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5 Four-Season Trees for Small Gardens

The larger the footprint, the more I ask of a plant, and delivering all-season appeal is a surefire shortcut for a tree to make the cut. Because of their size, trees are held to the highest standard. This is especially true when designing small gardens, where space is tight and we're limited to growing only a choice few.

Over the past two decades, I've designed a lot of small gardens, for myself and with clients. When helping clients realize their dream garden, they often indicate a desire for a garden that looks good year-round. And who wouldn't, right? I have good news! In the Pacific Northwest, this is very achievable. But, it does take some effort. 

It requires selecting trees and shrubs that provide interest via one of more of these traits:

  • beautiful flowers
  • attractive foliage
  • a pleasing form
  • handsome bark
  • fall color
  • a pleasing fragrance
  • and more!

Tree that have more than one of these qualities are the cornerstone of a four season garden.

Top garden designers turn to these trustworthy small trees time and time again to create four seasons of interest. The eGardenGo site has plant combination ideas that provide garden inspiration to help DIY gardeners incorporate these beautiful trees into their garden. So when you find a tree that tickles your fancy, follow the link for inspiring planting combination ideas to try in your garden.

Top Picks for Four Season Trees For Small Gardens

Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire' - VINE MAPLE

If you're looking for a new container plant, Pacific Fire vine maple is slow-growing and remains compact for quite a while.

Pacific Fire Vine Maple
Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire' VINE MAPLE

IN BRIEF: fresh foliage in spring and summer • fall color • red stems in winter


Acer griseum - PAPERBARK MAPLE

Beloved for its fall color and wonderful bark this tree is large enough to create a canopy, yet small enough to not overwhelm a small garden.

Acer griseum - paperbark maple
Acer griseum PAPERBARK MAPLE

IN BRIEF: showy, exfoliating cinnamon-colored bark • handsome foliage spring and summer • fall color


Lagerstroemia 'Natchez' - CRAPE MYRTLE

Crape myrtles trees offer summer blooms, fantastic bark for winter interest, and a canopy that is not too heavy.

Lagerstroemia x 'Natchez'
Lagerstroemia x 'Natchez' CRAPE MYRTLE

IN BRIEF: sinuously smooth bark • panicles of white summertime blooms • fall color


Stewartia monadelpha - TALL STEWARTIA

This fantastic tree with wonderful bark is a great choice when you're looking a new tree to add to your shade garden.

Stewartia monadelpha TALL STEWARTIA
Stewartia monadelpha TALL STEWARTIA

IN BRIEF: summer blooms • fall color ranges in yellow, red, and orange • mahogany bark looks great year-round


Stewartia pseudocamellia - JAPANESE STEWARTIA

This is an incredible ornamental tree!

Stewartia pseudocamellia flower
Japanese stewartia in flower

IN BRIEF: white flowers in summer • fall color • exfoliating bark with interesting patchwork pattern


If you decide to add one of these wonderful four season trees to your garden, I hope you'll consider shopping at one of our site sponsors. For those in the Portland area, Portland Nursery is a top pick!



Published December 22, 2019


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