Let’s face it. Most gardeners won’t have endless space at their disposal for all of their trees, shrubs, flowers, or other landscaping designs. Small yards, limited amounts of time to tend these spaces, and tight quarters with neighbors can make it difficult to strike a balance between privacy and a truly beautiful landscape, and this is where incorporating columnar trees comes in. Since you’re working in small spaces, it makes sense that your plants, trees, and other items reflect this. You may not have space for a huge tree, but columnar trees can easily be brought in to fill in dead space, create a nice boundary, and require very little work from you to keep them thriving.
They’re perfect for tight spaces, and they don’t require all of the pruning and maintenance that a traditional shrub wall or living border will. If you have an area by your house that is narrow, they go well there. You can place them along your driveway, in a line to form a living border, or anywhere that you would like a little shade but don’t have space for a large tree. We’re going to outline several great columnar trees that work wonderfully in small spaces for you, and you can decide which ones you’d like to feature in your yard.
Although this columnar tree is usually grown as a small shrub, you can easily train it to grow as a smaller tree. This tree will give you a stunning burst of color during the winter months to help brighten up your landscape, and it tops out at 15 feet. You can control how wide the tree is and shape it by regular pruning sessions once a year. It’ll give you beautiful pale yellow blooms as it grows, and it has a very nice smell that is very light. If you put it in a small space, you can easily enjoy both the look and smell of this tree as it blooms.
This columnar tree does best when you plant it outside in zones seven to nine. It produces green foliage year round, and there will be yellow flowers in the winter months. It likes to be in an area that gets full sun to partial shade. The soil is slightly more finicky, especially when the tree is young. You should plant it in an area that has very fertile soil that stays relatively moist. However, it also has to drain very well between watering sessions to avoid problems.
Wintersweet by Heidi Xiao / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
2. Franklin Tree
This columnar tree would look very nice interspersed with some smaller bushes around it. This is a very historical tree with a rich history, and it is a member of the tea family. You could have trouble sourcing this tree as it is extinct in the wild. By late summer, this tree will produce gorgeous white blooms that are very fragrant when the humid August air hits them. It can get up to 30-feet tall, but this is very rare. Instead, this narrow tree usually tops out at around 8 to 10-feet at the most, and this is if you get the finicky planting conditions correct. It does require a bit of work to thrive.
This columnar tree does best when you plant it in zones five to eight. You’ll get lush green foliage with large white flowers that are very fragrant. It likes to be in an area that gets partial shade to full sun for six to eight hours a day. The sun and humidity encourage it to bloom. This tree won’t tolerate excess moisture or clay-based soils without dying. Instead, you need a very sandy soil that is highly acidic. The water should drain well through it each time you water it without impacting the acidity.
Franklinia7 by bob.jobin / CC BY-NC 2.0
3. Crimson Pointe Flowering Plum
Anyone who wants to add splashes of color to their landscaping should try this particular columnar tree. It’s a very dense deciduous tree that has a very narrow upright growth habit. So, you can easily plant it right next to another one without worrying about it spreading out too much and colliding with anything next to it. It only gets five to six feet wide at the most, and it grows to be between 20 and 25-feet high at full maturity. This is a slower growing species that will take a few years to reach the maximum height, and you can control the spread by pruning it in the spring.
During the early spring months, this columnar tree will produce stunning clusters of flowers that are pinkish-white in color and very fragrant. Once the flowers disappear, the foliage will appear in their place. It produces very deep purple foliage that is very attractive in many landscaping designs. It loves to be in an area that gets full sun for six to eight hours a day. Keep the soil slightly moist, and don’t saturate it. It likes loose and well-draining soil with a medium acidity.
Flowering Plum by Paul Schultz / CC BY 2.0
4. Tsukasa Silhouette Japanese Maple
Usually, when people think of maple trees, they think of grand, towering trees with huge canopies and brilliant fall foliage. However, this columnar tree is different. This is actually the first columnar form of the popular Japanese Maple tree, and it’s incredibly popular with people who have limited space in their yards but still want trees. It can be anything from a stunning ornamental hedge to an amazing focal point in the middle of your garden, and this makes it very versatile. It won’t take over the area, and it won’t cast a huge shadow that could limit what you plant around it.
Plant this columnar tree in zones five to nine. It likes to be in a location that gets partial sun, and you want to avoid areas that get full afternoon sun to avoid scorching it. Under the correct conditions, this tree can easily get 15 to 20-feet high and 6 to 7-feet wide at the widest point. The foliage turns a beautiful lime green in the early spring months before it fades to a deep green in the summer. When fall rolls around, yoru tree will change to a brilliant fire red.
Japanese Maple by Toshiyuki IMAI / CC BY-SA 2.0
5. Slender Hinoki Cypress
You’ll get a very pyramidal form with this tree, and it has an open-branch design. The branchlets on this tree arch very graceful to give it a stately look and feel. It looks like a traditional pine tree compressed into a slender form. You’ll get very small needles that are a deep green shade. For new growth, the needles have a reddish hue to them with a ferny, soft appearance. During the winter months, the foliage takes on a very attractive bronze appearance to give you year-round visual interest. It works well as a background planting, or you can use this columnar tree as a hedge for screening to increase your privacy in your yard.
This columnar tree does best when you plant it outside in zones four to eight. Make sure that the location you pick out gets direct, full sun for six to eight hours a day to keep the tree happy. It can get between 8 and 12-feet high and 4 to 5-feet wide. The bottom will be much wider than the top due to the tree’s shape, so you may have to space them out a bit. The soil should be loose and slightly sandy for the tree to do well, and it likes to have moderate amounts of water.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’, 2019 photo by F. D. Richards / CC BY-SA 2.0
6. Sky Pencil Holly Tree
If you’re looking for a low-maintenance landscape idea, consider adding a few of these columnar trees to the edges of your yard or garden. This is a wonderful evergreen tree that works very well in tight spaces. As a bonus, it’s low-maintenance because it has a natural skyward growth pattern that allows it to stay very narrow without you needing to prune or shape it. In fact, this tree will only get a maximum of two-feet wide at the widest point, and it tops out between 8 to 10-feet high under the correct growing conditions. So, you can plant them side-by-side without worrying about crowding them.
This columnar tree does best in zones five to nine. For the sun, you want to put it in an area that gets full sun to partial shade every day, so this makes it slightly more versatile. It produces long, slender branches with small leaves that give it a very dense look and feel. The soil should be loose and well-draining, but it’s not as picky as some options on the list. Once this tree establishes itself, it’s a very hardy choice that will provide a lot of interest throughout the spring and summer months in your yard.
Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ (Japanese Holly) by F. D. Richards / CC BY-SA 2.0
7. Moonglow Juniper
The Moonglow Juniper is a very compact columnar tree. It’s a conifer that offers very attractive green-gray foliage throughout the winter months. So, you’ll get visual interest with this choice all year-round. This is a very dense evergreen shrub that has multiple stems on a single plant. The foliage is very scale-like and ornamental, and it has a columnar and narrowly upright growth habit that makes it an excellent choice for a hedge or privacy screen at the edge of your yard. If you plant them close enough together, it will be very difficult for anything to push through it.
This columnar tree grows best in zones three to seven. They like bright, full sunlight and they won’t do well if you plant them in areas with a lot of shade. As a bonus, the greenish-grey foliage will reflect the moonlight to give you visual interest even after dark. The tree will get up to 20-feet high and 8-feet wide at the widest point, so you know how far to space them out. It’s also not picky about the soil, and it’ll do well in everything from sandy soil to clay-based options.
Trip to Sarah P. Duke Memorial Gardens during GWA 2009 Symposium by Gardening Solutions / CC BY-NC 2.0
8. Goldspire Ginkgo
Ginkgo Goldspire is a newer columnar tree cultivar, and it works to help purify the air by filtering it to remove pollutants. In turn, you’ll get tons of clean air. It will provide a decent amount of shade, and you’ll get a stunning backdrop for your other plants and flowers to pop out against if you put it in the back of your garden or landscape. When the cooler fall months come around, the leaves on this tree will take on a very pretty golden yellow coloring that will stand out against the darker colors in your garden.
However, this columnar tree has only been around since 2010 when it was introduced from France. So, there isn’t any concrete knowledge of how large this columnar tree will get. Estimates put it at 14 to 15-feet high and 5 to 6-feet wide at 10 years, but it could double to 30-feet high and 10-feet wide at full maturity at 30 years. It is best planted in zones four to nine. You’ll want to find an area that gets full sun to partial sun, and the soil should be slightly acidic and loose. Let it drain well between watering sessions.
Ginkgo biloba by Andreas Rockstein / CC BY-SA 2.0
9. Japanese Flagpole Flowering Cherry Tree
If you’re looking for an attractive flowering columnar tree, look no further than the Flagpole Japanese Flowering Cherry tree. This is a very narrow tree that is perfect for areas where you have limited space. During April and May each year, this tree will give you very large and pretty flowers in a pale pink hue. The foliage is bronze-green in the spring, and it will slowly deepen to mid-green during the summer. In the fall, it turns brilliant red or orange shades. This tree does get slightly wider than a lot of options on the list, so you will have to space it out if you get more than one.
For the best results, plant this columnar tree in zones five to eight. It requires full to partial sun to thrive, and it won’t tolerate deep shade. At full maturity, this tree can get up to 25-feet high and 12-feet wide, so it’s slightly larger than a lot of options on the list. It doesn’t like a huge amount of moisture, so water it sparingly. Make sure that the soil is very fertile, rich, and that it drains well. If you can, avoid clay-based soils or be ready to amend them to make them looser
Flowering Cherry Tree in Trinidad May09 by Diane Tebault / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
10. Slender Silhouette Columnar Sweetgum
This columnar tree is a wonderful option for those looking for a natural privacy screen in their yard. It is an extremely narrow form of Sweetgum that can get impressively tall without spreading out much. It has emerald green foliage that will turn heads, and the foliage will slowly turn to a pretty reddish-orange hue when the cooler fall temperatures come in. It’s perfect for small gardens, tight spaces, or as a brillant vertical accent piece. This tree will produce fruit that it drops to make it a little messy, but it falls in a very small area since the tree is so narrow.
Plant this columnar tree outside in zones five to nine. It requires full sun for six to eight hours every day to grow and thrive. At the peak, this tree will get up to 60-feet high and 5 to 6-feet wide. It drips spiky seed-filled balls through the summer that you’ll have to pick up. Make sure the soil around this tree is slightly sandy and loose so it drains well when it gets wet. It doesn’t like saturated soil, so be sure to water it semi-lightly when you do water.
Sweetgum Tree by Care_SMC / CC BY-ND 2.0
11. Pencil Point Juniper
Better known as Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’, this columnar tree is a narrow and small evergreen. You’ll get pretty greenish-blue foliage that shimmers when the sun hits it to provide visual interest in your garden. It’s a nice choice if you have limited space in your garden or a very narrow area to fill in like along the side of your home. It also makes a wonderful small hedge or a privacy screen if you plant it close enough together since it’s very dense. It produces tiny needles on longer branches that all grow in an upright pattern, and the needles have a softer feel to them.
To keep this columnar tree happy, plant it in zones three to eight. It’s a smaller species that will top out at six-feet high and just one-foot wide at full maturity. It’s also versatile when you pick your area because it does well in the shade, partial sun, or full sun. It’s also not terribly picky about the soil. This is a hardy option that will tolerate extended droughts or cold snaps without any damage, and it requires very little in the way of maintenance to keep it looking nice.
Morning Junipers by summitcheese / CC BY-SA 2.0
12. Forever Goldie Arborvitae
This columnar tree offers brilliant bright green foliage that has a yellow tinge to it to make it very eye-catching when you add it to your yard as a landscape edging idea. When the temperatures start to drop, the needle-like leaves take on a pretty gold hue. The needles will seem to glow and shine when the sun hits it, and this makes it an excellent focal point in your yard all year-round. It has very soft foliage to the touch, and it doesn’t shed. So, you’ll get year-round visual interest with very little maintenance. It has a pyramidal stature to it, so it’s wider on the bottom and narrow on the top.
This is one columnar tree that does very well in a slightly wider range of planting zones, from three to eight. It does require you to plant it in a space that gets full, bright sunlight. At full maturity, this tree will get up to 12-feet tall and only 3 to 4-feet wide at the base before tapering up to a more narrow top. It likes to be in slightly sandy and loose soil, and the soil should drain very well between watering sessions. This tree can also survive drought, cold snaps, and blistering summer heat without a problem to make it a very hardy and long-lasting choice.
Arborvitae by Oregon State University / CC BY-SA 2.0
13. Frans Fontaine Hornbeam
This is a favorite columnar tree for many landscape designs, and it’s better known as Common Hornbeam or European Hornbeam. You’ll get a very rich green foliage during the spring and summer months, and this turns to a golden-yellow color in the fall to provide a pretty color. It has a thick, woody stem, and the foliage won’t start growing until it gets a foot or so off the ground, so it looks like a very thin tree. It grows long, slender branches that get covered with very thick foliage to help block the view. It won’t work well if you’re trying to keep smaller animals out of the yard though due to the gap on the bottom.
This columnar tree is very hardy and durable, and it’ll live for a long time, even in unforgiving locations. Plant it in zones four to eight. It’s not picky with sunlight, and it can easily survive in anything from full sun to deep shade. At full maturity, this tree can get up to 50-feet high and 20-feet wide, but it seldom gets over 25-feet high and 6-feet wide at the 10-year mark. So, it’s a slower growing tree. It’s also not very picky about soil conditions, and it can go a decent amount of time without water.
05114054 by Jerry Norbury / CC BY-ND 2.0
14. Blue Arrow Juniper
The Blue Arrow Juniper is a columnar tree that loves the sun. This is a narrow upright evergreen that offers pretty powdery-blue foliage. It can help you create a very pretty privacy screen without taking over your whole yard or creating a mess that you have to clean up. It’s a very colorful addition to your landscape. It works very well in a side yard, tight spaces, or planted in a row to create a natural barrier that blocks the view of your neighbors or anyone who passes by. As a bonus, it doesn’t flare out much as it grows, so it’s easy to space them out.
This columnar tree is best planted outside in zones four to eight. It likes locations that get full sun to partial sun, and it won’t tolerate full shade well. At full maturity, this tree can get between 16 and 20-feet tall and only 2 to 4-feet wide. For the soil, this tree does well in rocky, loose soil. It should drain very well when you water it so the roots don’t sit in saturated dirt. Once this tree establishes itself, it requires very little in the way of maintenance, and you shouldn’t have to prune or shape it.
Juniper by Anthony Easton / CC BY 2.0
15. Magnolia ‘Randy’
If you have limited space in your yard but you want a tree that makes a statement with the flowers it produces, try this columnar tree. It’s a famous part of the little girl series of hybrid magnolias, and it came from the National Arboretum. This tree was specifically bred to be a very small deciduous tree. It has low branches on it with an oval growth habit. You’ll get reddish-purple tinted flowers on the outside, and the inside of the flowers are pure white. The flowers start to bloom in the early spring months and go well into the summer to provide a nice pop of color.
This columnar tree is best planted in zones four to eight. The dark green foliage offsets the purplish-pink hued flowers very well. It likes to be in full sun to part shade, and this isn’t a tree that will tolerate full shade well. The soil should be very organically rich. It should stay neutral to slightly acidic, and you want it to drain very well between watering sessions.
Magnolia ‘Jane’, 2016 by F. D. Richards / CC BY-SA 2.0
These 15 columnar trees are the perfect thing to slip into any narrow spaces in your yard. They can easily help fill in areas where it’s difficult to grow other plants, and they work very well in a huge range of growing conditions. It’s easy to find a few columnar trees that match your growing conditions, and you can space them out around your landscape as you see fit. Most of them are low-maintenance too, so they’re a good choice if you’re a busy gardener who doesn’t have time for a lot of upkeep.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.