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Skinny Plants for Tight Spaces

So many plants and so little space. If you're like me, you're trying to squeeze an entire arboretum into a quarter of an acre suburban lot. Or, perhaps you need a tree to plant between the sidewalk and the street without having to prune it within an inch of its life. Thankfully, there are many plants that have been introduced by growers to fulfill just these kinds of requirements.

Vertical gardening is the answer for small space gardens. Trees and shrubs that grow up more than out can give you the color or texture you want without squeezing too much in a small space. Vines are also a great way to grow upward, getting plenty of flower power and lush foliage in a compact package.


Ginkgo biloba 'Princeton Sentry', Princeton Sentry Ginkgo Tree 
All the beauty of a Ginkgo in a compact package. This tree will grow 40' to 50' high, but only 20' across at maturity. Fall color is a clear, bright yellow. 'Princeton Sentry' makes a beautiful and hardy street tree.

Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk', Red Obelisk European Beech 
Who wouldn't want to have a beech in their landscape if they had the space? Now you can. Smooth gray bark and burgundy leaves make this a very elegant tree. It maintains a narrow, upright form reaching 40' tall, but only 15' wide.

Picea pungens 'Iseli Fastigiata', Iseli Fastigiate Blue Spruce 
Beautiful blue foliage on a narrow, conical spruce makes for a great accent plant. This slow growing tree will reach 30' at maturity, but no more than 8' to 10' across.

Amelanchier canadensis 'Glenn Form', Rainbow Pillar® Serviceberry 
This narrow, shrubby tree will reach 12' to 15' tall, but only 8' wide, making it an excellent choice for a screen. Plus, it still has beautiful white flowers in spring, and the red, orange and yellow fall color you expect in a serviceberry. It grows well in part shade and will tolerate wet soils better than most.

Amelanchier x 'Cumulus', Cumulus Allegheny Serviceberry
'Cumulus' is a bit larger than Rainbow Pillar®, reaching 25' by 12' at maturity. It can make a worthy street tree as well as specimen plant.

Zelkova serrata 'Musashino', Musashino Columnar Zelkova 
An elegant, columnar vase-shaped tree that will reach 45' tall, but only 15' wide. Beautiful green foliage through the summer with yellow fall color. Zelkova 'Musashino' makes an excellent specimen or street tree.

Acer rubrum 'Red Rocket', Red Rocket Red Maple 
A release by the U.S. National Arboretum, 'Red Rocket' will reach 30' tall, but only 8' wide at maturity. A strong, columnar shape and bright red fall color make this an impressive choice for a narrow space. It is tolerant of wet soils and would also make an excellent street tree.

Picea abies 'Virgata', Snake Branch Spruce 
A truly unique evergreen that makes for an outstanding specimen plant. This tree has no lateral branches, but has long, drooping limbs that hang down from the main trunk, hence the name. This plant will reach 30' tall and 12' wide. Can be difficult to find, but worth the effort.

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette', Slender Silhouette Sweetgum
An exceptionally narrow tree, growing 60' tall, but only 6' to 8' wide. Glossy, deep green foliage turns a brilliant array of reds, oranges and yellows in the fall. If you've avoided sweetgum because of the spiky gumball-like fruit, consider this tree with its narrow spread.

Quercus robur x Q. bicolor 'Asjes', Rosehill® English Oak 
Quercus robur x Q. bicolor 'Long', Regal Prince® English Oak 
Oaks lend a garden that strong and timeless feeling. Rosehill® grows to 40' tall and 20' wide with a narrow, oval shape. Regal Prince® may grow a bit larger, up to 60' tall, but still only 25' wide. Dark green foliage turns to a yellow fall color. This cultivar shows better mildew resistance than the species.


Thuja occidentalis 'Degroot's Spire', Degroot's Spire Arborvitae 
If you want the soft feel of an arborvitae but on a small scale, Degroot's Spire is for you. Reaching only 5' tall and 2' wide, this plant will give you that pyramidal evergreen as a specimen or foundation plant.

Buxus sempervirens 'Monrue', Green Tower® Boxwood
Buxus sempervirens'Graham Blandy', Graham Blandy Columnar Boxwood
Both very columnar boxwoods, growing slowly (and I do mean slowly) to a height of 9' to 10' tall, but only 2' wide. Interesting specimen or even topiary plants. As with all boxwood, some protection from winter winds can help prevent leaf burn. May be difficult to find these, but if you're a boxwood fan it's worth it.

Berberis thunbergii 'Helmond Pillar', Helmond Pillar Columnar Barberry  
If you like the reddish-purple leaves and tiny yellow flowers of a Japanese Barberry, this plant can deliver all that in a narrow package, growing to 4' tall and only 1' wide. It still has the thorns that you expect from a barberry, so be careful where you plant it.

Rhamnus frangula 'Ron Williams', Fine Line™ Buckthorn 
Soft, ferny leaves on a multi-branched shrub that reaches 6' tall and 2' wide. While the species can be invasive, this cultivar is definitely not. Makes a great screen or specimen plant.


Bignonia capreolata 'Tangerine Beauty', Tangerine Beauty Crossvine
Great native vine that few people seem to be familiar with. It can grow in full sun or part shade. Lots of trumpet-shaped orange flowers cover this 20' vine. Grows by tendrils or can sucker to the sides of buildings making it very versatile.

Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet Honeysuckle
Contrary to popular belief, not all honeysuckle is bad. This native vine can grow 10' to 20' without being excessively aggressive. Grows as a twining vine, requiring a trellis or fence for support. There are several appealing cultivars to look for, including 'John Clayton', 'Major Wheeler', and 'Blanche Sandman', among others.

Wisteria frutescens 'Amethyst Falls', Amethyst Falls American Wisteria 
A native wisteria that blooms later than Japanese Wisteria, making it less susceptible to late frosts. Fragrant, lavender-blue flowers appear on new growth in June.

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