Small trees perfect for today’s little home lots

One of the most challenging design features today is home lot sizes shrinking to postage stamp proportions. If you are looking for a small tree, here are a few suggestions:

Texas ebony: This is one of the most lush of our desert trees. It has beautiful dense, dark green leaflets set on unusual zigzag stems. The tree’s light-gray bark also is an attractive feature. Fragrant flowers are insignificant, but they turn into striking large, dark brown seedpods that split open to reveal a row of beautiful red seeds. It is a slow grower, and if not groomed will reach 20 feet tall in time.

Shiny xylosma: If you’re looking for a small evergreen tree with a dense canopy and that “traditional” look, then xylosma is for you. Its leaves are a dark glossy green shaped like cherry leaves. It is often sold as a shrub; prune the lower branches to develop it into a nice tree. The tree grows to a height of 15 feet with equal spread.

Texas olive: This trouble-free tree got its name because of its yellow-green fruit resembling olive seeds. Flowers are white in showy clusters from spring into autumn. It is a dense tree, with large gray-green coarse leaves. If you want more flowers, water more often. It gets as high as 15 feet and as wide.

Twisted acacia: Oh, what an unusual scene this tree will bring to your landscape. It produces snakelike twisting branches that create a truly unique silhouette. Bright yellow puffball flowers adorn the branches in the spring, followed by brown seedpods. Sharp thorns make this a formidable barrier tree that gets about 15 to 20 feet tall.

Texas mountain laurel: When in bloom this tree has large purple clusters of wisterialike flowers that perfume the air! These laurels come dressed with glossy-green foliage, providing a perfect foil for these showy blossoms. It is evergreen, thornless and is one of the cleanest small trees available. It is a good choice for patio areas, growing slowly to 15 feet tall and as wide. It loves deep, infrequent irrigations and that encourages faster growth.

Mexican orchid tree: This shrub or small tree will get from 10 to 18 feet tall and as wide. It has a long bloom cycle with delicate white flowers from midsummer until late fall. It has bright green leaves and likes full sun to partial shade. Moderate irrigation provides the best growth.

Art’s desert willow: We now have a seedless form of desert willow called Art’s seedless. The plant was found in Littlefield, Ariz. Through the summer it covers itself with fragrant, trumpet-shaped light pink flowers with rose-colored tips; long, narrow bright green leaves and no messy seedpods. The thornless, heat-tolerant, water-efficient tree grows to about 20 feet tall and as wide. You’ll find desert willows along our desert washes. The more it’s pruned, the more it flowers.

Mexican bird of paradise: You’ll more often find this beauty as a large shrub, but it makes an excellent small tree when pruned to form. It has rich, dark green leaves and unlike the yellow or red bird of paradise, this one is evergreen. Very showy, bright yellow flower clusters rise above the canopy and bloom from early spring, well into the fall and sometimes through the winter. It will get about 12 feet high.

Willow pittosporum: If you want a willowy looking tree, consider this weeping pittosporum. The canopy is open and airy, great for affect without completely blocking out views. Not worth mentioning fragrant flowers give way to showy golden seed capsules that split open to reveal bright orange sticky seeds. This tree will eventually get to a height of 15 feet and a spread of 10 feet.

Bay laurel: It is an evergreen with aromatic leaves. Use it as a large shrub or tree that will reach 20 feet tall if not groomed. It also is a versatile herb and some use it in food storage to keep out bugs.


These intriguing plants are not only distinctive, but also versatile and add a lot to our landscapes! Join Vicky Uen, a master gardener, in exploring the various palms at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. Call 822-7786 for details.

Linn Mills writes a gardening column each Sunday. You can reach him at or call him at 822-7754.

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