Sometimes small backyards can feel like a conundrum. On the one hand, it’s nice to have even some open space to call your own, as condensed as it may be. And on the other, figuring out what to do to maximize its square footage can be a mind-bending challenge. These opposing sides may make it tempting to cover the whole area with grass and call it a day, but it’s worth it to see a small backyard as a design opportunity. Given a few clever solutions, this area can be a welcoming extension of your home.
Start with trees, for instance. Selecting one for a small backyard can anchor the rest of its landscape and even act as a focal point for decor. But it has to be just the right size—too big and the tree will swallow up the scene, and too small and it will appear as an afterthought. To solve this particular conundrum, we called Danny Watson, a garden specialist at The Home Depot, to provide his insights into selecting and caring for trees rooted in small yards.
“You want to take into consideration the amount of space and light you have,” he says. “These aspects of your yard will affect how a tree grows and what else you can plant or place within an outdoor space.”
Here's his guide to choosing where to plant your tree in relation to your home, what to do in order to make it thrive, and how to avoid any issues with overzealous roots. And to make sure that you have everything you need to create a beautiful yard, Watson also s his five favorite trees to plant in small spaces.
What You Should Do Before Buying a Tree
Notice the details while shopping. “I think the most important part of choosing small trees starts in stores,” Watson says. “When selecting your tree, look for a straight trunk. I normally tap the pot and lift it out of the container to view the roots. If they are twisted and rotated, put this tree back, as it’s hard for these roots to straighten and grow outwards. Finally, you don’t want a tree that has a wound or a bad scar, because you want it to focus on growing rather than healing.”
Be aware of roots in relation to structures and pathways. “When planting small trees, avoid placing them too close to a house or patio, and consider the roots,” he adds. “If you’re putting trees in an area with a brick patio, then these roots can push up the bricks.”
Avoid mending your soil. “In recent years, gardeners have found that using mended soil causes the roots to stop growing when they reach your yard’s original dirt,” Watson notes. “Instead, dig a hole three times the size of your potted seedling and then add in a little soil conditioner, if needed.”
Make It Thrive
Be consistent about watering in the beginning. “When you first plant a tree, your main concern should be watering,” Watson says. “Do this daily and in the morning for the first two weeks and then as needed after that. Once the tree is dormant and established, water sparingly, especially if you live in a rainy area. Too much water will hinder a tree’s growth.”
Don’t prune a tree for the first year. “You want the tree to properly grow and form its own shape before trimming and grooming it,” he continues.
Choose the Best Tree for Your Space
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