Good Tree for small yard?

MacheteFebruary 9, 2011

I need a good tree for a small yard with not so good soil.

I live in a development that was basically built on top of fill with no top soil. It takes hours to dig a hole, and you end up with a pile of huge rocks, clay and fill dirt when it's all said and done. Of course I'm going to make the hole extra big and fill it with good soil. I assume when the tree gets big it's roots are going to venture into the low quality soil. There is also a PVC sewer line from my house to the street about 13 feet away from the spot I'm planning to plant it.

Any suggestions?

I've been thinking:




Red Maple

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I live in southern PA.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:10AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Hi, Machete. There's quite a size difference between red maple and dogwood. What size tree would you prefer? What shape?

Are you looking for something large to shade the house on the south or west side? Something quick-growing? If you plan to live there for twenty or more years, do we need to consider how far from the house you're planting the tree, so you choose a variety that won't bump into or endanger the house?

Southern PA could be at least three different USDA zones. If you don't know your zone, you can enter your zip code here:

The current wisdom is not to amend the hole ... but it sounds like your soil is so bad that some amendment may be necessary. If you've got huge rocks, it's probably a good idea to remove them: more room for the tree's roots. Clay can cause difficulties, but I think more for some trees than for others. Does the soil seem to drain well after a heavy rain, or does it remain water-logged?

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:37AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"Of course I'm going to make the hole extra big and fill it with good soil.

It is almost never a good idea to amend or change out the soil in a tree or shrub's planting site. Doing so is likely to negatively impact drainage and lead to root system issues. As Missingtheobvious said, removing large rocks from the original soil, before placing it back into the planting hole, is a good idea.

Here is a link that might be useful: Planting a Tree or Shrub (especially see part 7)

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 1:46AM
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The zone is 6A. I just want a tree in my front yard. The spot is probably 15 or 20 feet from my house.

I don't want the tree to endanger my house. Not sure if a Red Maple would grow to big? Basically I'm just looking for any tree will be good for the conditions listed. I'm not really picky.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 9:50AM
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Dan Staley

What is the purpose of the tree. What is the position of the tree relative to the house. Any tree will "endanger" the house if it is not planted properly. How old is the house.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 10:40AM
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The house was built in 1996. The tree has no purpose other than I want a tree in my front yard. I just want recommendations. Then I will do research on the recommendations and make my selection.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:11PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

and following dan.. how big is a small yard???

you said: and fill it with good soil. I assume when the tree gets big it's roots are going to venture into the low quality soil.

wrap your head around this... why would it grow out of the good soil ... it has just as good odds.. to simply.. adventageously .. grow roots in circles until it does fall over ...

when planting trees.. there are 3 basic issues ...

PROPER --- carp.. just blanked out.. lol ...

anyway.. if you plant it properly.. in native soil.. and water it properly.. which includes drainage and NEARLY letting it dry in between waterings .... then you will have about a 95% chance of success .. trees have been around for millions of years.. adapting to wherever it seed had fallen.. your yard is no different ... they really are.. JUST BIG WEEDS ... lol ..

soil science and all the other things become rather unimportant ... dont get me wrong.. there can be issues.. and research needed.. and all kinds of peripheral issues..

but when it all boils down ... if you plant and water it properly .. it should live ...

i mean really.. think about all the weed maples growing in the cracks of driveways .. in gutters.. etc ... dont make it more mysterious than need be ...

i HATE maples.. and unless you have at least 100 feet square yard .. i would stay away from trees with such potential ... even if that potential is 30 to 50 years down the line ....

redbud is near bulletproof.. but you have the seed issue ...

dogwood doesnt work for me... but should be a nice little tree if zone appropriate ...

i know nothing about sourwood ...

we do need to know where you are.. and what zone to go much further with suggestions ....

and think of the hole digging as aerobic exercise.. just do it ...

oh.. and the MOST IMPORTANT THING.. number 4 [still havent figured out 3 .. lol] .. and i will yell..

TIMING IS EVERYTHING .... if you try to do this in july/august .. in the northern hemisphere .. with a fully leafed out tree .. it will die ...

more info please ...


ps: wait.. i got it ...


all other variables ... fall somewhere within those ...

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:16PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Trident maple. Shantung maple. Maybe Japanese maple (they vary greatly in shape and size) with excellent fall color.

Ignore Ken over maple. He's the biggest acer-phobia out there so he says that basically all maples are bad and newbies would come out here and get confused over it so ignore him. Sure there are terrible ones for maple like Silver and Norway but there are others are are great with fall colors and not so aggressive root system like silver maple and norway maple.

All kinds of trees produce seedlings so no difference than Maple. I hate oak trees more because of massive amount of acorns that are uncomfortable to walk barefoot in the lawn or they produce deep tap roots that are hard to pull out but I'd still grow them because they are dependable and hardy trees. Who cares as long as they are dependable grower, go with what pleases you the most.

I planted shantung maple in terrible rocky soil like yours without amending the soil and they do fine - Trees are tougher than you think, at least most of them.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:38PM
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Dan Staley

Hard to give recommendations with info provided. I can give you 100 trees and make you work...


    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:40PM
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My yard is 22x30 ft. Zone 6A. I will use native soil.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 1:00PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Is your soil alkaline or acidic?

Based on the soil conditions already provided, I wouldn't recommend any of those trees you listed.

Both Trident maple and Shantung maple are good selections for new developments with poor soil and stay within a 20' wide footprint for the most part.

Maackia amurensis may be another choice, no fall color but nice flower spikes in late June / early July.

Quercus x warei 'Long' is another choice....taller, more narrow.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 3:55PM
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you could grow a birch or sassafras tree. They grow on just about any soil.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 4:04PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Blind shot in the dark assuming soil is not wet. Norwegian Sunset Maple, or Pacific Sunset Maple. Both hybrids of Shantung and Norway Maples, both can have good fall color, both grow fast, both can handle very poor soil due to parentage, both should have strong wood, and both stay a reasonable size. Both should be pretty much tough as nails with any reasonable care and proper planting as long as it's not saturated soil.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 4:42PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

The trees listed by whaas & arktrees should be right for you.

Ken, I think "zone appropriate" was your #3.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 6:34PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

before you decide.. you must decide what you want to do in your yard .. besides sit in future shade ...

if you think that you will want to do any kind of shade gardening.. then you ought to seriously consider trees that do not have aggressive surface type roots.. which in my 1500 hosta experience.. includes ALL MAPLES .. period ... as well as some others ... willow.. mulberry ... etc

a tree which limits your experience.. simply to looking at it.. and raking leaves.. and picking up helicopters [not all maples] .. is of limited value TO ME ...

so just dont go with what 'might fit' .. really think out the long term ramifications ...

if you are 30'ish.. and hope to be here for 50 years.. it WILL BE A problem ...

if you are 65'ish.. frankly.. you arent going to be around long enough for the roots to be a singnificant issue..

so do consider other variables besides just the tree itself ...

there .. is that better lou .... i do understand you defense of all trees .. what i dont understand is your repeated statements that NOTHING I say is worthwhile and i should be ignored ...

i suspect that it is more of an interpretation of your typed words .. but frankly.. sometimes your maple defenses come across a bit harsh ...

i will continue to try to interpret them for good.. instead of evil ...

minus point 1 degrees at 9am this morn.. anyone want to drive up.. and feel the heat????


    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 10:10AM
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I would strongly recommend the sourwood. (oxydendron) It is a 4 season ornamental, and grows naturally in mountain settings. Consider removing rocks, building a raised bed at least 100 sq feet and planting bulbs and hosta under the tree.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 7:37PM
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I am in SW Pa. I'm not into small trees but neighbors here have Dogwood, redbud, A round-leaved holly, dwarf apple,crabapple and Jap maple. Not much interesting if you want small.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 8:47PM
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picea(6A Cinci- Oh)

There are some narrow forms of Ginkgo that would work. It is a tough plant. One of my favortite small trees is a paper bark maple. 4 season interest and easy to grow but not cheap.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 11:40PM
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Not much interesting if you want small.

Au contraire!! 'Small' trees are those typically considered to be 30' or less in height at maturity. And there are a good many to choose from:
Acer ginnala - Amur maple
Acer campstre - Hedge maple
Acer griseum - paperbark maple
Acer palmatum, japonicum, shirisawanum - Japanese (NOT Jap!) or Asian maples
Aesculus pavia - Red buckeye
Amelanchier - serviceberry
Cercis - Redbud
Chionanthus - Fringe tree
Cornus kousa, mas or florida - Dogwoods
Crataegus - hawthorn
Halesia carolina - Carolina silverbell
Koelreuteria paniculata - Golden Rain tree
Laburnum - Golden Chain tree
Lagerstroemia - Crape myrtle
Various magnolia species
Malus sp. - Flowering crabapples
Oxydendrum - Sourwood
Pyrus salicifolia 'Pendula' - weeping willowleaf pear
various ornamental cherries and plums.
Styrax japonica - Japanese snowbell

Plus, this doesn't take into consideration any of the dwarf forms of larger growing trees, like the Ginkgo, or dwarf conifers. And the list is often larger in different areas, depending on native species present specific growing conditions or invasiveness issues.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2011 at 11:13AM
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When I typed Jap I almost corrected it but figured it would be understood as an abbreviation. No harm intended, but did you correct me for that reason, or because they aren,t all Japanese? I didn't realize there were quite that many small trees.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 11:38PM
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pkvir(z7b DFW TX)

As a few have already stated, I would plant a Shantung Maple. One of my favorite trees.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 7:47AM
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The term 'jap' is considered pejorative or an ethnic slur and a somewhat inappropriate usage on a global forum where it could be offensive to many readers. It is very acceptable to abbreviate to just the letter 'J' (J. maple or even just JM) or spell the word out completely (Japanese).

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 10:56AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

Jap. is also an acronym for Jewish-American Princess

which would be useless in identifying a maple..

go figure on that ...

anyone else tired of the PC police???


ps: btw.. i use JMap .... which might be a slur on the Mapopolese peeps of mapopolis ....

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 11:07AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Poaky, it's only understood as an abbreviation if it has a period after it.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 11:14AM
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Okay, I get the message.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 8:33PM
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pkvir(z7b DFW TX)

I can't beleive you guy's are roasting poaky over Jap Maple. Me, not being a racist, looked at that post and didn't think twice. Leave it alone; you know what he meant.

This is being to PC, and that is one thing wrong with this country. The other is the push to socialism. Sorry, I couldn't be silent any longer.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 8:56PM
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No one was 'roasting' anyone. And it has nothing to do with the term not being understood or even not being 'PC' - it is a matter of politeness and using good manners, which seem to be sorely missing with many of us.

I live in an area with a very large Asian heritage community and I can tell you without hesitation that this terminology is extremely offensive to them......very similar to using the term 'chink' when referring to someone of Chinese descent. Put the shoe on the other foot for a moment.....sheesh!

Sorry, but I can't/won't be silent about this either. Try using that term on the Japanese Gardening forum and see what flak you get. And deservedly so.

btw, the only recognized abbreviations for Japan/Japanese is JP or Jpn.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 11:12PM
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