13 Best Small Trees for Patios

crabapple tree growing in the center of a patio
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Small trees on patios or decks can serve as natural focal points, add privacy, frame views, provide shade, and even bear fruit. Many of these trees can grow well in containers or raised beds. Some have special features, including flowers, attractive bark, and vivid fall colors. However, the features of certain trees might be too messy for your taste, dropping seeds, flowers, fruits, and more. So it's important to know all of a tree's traits, as well as whether it thrives in your climate, before committing. Here are 13 of the best small trees to grow around a patio or deck.

Tip

To find the right tree for your space, first consider its mature height and width. Also, note whether its roots tend to crack or lift up pavement, which wouldn't be ideal right next to a patio. And if you plan to grow your tree in a container, make sure you'll be able to repot it whenever the roots need more space.

  • 01 of 13

    Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

    Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
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    A chaste tree is a Mediterranean and Asian native with multiple trunks that can be trained to make a nice shade tree. Leaves of the chaste are aromatic, and it produces small, fragrant flowers on spikes during the summer and fall. Varieties 'Silver Spire' and 'Alba' have white blossoms while 'Latifolia' and 'Rosea' have pink flowers. This tree can also be pruned into a shrub. Annual pruning during the late winter is recommended to maintain its shape. Moreover, the tree is heat-tolerant and resistant to oak root fungus.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Lavender-blue, white, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Loose, well-drained, medium moisture
  • 02 of 13

    Kumquat (Citrus japonica)

    Couple picking kumquats in their urban garden on the terrace
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    Kumquat trees can be grown in the ground or in pots. In the ground, they can grow to a mature size of 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide; container-grown trees are generally much smaller. Kumquats have beautiful dark green leaves and pretty orange flowers that turn into tangy edible fruit. Potted kumquats make great patio accents with their sweet-smelling blooms and bright orange fruits. They must be moved indoors for the winter in zones 8 and below. Moreover, it’s recommended to repot them every two to three years into a slightly larger container. Also, fertilize them throughout the growing season.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, sandy loam or clay
  • 03 of 13

    Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum or A. japonicum)

    japanese maple tree
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    Japanese maple trees are naturally small (up to about 15 feet tall) and work well in the ground or in containers. Just be ready to repot your tree into a larger container every other year or so. The best varieties of Japanese maples for containers are the kinds with weeping branches and finely cut, threadlike leaves. This includes the 'Dissectum', 'Red Dragon', 'Burgundy Lace', 'Crimson Queen', 'Butterfly', and 'Mikawa Yatsubusa' varieties. Japanese maples require little pruning. Remove dead, diseased, or damaged branches as you spot them, and prune for shape if you wish. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Red-purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, rich, well-drained, slightly acidic
  • 04 of 13

    Ficus (Ficus benjamina)

    Ficus benjamina

     

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    Ficus trees can grow to heights of 50 feet or more in the wild, but in the home environment they are most commonly grown as houseplants. This small tree's bright green leaves and twisty, arching branches make it an eye-catching feature in any location. Ficus benjamina, or weeping fig, makes a versatile patio plant that transitions easily from indoors to outdoors. It is hardy only to zone 10 but can be brought outside in cold-winter climates after the threat of spring frost has passed. Your ficus will benefit from monthly fertilization during the growing season, but then you can back off the fertilizer in the winter. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 12
    • Color Varieties: Insignificant bloom
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained
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  • 05 of 13

    European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis)

    mediterranean fan palm
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    The striking silhouettes of palm trees are perfect for instantly adding a look of the tropics to your patio or deck. In addition to European fan palms, there are several other species suitable for small spaces, including the pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii), paradise palm (Howea forsteriana), lady palm (Rhapis excelsa), Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis), and windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei). Fertilize your palm throughout the growing season, and prune off dead or diseased portions as you spot them. Also, be sure not to overwater, as this can kill a palm.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained
  • 06 of 13

    Ornamental Crabapple (Malus)

    crabapple tree on patio
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    Ornamental crabapple plants are admired more for their brief but lovely display of red, pink, or white flowers than for their edible fruits. The smallest varieties can be planted in containers while other types can be trained against a wall or fence as an espalier. Also known as flowering crabapple trees, the varieties suitable for large containers include 'Centurion', 'Indian magic', Japanese (M. floribunda), and Sargent (M. sargentii). Crabapple trees are somewhat drought tolerant once they’re mature, but don’t let their soil dry out. If there is a stretch without rain, especially during warmer months, water your tree. Also, they generally require little pruning outside of removing dead, damaged, or diseased branches.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Red, pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium moisture, well-drained
  • 07 of 13

    Ornamental Cherry or Plum (Prunus)

    chinese garden with cherry tree
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    Small, flowering Prunus trees are variously called cherry or plum trees. They typically have dark purple foliage, as well as white, pink, or red flowers, depending on the variety. They are suitable for large containers or raised beds. Some of these trees are susceptible to insect issues and fungal diseases. So prune your tree to slightly thin the branches and improve air circulation, which can help to prevent these problems. 

    Small varieties of plums include the purple leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera), Krauter Vesuvius purple leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera 'Krauter Vesuvius'), and double pink flowering plum (Prunus x blireiana). Small flowering cherry trees include purple leaf sand cherry (Prunus x cistena), Yoshino cherry (Japanese flowering cherry; Prunus x yedoensis), 'Albertii' (Prunus padus), and 'Okame' (Prunus incisa x Prunus campanulata).

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, red
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained
  • 08 of 13

    Pine (Pinus)

    black pine in container
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    Because pines are evergreen, they give you something green to look at on your patio throughout the year. Plus, they maintain some shade and privacy year-round. With frequent pruning, you can keep a pine small if you wish. Several species are suitable for patios or decks, including lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana), evergreen Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra), and evergreen Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora). In large containers, consider growing evergreen Mugo pine (Pinus mugo) or evergreen Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergiana). Pine trees generally require little care. Water your tree during prolonged dry spells, and fertilize annually if your soil is poor.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Nonflowering
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-drained, medium moisture
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  • 09 of 13

    Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria)

    Smoke tree

     

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    The smoke tree, also referred to as the smoke bush, is known for its stunning dark reddish-purple leaves and silky hairs that resemble puffs of smoke. It can be grown in a large container or near a deck or patio. The "smoke" effect is created by the fluffy hairs that follow the tree's (insignificant) flowers in the spring. The hairs turn pink and then purple as summer progresses. Lightly prune the tree as needed in the early spring for the best blooming.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-drained
  • 10 of 13

    Ornamental Pear (Pyrus)

    Pyrus ussuriensis

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    You will need at least two pear trees for optimal cross-pollination and fruit. Alternatively, choose Anjou or Bartlett if you have room for only one tree, as these varieties are able to pollinate themselves to some degree. Other suitable varieties for patio areas include: snow pear (Pyrus nivalis), Manchurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis), edgedell pear (fl x P. betulaefolia), 'Glen’s Form' (Pyrus calleryana ‘Glen’s Form’), and 'Jack' flowering pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Jaczam'). Pear trees typically can tolerate wet soil, though you must ensure that your tree has good drainage. The trees are susceptible to a disease called fire blight, so it’s important to promptly prune off infected portions to help stop the spread. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, humusy, well-drained
  • 11 of 13

    Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis)

    sweet bay tree
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    Sweet bay is a small, slender evergreen with a conical form. Its foliage is dark green and highly aromatic. The leaves are the same bay leaves that are used in many types of cooking. A good choice for containers on decks or patios, it can be pruned into a topiary or hedge. Planted in the garden, it is drought-tolerant. But you should water it during prolonged dry spells. Also, while this plant likes a lot of light, protect your tree from hot afternoon sun during the warmest months of the year.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Yellow-green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained
  • 12 of 13

    Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x Natchez)

    crape myrtle on pathway
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    Crepe myrtle trees (or shrubs) are well known in the southern United States for their showy pinkish blooms, gorgeous bark, and beautiful fall foliage. You can grow full-size varieties in large containers; they will reach about 10 feet tall. There are also many smaller trees, such as 'Acoma', 'Yuma', 'Zuni', 'Catawba', 'Comanche', 'Hopi', 'Centennial', 'Chica Pink', 'Chica Red', 'Glendora White', 'Peppermint Lace', 'Pink Velour', 'Seminole', and 'White Chocolate' varieties. Avoid excessive fertilization, as this can promote leaf growth over blooming. Also, extensive pruning usually isn’t necessary, though you can prune for shape if you wish in the early spring.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White, pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium moisture, well-drained
    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Wisteria (Wisteria)

    wisteria tree at house
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    Besides being absolutely gorgeous, wisteria can be trained as a vine, shrub, or small tree. To train it as a tree, remove all but one stem, and secure that stem by tying it to a stake. When it reaches the desired height, prune or pinch the branch tips to force more branching. Wisteria can also be grown to cover an arbor or pergola. The two common species are Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda). Fertilizer usually isn’t necessary unless you have poor soil. But you can add a layer of compost to promote blooming and healthy growth.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, rich, well-drained