These are some of the best trees you can plant in areas with less than 6 feet of room before roots hit a sidewalk, asphalt, or a home’s foundation. These trees are ideal if you’re restricted in an urban environment.
All trees compiled in this list typically do not grow large surface roots. These trees are known for being free and resistant of serious pests and diseases. They have at least moderate drought tolerance as well as salty soil tolerance. Trees were also selected based on the amount of droppings, sap, and how messy they can be. Trees were also selected based on how prone their branches are to breakage – you don’t want to plant a tree that is constantly giving you new insurance claims on your car. A few trees that sometimes can be stinky were disqualified as well.
You should be able to find these trees at a store like Home Depot or a nursery nearby. Rare and hard to find trees were excluded.
Baldcypress, the state tree of Louisiana, eventually develops into a broad-topped, spreading, open specimen when mature. Capable of reaching 100 to 150 feet in height, most landscape specimens are rarely seen in this open form because they are usually much younger and shorter. Trees grow at a moderately fast rate, reaching 40 to 50 feet in about 15 to 25 years. Although it is native to wetlands along running streams, growth is often faster on moist, well-drained soil. The pale green, needle-like leaves turn a brilliant coppery red in fall before dropping, but the bare branches and reddish gray, peeling bark provide much landscape interest during the winter. The trunk grows unusually thick toward the base, even on young trees. The small seeds are used by some birds and squirrels.
Surprisingly, the roots do not appear to lift sidewalks and curbs as readily as some other species. Its delicate, feathery foliage affords light, dappled shade, and the heartwood of Baldcypress is quite resistant to rot. However, most lumber available at lumber yards today is sapwood and is not resistant to rot.
Baldcypress is ideal for wet locations, such as its native habitat of stream banks and mucky soils, but the trees will also grow remarkably well on almost any soil, including heavy, compacted, or poorly-drained muck, except alkaline soils with a pH above 7.5. Locate where the sun will strike the tree on all sides for best symmetrical development. Baldcypress is relatively maintenance-free, requiring pruning only to remove dead wood and unwanted lower branches which persist on the tree. It maintains a desirably straight trunk and a moderately dense canopy and does not form double or multiple leaders as do many other large trees.
Do not let dead or diseased branches remain on the tree. Keep trees healthy with regular fertilization. Mites can be particularly troublesome in dry summers without irrigation, causing early leaf browning and defoliation in mid to late summer.
Pond Cypress and Prairie Sentinel are other cypress varieties worth considering.
Columnar Golden Rain Tree
This tree was found on many citys’ approved tree lists for urban growing. Bright yellow flowers flair from the tips of branches. Although each flower is only ½” long, they appear in enormous numbers along 12” long and wide showy panicles.
Young trees grow fast and tend to be gangly, but with age and proper pruning they take on a rounded silhouette reaching a crown height and spread of 30 feet. The dense umbrella crown gives excellent shade and shelter. By age three or four trees produce flowers.
Hardy Rubber Tree
If you want green leaves on a tree during a severe drought, this is your tree! This little-known but urban-tough, very attractive, 40 to 60-foot-high, slow-growing, deciduous tree has a dense, symmetrical oval to rounded crown and low-branched silhouette, making it ideal for use as a specimen, shade or street tree.
The thin, three to eight-inch-long, glossy, dark green leaves are almost totally resistant to pests and disease and remain an attractive dark green throughout the summer, changing only to a paler green before dropping in early fall.
The foliage is quite striking and appears to glimmer in the moonlight or when lit from above. Branches ascend forming an upright silhouette in winter. The inconspicuous blooms are followed by the production of small, 1.5-inch-long, flat, winged seeds.
Only one or two corrective prunings at an early age normally is all that is needed to develop good structure in the crown.
Hardy Rubber Tree should be grown in full sun on moist soil but when well-established tolerates extensive drought. Trees have been growing in parts of North Carolina for many years without irrigation and have survived extreme drought in very poor, clay soil in the full sun.
These trees grow very slowly. They should be grown and tried more often in urban areas such as in highway medians, along streets and as a medium-sized shade tree. Growth rate appears to be quite slow but could probably be improved with adequate irrigation.
The tree is adapted to high soil pH. Amazingly free of any problems but do not plant it in poorly-drained soil.
Hedge Maple is usually low-branched with a rounded form, but there is considerable variability from one tree to the next. The branches are slender and branch profusely, lending a fine texture to the landscape particularly during winter. Lower branches can be removed to create clearance beneath the crown for vehicles and pedestrians.
The tree eventually reaches a height and spread of 30 to 35 feet but it grows slowly.The small stature and vigorous growth make this an excellent street tree for residential areas, or perhaps in downtown urban sites.
However, it grows a little too tall for planting beneath some power lines. It is also suitable as a patio or yard shade tree because it stays small and creates dense shade.
The tree excels in its ability to tolerate dry, alkaline soil but some protection from open winds is helpful. Not for highly compacted soil. It is well-suited for and looks great during drought in a partially shaded location or on the north side of a building. The common name alludes to the plants tolerance of severe pruning, and it will make a dense, tall screen, whether pruned or not. Branches are arranged closely on the trunk and some pruning is usually desirable to create a well-formed tree.
The main ornamental feature is the bright yellow fall color. There appears to be variability in color from one year to the next and from tree to tree. Prune early in the life of the tree to develop several major branches well-spaced along a central trunk. This will improve the durability of the tree compared to trees with many upright and spreading branches originating from one point on the trunk.
‘Evelyn’ may be more vigorous, has an upright branching habit but is cold tolerant only to USDA hardiness zone 6. ‘Compactum’ is dwarf, ‘Postelense’ has golden leaves; ‘Queen Elizabeth’ is more upright-formed than the species and makes a good street tree.
Ivory Silk Japanese Tree Lilac
Although a Lilac, this member of the species is quite different in appearance than those with which gardeners are more familiar. Its upright habit varies from symmetrical to irregular but is more consistent than the species.
Cultivars including `Ivory Silk’ and `Summer Snow’ could be used instead of the species due to the more consistent habit and more flowers. `Ivory Silk’ grows well only in USDA hardiness zones 3 through six (perhaps into 7) and has an oval or pyramidal form when young but spreads to a rounded shape as it grows older.
This is a very large shrub or small tree, reaching a height of about 20 to 30 feet with a 15-foot-spread. The huge clusters of creamy white flowers, borne in early summer for about two weeks, are the main ornamental feature but lack the fragrance of the spring-blooming Lilacs — this Lilac’s fragrance is more suggestive of Privet.
It is being used as a street tree in some parts of the country, particularly in areas with overhead power lines. Japanese Tree Lilac is also popular as a garden specimen or as an accent in a shrub border. It deserves to be in any landscape. It provides shade to a small area and a colorful spring show for a deck or patio area. Green fruit clusters are somewhat showy when viewed from close range. Trees may not flower heavily each year.
The tree is sold as a multi-stemmed specimen or as a single-trunked street tree. The trunk is often trained fairly straight to 10 feet and then it branches into a stiff, upright, rounded head of foliage. The bark is somewhat showy with prominent lenticels, being reminiscent of Black Cherry. As with other Lilacs, when the plant is used as a shrub it may need rejuvenation by pruning every few years as it becomes overgrown. It is perhaps the most pest-resistant Lilac, but that does not mean it is pest-free. Regular irrigation during dry spells help make this a pest-resistant tree.
Japanese Tree Lilac is tolerant of urban conditions, growing in poor, clay or alkaline soil. The gorgeous flowers are most showy and prolific when the tree is located in full sun with good drainage. Plants in partial shade can be infected with powdery mildew which can cause some defoliation.
Purpureus Smoke Tree
This slow growing, open-crown, round, small tree eventually reaches to 12 to 15 feet tall (occasionally 20) and 10 to 12 feet wide. The large panicles of wispy dark pink flowers produced in spring and early summer give the effect of a cloud of smoke. Leaves emerge purple and fade to dark green in the summer. They make a wonderful accent in a shrub border and can be planted as a specimen or as a patio tree where the black, showy, multiple trunk can be displayed.
Planting Smoketree is a good way to extend the spring flowering-tree season into the summer before the Crape-Myrtles come into full bloom. Fall color is usually good to excellent and ranges from yellow to orange and brilliant red-purple. Many people grow it simply to enjoy the vivid fall color.
The tree is tough and adapts to restricted soil spaces. It could be used along a street under power lines and would not require pruning for many years. It is a small tree, well-adapted to urban areas with almost year-round interest which should be used more in our landscapes.
Smoketree grows best in a sunny location and a well-drained loam. It will grow asymmetrically and lean toward the light in a partially sunny area, so it is best to locate it in full day sun where the crown will develop symmetrically. Though sometimes short-lived in rich soil, Smoketree is useful in dry, rocky soil where there is no irrigation. It also grows in a wide range of soil pH, including alkaline. Probably short-lived (20 years – maybe more) in most situations but who cares – the tree is great while it’s around!
Other varieties to consider: Smokebush and wigtree.
Ruby Red Horsechestnut
This hybrid of Aesculus hippocastanum and Aesculus pavia has very large, dark green leaves composed of five to seven leaflets, and will ultimately reach a height and spread of 35 to 50 feet but grows slowly. Although deciduous, Ruby Red Horsechestnut does not produce any appreciable fall color and is well-suited for use as a specimen.
The tree is quite striking with dark green, coarse-textured foliage. Pyramidal in shape when very young, Red Horsechestnut develops slowly into a round, very dense shade tree by five to seven years of age, and is outstanding in the landscape for its beautiful springtime display of blossoms. The multitude of deep scarlet flowers in erect, 10-inch-long panicles at each branch tip are quite attractive to bees and hummingbirds.
The prickly seedpods which can be messy on the original hybrid are nearly absent on this cultivar making it better suited than the species for urban street tree planting.
Leaf and flower litter in the summer and fall may be objectionable to some people since the leaves are large and decompose slowly. Makes a great median street tree when provided with some irrigation during drought.
Ruby Red Horsechestnut will grow in full sun or light shade and prefers moist, well-drained, acid soils but grows in slightly alkaline soil. Plants are moderately tolerant to drought, wind, and salt and resist the heat of the south very well. It holds up well in urban areas, even in restricted and compacted soil spaces.
Red Horsechestnut appears to be less susceptible to disease than either of the parents. Trunk bark may crack when exposed to the direct sun so keep it shaded as much as possible by leaving lower branches on the tree and don’t over-prune the tree, exposing the trunk suddenly to direct sun. The tree usually requires little pruning to develop a good form.
The cultivar ‘Rosea’ has pink flowers. ’O'Neil’s Red’ has double red flowers.
These Trees Will Be Recommended To You
Don’t Plant Them
Holly trees, crepe myrtles, olive trees, privet, bottle brush or Callistemon, and birch trees. Do not plant these trees. While their root systems and canopies are great in tight, urban spaces, these trees are incredibly messy and will cause countless problems. Crepe myrtles will ruin any car parked under them. Holly trees attract ants and bugs like there is no tomorrow. All three trees will attract birds, which will in turn stain your sidewalk and home with purple-colored poop.