My best autumn trees for small gardens
Autumn trees are the stars in my November garden. My top five trees are:
- Smokebush (Cotinus coggyria
- Crab apple trees (esp Malus ‘Gorgeous’)
- Heritage fruit trees such as quince and medlar
- Silver birch ‘Jacquemontii’
- Maples (Acer – if they grow well in your soil)
If I didn’t have trees, there would much less colour in my garden at the end of summer. And trees improve air quality and support wildlife. Their height gives a smaller garden presence and proportion.
So I thought I’d round up my favourite autumn trees, in order to help you choose. All these trees are naturally quite small, except for the silver birch. But you can grow larger trees in small gardens by keeping them pruned or trained. Find out more in this post on trees for small gardens.
Maples, of course, are autumn’s prima ballerinas, but they do not do well in my garden. So here are the alternatives:
The shrub that grows into an autumn tree
Cotinus coggyria ‘Grace’ is more often grown as a shrub. But it is outstanding when grown into a tree in both summer and in the autumn. ‘Grace’ is less well known than ‘Royal Purple’, and it’s larger, but still reasonably small for a tree. (note: links to Amazon are affiliate, which means I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it won’t affect the price you pay.)
Crab apple trees
Crab apple trees are usually compact (but not always – do check!). They offer pretty blossom in spring and fruit in autumn and winter. When choosing a crab apple, look for one that ‘holds its fruit well.’ This crab apple of mine still has fruit in February so it looks beautiful in frost.
Malus ‘Gorgeous’ holds its fruit well – I think that’s my variety, but I’ve also seen it looking good in other gardens.
Heritage fruit trees for autumn fruit and colour
There’s something very satisfying about helping to keep a species from dying out. Although quince, which is my next recommendation, is fast becoming fashionable. It has beautiful white blossom in spring, and then fragrant fruits in autumn. They look like a cross between a pear and an apple.
Even if you can’t face wrangling the fruits to make ‘quince cheese’ or membrillo, a bowl of quince will perfume a room for several weeks.
Other heritage fruit trees include damson and medlar. We did have a damson, but it didn’t do well and wasn’t a particularly good shape. It’s from the plum family and they can be very fussy.
Which trees have the best autumn bark?
We have several silver birch (‘Jacquemontii’) in the garden. They do grow quite tall but they are wonderful trees because their pale bark is a focus point, especially in autumn and winter.
Silver birches work well in smaller gardens because they can be pruned to be airy and light. Their roots are not very invasive. Multi-stemmed silver birches are currently beloved of Chelsea Flower Show garden designers, and they are also likely to be less tall.
I wash my silver birches. (See how in the video). Since I started doing this I have had a lot of compliments – people really do say ‘what silver birch is that – it’s wonderfully white.’ When I say I wash them, they fall apart laughing.
Silver birches may seem large for smaller gardens, but there is a garden near me that is around 45ft long and wide. It has three beautiful mature silver birches at the end. The lightness of the bark stops them being oppressive.
So what’s your favourite small (ish) tree for autumn colour?
The most beautiful autumn garden tree
A friend described Acer griseum as ‘the most beautiful garden tree’. It is absolutely stunning in autumn, but I have now had three acers die in this garden so I don’t think they’re an option for me.
But take a quick glance at this stunning autumn tree colour here:
Take a trip round the Middlesized Garden
There’s a fuller tour of the garden here in this video. If you want the super-quick tour to music, that starts at exactly two minutes in.
More about autumn trees:
Find out which tree is absolutely perfect for your garden. Or try Alan Titchmarsh’s How to Garden: Small Trees, where he guides you through the selection and planning of trees for small gardens. Plus how to look after them.
It’s also essential to plant your tree correctly. If a tree fails, it’s usually because it’s been planted wrong. See this post for expert how to plant a tree advice.
And do join us for more garden tips, ideas and inspiration – get the Middlesized Garden into your inbox every Sunday (see ‘Follow by email’ top right of this page)
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