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Small Yard Landscaping

Stumped on what to do in a small garden area? Here a few ideas.

Maureen Sexsmith-West

ISA Certified Arborists PR-4600A

Having a smaller yard doesn’t mean you can’t have a great landscape. There are many great small and medium sized trees and various of forms of filler plants to choose from. The key is to balance the number of trees, shrubs, vines and flowers in proportion to the space. Examine your site to determine the number of daylight hours each area gets since this will influence what you can grow.

Get out your real property report and make yourself a few copies as worksheets. What I love about this method is it already has all the measurements and all the structures shown. Check for the amount of sunlight in each zone and look at what may already be growing in neighbouring spaces. This may impact the space at fence lines as well as the competition from adjacent trees for space, light and roots. Your neighbours may not appreciate having your apples dropping into their yard. Consider the function your tree will play – shelter, shade, privacy??? Limit the number of trees you incorporate into your plan by selecting a few feature trees. This will reduce your long term maintenance costs. Place a stake where you anticipate planting it and then draw the tree at its mature size. This will allow you to see into the future -whether you live there in 20 years or not. Great small to medium sized trees:

  1. Maples: Amur, Crimson King, Tatarian, Sugar (fast growing, seeds, fall color)

  2. Ohio Buckeye (flowers, produces nuts, fall color)

  3. Mountain Ash (flowers, bronze bark, berries and fall color)

  4. Muckle Plum (flower, fruitless)

  5. Birch.: Dakota pinnacle or Young’s Weeping (white bark, compact form, winter interest)

  6. Larch: nice fall color, Sheds needles in fall

Columnar Varieties:

  1. Aspen & Poplar: With the arrival of Bronze Leaf Disease this may not be a long term tree

  2. Many new forms of compact ornamentals exist – inquire at your local garden centre

Evergreens – great for year round coverage

  1. Columnar Cedars – avoid planting under eaves or maintenance needs will be higher

  2. Pines: Swiss stone, Limber, Bristlecone, Eastern White

  3. Upright junipers and select dwarf or ornamental spruces

Fruit trees – Apple, plum, cherry, apricot, grapes (these can be planted near a fenceline and pruned in espalier or cordon styles. Train for linear/horizontal growth along a fence or garage instead of spreading in middle of your yard. Fruit drop is concentrated for easy clean-ups. (Illustration found at: While I am a fan of Hawthorns, they are prone to rusts when planted near junipers which can affect their aesthetic value. Chokecherries while pretty, have a high tendency for suckering requiring more maintenance to keep tidy. Shrubs: Many take on the form of a small tree – the list of options for flowering, leaf color, sun, moisture needs is varied. Make sure you allow for mature spread and height. They are less expensive than trees and for homeowners, easily maintained with a pair of secateurs, loppers and a hand saw for the life of the plant. They balance out the understory of your trees providing visual interest at eye level. There are numerous perennial vines. Remember to prune them routinely if planted along the house to keep them from obstructing vents, gutters, windows or doorways. Apply wood chips/mulch the root zone to reduce weeding, insulate against summer heat and to protect sensitive roots in winter. Vines in our region virginia creeper, engelmann ivy, hops, a wide range of clematis and honeysuckle. New varieties include hardy kiwi and wisteria. Gravel mulches will increase heat and subsequently, your water requirements.

I am a fan of supporting your local garden centre over big box stores. They offer great warranties, have trained personnel to answer questions and only sell plants with the greatest chance success in your region. Their plants are grown in house, sourced from local nurseries or tree farms.

Don’t Forget Your Veggies! Incorporate Food into your landscape. Why not grow swiss chard or kale instead of petunias or tomatoes, currants or honey berries instead of spireas?

GROW UP to maximize your square footage. By incorporating lattice, trellis or tripods (made from any three pieces of wood lashed together – broken hockey sticks will do). Get creative and recycle – I have use an old wrought iron headboard, an easel and an old metal CD holder for climbers. I have even used an old ladder that wasn’t safe for household repairs anymore for climbers and a hanging basket – the finished product was quite stunning with a minimal footprint. Vertical gardens require less soil and water, limit bending and reduce weeds between plants. Ideal for peas, tomatoes, pole beans, scarlet runner beans, cucumbers and some squash. To reduce mildew and moisture damage when planting along buildings, install a trellis that allows air circulation between plant and the structure (2 inches or more). My husband built me a one of a kind arbor out of pruned off branches for my grape vines. Use your imagination.

Grow bags, hanging baskets, half barrels and window boxes can be utilized where ever the appropriate sunshine exists – just don’t forget to water regularly. A pulley allows you to lower containers for easy tending.

Edible hedges and screens – consider planting corn or sunflowers instead of shrubs or trees between driveways or along fences. Minimal cost, no pruning from year to year, space to put snow in winter and you can feed yourself or the birds.

Create a ‘raised garden’ with frames or by using an old table allowing persons with limited mobility or arthritis to pull up a chair and sit while tending.

Plant carrots right next to your peas. They are not competing for the same space, peas provide shade and carrots will out compete some of the weeds. When your pea crops is done, pull them out and compost. Plant in blocks (onions or garlic for example) rather than in lines. Incorporate a few flowers to attract pollinators and repel insects. Do some reading on square foot gardening and companion planting. The yield is considerably higher than traditional row gardens, conserves water and suppresses weeds.

There are several opportunities to attend workshops or listen to speakers in March:

Xeriscaping – Oldman Waterhsed Council March 2nd and many others

CLCLC – offering several throughout the Lethbridge region

Speakers at the Home & Garden Show March 13-16

Lethbridge Horticultural Society Last Monday of every month

Check the Public Library Calendar of Events

Pruning Workshop: March 23rd, Sponsored by the Coaldale Community Garden Society


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