Specimen tree for front yard


Can you suggest a small specimen tree for a small Toronto front yard (semi-detached)? Approximately 12’ wide & facing west with no obstructions so lots of sun (even from the south). We had a serviceberry there for about 12 years but it never really thrived, then it died last year. Typical urban soil (on the side of clay), but I’ve been adding compost, soil conditioners from The Urban Harvest, as well as cedar mulch every year for 12 or so years. For environmental reasons, ideally I’d like something that doesn’t demand a ton of water to thrive.
Thank you!


Thank you for your question.

You do not indicate where in your front yard you want to plant the tree. Your chosen location may actually be on city property, and you could qualify for a city tree. Property lot lines are further back from the street than you think.

From the City of Toronto website:

The City of Toronto owns a portion of land between roadways and private property, known as the public road allowance.

A property owner can submit a tree planting request for the City-owned road allowance in front of their home or business.

The City’s Urban Forestry staff will visit the site to confirm the right tree species and determine the ideal planting location. Tree planting takes place in spring or fall.

You request a tree by contacting the City’s 311 line, either by phone or email 311@toronto.ca

The species available from the city for planting on the road allowance are listed in this street tree brochure. All the trees on the City’s list are quite large at maturity: 40 feet or more tall, 20 feet or more wide. A smaller tree may be a better fit for your location.

You may be able to source a smaller tree at a subsidized price from the non-profit organization LEAF, which has a mission to grow and sustain the urban forest. I reviewed the LEAF offerings for Toronto. These are native trees. Of the available trees, the grey dogwood, which is actually a large shrub, is likely best suited for sunny, dry urban locations. Pin cherry another is another possibility. It does best in average to evenly moist conditions.

If you buy at a commercial nursery, there are more options as non-native species and commercial cultivars are available. Ask the nursery staff for tree recommendations for your specific location. Here are just a few suggestions for trees you might consider:

Spring is a good time to plant a new tree. This Trees Canada tree planting guide provides general instruction on how to plant a tree.  The place where you buy the tree should provide specific planting instructions.

Don’t forget to check for underground infrastructure (cables, pipes) on your property before you plant the tree. This is easy to do, by contacting Ontario One Call at least five days before you plan to dig. This organization will notify buried infrastructure owners of your plans. They will come out and mark any underground lines and cables on your property before you dig, so that you can safely plant your tree.

Good luck with your new tree.