I live in the Annex in TO. Our front lawn is relatively small 9×13 feet. Our lawn is elevated, more than two feet above the sidewalk level. We have stone retaining wall there. I would love to plant a tree that has shallow, no-invasive roots, does not have a large canopy (the tree would be on the south side of our property, I don’t want to block natural light to our windows) and should not be a messy tree since we park our cars nearby. Would you please recommend some tree species?
Thank-you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners with your question about selecting a tree for your front yard.
Below is a link to a very complete answer on the same topic. This person’s front yard was larger than yours, but there is good information about smaller tree choices as well. Please note the information about the City of Toronto’s tree planting program for (free) front yard trees (if you were not already aware of this). Keep in mind as well that even if you choose to purchase and plant your own tree, the City owns and controls the road allowance.
You have not mentioned the amount of sunlight the prospective site gets. While many front gardens in the Annex are shaded by large, mature trees, I am assuming that since your yard faces south and you mention wanting to retain the light coming into your house, it gets a fair amount of sun.
The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is a very popular and lovely choice where a small tree is desired. Many named varieties are available. Nursery staff can assist in selecting one that suits your size requirement. These trees do best with some shade, however, so if your site has full sun, you might prefer to check out another beautiful small maple, the Paperbark maple (Acer griseum).
Some other possibilities include flowering trees. These may require some clean up of spent blossoms or fruit, but they provide the seasonal beauty of flowers, and often striking fall colour as well. Some native trees you could consider are the Saskatoonberry or Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), Redbud (Cercis canadensis) or Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia or C. florida). Large native shrubs such as Elderberry (Sambucus nigra), Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), or Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) are also great alternatives to a small tree. Some non-native options are tree-form hydrangeas, smokebush, a small variety of magnolia, or Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa). None of these is invasive and all have merit. It will really come down to your preference and the amount of sunlight your yard receives.
I would not suggest a coniferous tree because they tend to get large and the foliage is dense. Unlike a deciduous tree, it could end up blocking the winter sun from reaching your house.
Best of luck in choosing your tree!