Small Specimen Trees


Any suggestions for a front-yard tree, only a metre or two from the north side or our house in average soil? It gets 2-4 hours of direct sun in the late afternoon in the summer. Drainage is fine. Ideally, it would be 4-5 metres tall and umbrella shaped.


Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners.

You will plant your tree as far as possible from the house, at least half distance of the spread of the tree. Knowing the tree or shrub will be in part shade, with a good drainage, we suggest:


Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is native to Japan, Korea and China. General plant form is rounded to broad-rounded, often with low branching. Fall color includes shades of yellow, red-purple and bronze.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is normally a multi-stemmed shrub that produces profuse clusters of pinkish-white flowers in Spring that cover the branches before the leaves are fully open. In Summer, bunches of small edible, dark blue berries hang among dark green leaves, which turn brilliant bronze-red in the fall. Serviceberry requires little pruning, but if pruning is necessary, remember to “prune after bloom”.

Eastern redbud (Cercis Canadensis), is native to southern Ontario, often multi-trunked understory tree with a rounded crown. It is particularly noted for its stunning pea-like rose-purple flowers which bloom profusely on bare branches in early spring (March-April) before the foliage emerges.

Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) typically grows with a vase-shaped habit in the early years but eventually maturing to a more rounded form. Bloom occurs in late spring. Flowers are followed by berry-like fruits which are technically edible, but are usually left for the birds. Leaves usually turn attractive shades of reddish-purple to scarlet in autumn. Mottled, exfoliating, tan and gray bark on mature trees is attractive in winter.


Carnival Hedge Maple  Acer campestre ‘Carnival’ (Height:  3,5m, Spread:  3,5m) is a small, low-branched, dense, rounded, deciduous tree or large multi-stemmed shrub

Golden Shadow Pagoda Dogwood  Cornus alternifolia ‘Wstackman’ (Height:  4m, Spread:  5m) is an open multi-stemmed deciduous shrub  which features almost oriental horizontally-tiered branches. The Golden Shadow Pagoda Dogwood has clusters of fragrant creamy white flowers held atop the branches in late spring. It has attractive yellow-variegated light green foliage which emerges scarlet in spring. The Golden Shadow Pagoda Dogwood will grow to be about 12 feet tall at maturity. This shrub performs well in both full sun and full shade. It requires an evenly moist well-drained soil for optimal growth.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.) is a large shrub that blooms in late fall or late winter, depending on the species, with unique yellow, gold, orange or red flowers. Foliage is not as showy during the summer months, but as fall approaches, the dark green leaves turn yellow with hints of purple and red. Native witch hazels grow in shade but tolerate some sun. Although they can be grown in all kinds of soil, they prefer moist, well-drained conditions. Little pruning is required except to tidy their shape; errant branches should be cut off during flowering.

Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ) an be trained as a small single trunk tree, but is best grown as a large, multi-stemmed shrub. May display best shrub form if regularly pruned to a height of 6-10’ tall. Bloom from mid-summer into fall occurs on current season’s growth, so prune as needed in late winter to early spring.

Nannyberry  Viburnum lentago (Height:  5m, Spread:  3,5m) is a large, upright, multi-stemmed, suckering, deciduous shrub but may also be grown as a small, single trunk tree which may reach a height of 30′. Non-fragrant white flowers in flat-topped cymes (to 1 cm diameter) appear in spring. Flowers give way in autumn to blue-black, berry-like drupes which often persist into winter and are quite attractive to birds and wildlife.

Alleghany Viburnum  Viburnum x rhytydophylloides ‘Alleghany’ (Height:  3,5m, Spread: 7m) featuring flat-topped clusters of creamy white flowers in spring and fruit which starts brilliant red changing to black in fall, extremely ornamental; dense, upright and compact, a beautiful choice for the shrub border. The dark red fruits are held in abundance in spectacular clusters from late summer to late winter. It has dark green foliage throughout the season. The fuzzy narrow leaves do not develop any appreciable fall colour.

 We would also recommend browsing your local garden center for additional examples.  Once you see a tree that strikes your fancy remember to check the height and spread at maturity.  The tree might look small now but they will grow.  Make sure to select a tree that will grow within your environmental conditions (amount of sun/light & soil conditions).  Remember, right plant for right place will lead to success.

 You might like to review our Toronto Master Gardeners guide