best tree for a spot in your yard is also influenced by microclimates.
Microclimates are the conditions in specific spots around your property. For example, your home might be located in USDA growing zone 5, but a plant or shrub hardy only to zone 6 might make it through the winter if placed against the south-facing wall by your front porch. On the other hand, you’ll likely be better off planting more cold-hardy trees in the backyard (or north side of the house), where winter shade produces completely different conditions.
We suggest you try one (or more!) of these five Colorado trees for small spaces in your landscape.
ASPEN (POPULUS TREMULOIDES)
Aspens are beautiful all year and are perfect for creating privacy as a “living fence” or to raise the height of a fence screen. They're also the most common and beloved of Colorado native trees.
Also called Quaking Aspen, one of the tree’s best features is the movement and sound of its heart-shaped leaves in breezes. Don’t close your eyes to enjoy the sound for too long -- the fall color is a stunning gold-yellow. When winter arrives, you still can enjoy the pretty cream-colored Aspen bark.
These are perfect trees for narrow spaces, especially on the north sides of homes. They’re hardy down to the coldest mountain zones, are native and grow rapidly.
Aspens fill out best in full sun but can grow well in partial shade. They need more water than some Colorado trees, and regular pruning as they mature if planted in a small space.
COLORADO BLUE SPRUCE (PICEA PUNGENS ‘FASTIGATA’ OR ‘ISELI FASTIGIATE’)
How about a narrow evergreen with beautiful steely blue foliage for a tight space? Oh, and it happens to be our state tree!
Colorado blue spruce grows more slowly than Aspens but still can add about a foot of height per year. The tree can provide year-round privacy or windbreaks.
This blue spruce is hardy from zones 3 to 7 (down to -40 degrees), perfect for Denver area landscapes. Some blue spruces can grow up to 60 feet high but maintain their columnar shape. The Iseli Fastigiate is smaller, up to 20 feet high.
Spruces typically need some extra water in the landscape.
SOUTHWESTERN WHITE PINE (PINUS STROBIFORMIS)
Here’s another Colorado small tree with beautiful rough bark. The trunk starts out ash gray and turns darker gray as the tree matures.
Southwestern white pine has a columnar shape with soft, blue-green needles and attractive tube-like cones. The evergreen beauty is native to Southwestern areas of our state and parts of Arizona and New Mexico. It’s become a favorite landscape plant because of its beauty, height, and usefulness as a windbreak and for wildlife habitat.
Southwestern white pine needs little to moderate water once it’s established in your landscape.
This pine grows slowly, taking up to 20 years to reach 35 to 40 feet in height or begin to encroach on plants or structures in its space.
BRISTLECONE PINE (PINUS ARISTATA)
The bristlecone pine is another slow-growing evergreen perfect as a stand-alone plant in your Denver foothills landscape.
The tree is native to Colorado, so it’s already adapted to our climate, soil and other conditions. In fact, it’s found on high, dry and rocky slopes in many parts of the Southwest.
This small conifer grows more irregularly than the Southwestern white pine, and some bristlecone branches can die off. This tree is no less stunning, however. When bark dies back, a strip of inner trunk shows with an attractive ribbon-like quality. The branches have attractive tight bunches of short, dark-green needles, the feature that gives this small tree its other name of Bottlebrush Pine.
The tree needs only occasional watering after the first year and partial or full sun.
KINTZLEY’S GHOST HONEYSUCKLE (LONICERA RETICULATA X LONICERA PROLIFERA)
Trees aren’t the only way to go vertical in a tight space. Try a Kintzley’s ghost honeysuckle to add trailing height and color to your garden.
The vine is hardy in zones 4 through 8 and climbs to nearly 12 feet high on a trellis, fence or post (perfect for on the privacy fencing around your yard).
Hummingbird-attracting yellow flowers appear in early summer. The flowers are backed by large pale bluish-green leaves, and you’ll love the fragrance as much as hummers love the nectar.
The honeysuckle vine can take full or partial sun and needs water weekly, sometimes more often in the hottest summer weeks.
Plant one for narrow, vertical height, or several of the vines for a pretty screening effect.
OR HOW ABOUT A SHRUB/TREE?
Some shrubs also can be grown as “small trees.” For example, Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora), Russian hawthorn (Crataegus ambigua) and Canada red cherry (Prunus virginiana) are sold in both single-stem and clump forms. Single-stem shrubs grow into small tree shapes, and clumps grow into shrubs. The Standing Ovation serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk') is a very columnar variety that is fairly new to the market but would work well in a small space.
For details on all the trees and shrubs we recommend for our area, please click on the buttons below to download a PDF with our top recommendations.
If you’re not sure about the growing conditions and microclimates on your property, give us a call. We’re always happy to visit your property and recommend trees that would be good for specific locations.
We also provide tree planting services so if you don’t want to do it yourself just give us a call! We purchase trees directly from a wholesaler, choosing the best plant from their large selection with the shape and size to fit a specific spot in your landscape.