13 Best Small Trees for Patios

crabapple tree on patio
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Small trees on patios or similar areas can serve as natural focal points, add privacy, frame views, provide shade, or even bear fruit. Many small trees suitable for patios or decks can grow right in containers or in raised beds near or on the patio or deck itself. To find a tree that fits the bill, consider the following criteria:

  • Mature height and width
  • Special features, like fruit, flowers, fall color, or attractive bark
  • Root systems that are not known to crack or lift up the pavement
  • The mess factor: the potential for dropping nuts, pods, seeds, spent flowers, or fruits
  • Ability to grow in tree or shrub form

Whichever tree you set your sights on, make sure it grows well in your region and is appropriate for the given space before you dig a hole or buy an oversized planter. You can always ask at a local nursery, extension office, or botanic garden for recommendations.

Replant container-grown trees regularly if they don't like to be root-bound.

  • 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 lavender-blue 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. It is heat-tolerant and is 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 (in growing zones 9 and 10) or in pots. In the ground, they can grow to a mature size of 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide; pot-grown trees are 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.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 10
    • 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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    Colorful and beautiful 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 it to 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, like 'Dissectum,' 'Red Dragon,' 'Burgundy Lace,' 'Crimson Queen,' 'Butterfly,' and 'Mikawa Yatsubusa.'

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7 or 8, depending on variety
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, fertile, 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.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 12
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, fertile
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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 paradise and the tropics to your patio or deck. In addition to European fan palm, there are several other species suitable for small spaces, including: pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii), paradise palm (Howea forsteriana), lady palm (Rhapis excelsa), Chinese fan palm (Livistona chinensis), and windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei).

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture; not overly moist
  • 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).

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 7 or 8
    • Color Varieties: Red, pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-drained
  • 07 of 13

    Ornamental Cherry or Plum (Prunus)

    chinese garden with cherry tree
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    Small flowering trees in the Prunus species 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 suitable for large containers or raised beds.

    Small varieties of plums include 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 (typically)
    • 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. With frequent trimming or pruning, you can keep a pine small and attractive. Another perk: it can be used as an outdoor Christmas tree and adorned with lights. Several species of pine 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).

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 8 (depending on species)
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, well-drain, medium moisture
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  • 09 of 13

    Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria)

    Smoke tree

     

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    The smoke tree, or 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 fluffy hairs that follow the tree's (insignificant) flowers in spring. The hairs turn pink then purple as summer progresses.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Must be well-drained
  • 10 of 13

    Ornamental Pear (Pyrus)

    Pyrus ussuriensis

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    You will need to have at least two trees of different varieties of pear for cross-pollination and proper fruit set. 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').

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9 (typically)
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, humus-rich
  • 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.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained
  • 12 of 13

    Crape 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 grow smaller varieties, such as 'Acoma,' 'Yuma,' 'Zuni,' 'Catawba,' 'Comanche,' 'Hopi,' 'Centennial,' 'Chica Pink,' 'Chica Red,' 'Glendora White,' 'Peppermint Lace,' 'Pink Velour,' 'Seminole,' and 'White Chocolate.'

    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained
    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    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. Wysteria can also be grown to cover an arbor or pergola. The two common species are Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda).

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moist, fertile, well-drained