Selection of the right tree for difficult spot


HELP!!! I want to plant a tree as privacy screen for my second floor window that faces the roof of my neighbour’s garage and massive back of his house. The space is between the back wall of their garage and the side of our house – both walls running north south. To the south there is a 4-1/2 foot retaining wall, because we are on a hill. Their garage is flat roofed, 9 feet high on east side and our house is about 17 feet above grade on west side with a slanted root on top of that. (Our first floor is partly below ground due to backfilling of a hill on the east.) The space between the walls is 5 feet wide and 15 feet long. Soil is sandy. There is also a telephone utility wire at about 15 feet above ground running between the walls. I would like a small tree like a redbud or a serviceberry that will not grow too high, can tolerate this amount of shade, sandy soil and has a long trunk to not block the window of the house which is at ground level. I have a diagram of the space to show dimensions if needed. Is there a tree out there, preferably native, that can fit this space? Picture taken at 10:30 am June 4th.


Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners.

You certainly have a challenge finding a tree for a small space with sandy soil and shady conditions.  I have listed several possibilities for you to peruse knowing that these are just a few to get your search started.

Ivory Silk Japanese Maple (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’), Downy or Common Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), Purple Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’), Gold Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Gold’), Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’), Chinese/Korean/Japanese Dogwood (Cornus Kousa), Red Obelisk Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Red Obelisk’), American Sweetgum (Liquidamber styraciflua ‘Slender silhouette’).

If, after researching the above options you are still unsure, I would suggest you take the photos and area diagram to your local nursery and have them suggest some suitable planting material they either have in stock or would be willing to order in.  Trees are expensive so you want to make sure you have the right plant for the right place before making the investment.

Another alternative would be to have a landscape architect or designer come to your home to access the situation.  Besides the sandy soil, small space and low light conditions, you must also be cognizant of tree root growth close to your house and the neighbours garage, mature size of any tree and the retaining wall.  A professional in this area may be able to suggest alternatives such as vines on trellising or privacy screens.

If you do not know a landscape architect or designer, contacting Landscape Ontario would be a great start.  This horticultural trades association will be able to recommend trusted professionals in your geographic area.  See link below for their home page:

Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association – Landscape Ontario

Hope this information is helpful.