Best Small Shade Trees

In case you’re looking for a small shade tree that could serve your needs well for many years into the future, here are some of the best.

These can be used to replace trees like loquats, tree-form waxleaf ligustrums, citrus, desert willows, retamas and others that may have frozen in many parts of Texas.

I’ll warn you ahead of time that not all of these are suited to all parts of Texas, so do read my disclaimers carefully.

• Teddy Bear southern magnolia Grows to 15-18 ft. tall and 12-15 ft. wide with age. Regular size leaves and flowers on ultra-compact form of our standard magnolia.

Yaupon holly

• Yaupon holly Grows to 18-20 ft. tall and wide. Fine texture with small leaves. Small red berries on female plants only. Sun or shade. Native shrub to eastern half of state, but easily trained tree-form.

Warren’s Red Possumhaw holly

• Warren’s Red possumhaw holly Improved form of plant native to Central Texas north to the Red River. Warren’s Red has larger, redder fruit and is less likely to produce root sprouts. Sun or shade, but best fruiting occurs in sun. Deciduous.

Nellie R. Stevens holly

• Nellie R. Stevens holly tree-form Grows to 15-20 ft. tall and 12-15 ft. wide. Increasingly common as accent tree trained to one or three trunks. Large leaves and very large red berries on every plant. Sun or shade.

Texas mountain laurel (photo courtesy Dan D., Bryan.)

• Texas mountain laurel Grows to 15-20 ft. tall and 12-15 ft. wide. Native to Texas Hill Country but now used much more extensively. Evergreen, glossy foliage. Highly fragrant lavender flowers in spring. Requires excellent drainage. Was damaged by cold in February 2021 in northern Hill Country and through North Central Texas.

Catawba crape myrtles

• Intermediate and tall crape myrtle varieties Many selections grow to 15-25 ft. tall and 12-18 ft. wide. Can easily be trained into small accent trees. See complete list of recommended varieties at website of The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney.

Japanese maple (variety Bloodgood)

• Japanese maples Many varieties ranging in size up to 15-20 ft. tall and wide. Many have burgundy foliage, some green. To succeed in most of Texas must have shade and moist soils. Best suited to eastern half of the state.

Rusty blackhaw viburnum

• Rusty blackhaw viburnum Native to eastern half of state. Large shrub sometimes used as tree-form accent to 25 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide. White flowers in spring. Glossy dark green leaves all season with red fall color. Colorful fruit in fall that is a favorite with birds.

Continued Below

• East Palatka, Savannah and other large hybrid hollies, especially hybrids of American holly (Ilex opaca): These grow to 25-35 ft. tall and 20-25 ft. wide. Must have acidic soils or iron deficiency will become severe and limiting. Sun, part sun or even shade. Really only suited to East Texas.

Mexican plum

• Mexican plum Grows to 25 ft. tall and wide. Native to eastern half of state. Fragrant white blooms early spring. Fruit ripens in fall. Good for preserves but not for fresh eating. Good for wildlife. Tree has very coarse texture to bark, foliage. Thorns on branches.

Forest Pansy redbud

• Redbud Grows to 30 ft. tall and wide. Suited to entire state. Blooms in early spring in shades of pink, burgundy and white. Foliage usually green, but burgundy and variegated types are sold. Sun or shade.

• Dogwood Grows to 25 ft. tall and wide. White, pink or rose blooms in spring. Requires acidic soil, so really best suited only in East Texas and certainly east of I-45. Elsewhere will require extensive and expensive “heroic” soil preparation. Good in partial shade.

Little Gem magnolia

• Little Gem southern magnolia Grows to 30-35 ft. tall and 25-30 ft. wide. Leaves and flowers half the size of standard southern magnolia. Evergreen. Blooms in May. Drops prior year’s leaves in May and into June, then sporadically the rest of the year. Where they are suited, these are the best trees in this category with longest life expectancy of any of the trees listed.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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