14 Tall Skinny Columnar Trees

Columnar trees add height and structure to any landscape. They are especially ideal for smaller gardens as they take up little space. Characterized by their dense growth and upright habit, there are many different types to choose from.

Whether you wish to create some privacy in the garden, frame a passage or driveway, or simply add year-round beauty, tall skinny columnar trees are the way to go. 

Deciding on the perfect tree can be tricky, which is why I have created this helpful article. I have listed my favorite 14 tall skinny columnar trees along with descriptions and explanations of their growth habits. 

Types of Tall Skinny Columnar Trees

The physical appearance of a tree is an important factor in deciding whether it is right for your garden. Have a look at the three categories below that differentiate the trees in my list based on their morphology. This will enable you to get an idea of the range of styles that are available.  

Evergreen

If you are looking to inject life and greenery into your garden all year round, evergreen varieties are the way to go. Since evergreens do not lose their leaves, they are perfect for maintaining privacy when other trees are bare during the winter. 

Deciduous 

During the fall, deciduous trees lose their leaves. Prior to dropping, the green foliage (and sometimes even its branches) can turn fiery shades of red, yellow and orange. All of which will add drama and interest, as well as create a stunning display in your outdoor space. 

Flowering

Some species of tall skinny columnar trees produce flowers and even fruits during the spring and summer. These are a great choice to add some softness and color to a predominantly green garden. 

Moreover, fruiting varieties can not only attract birds and pollinators to your garden but can also provide you with an edible product. 

14 Varieties of Tall Skinny Columnar Trees

From the many types of tall skinny columnar trees to choose from, I have narrowed my selection down to just fourteen of my favorites. Read on to find the perfect one for your garden. 

1. Italian Cypress 

Scientific Name: Cupressus sempervirens

Italian Cypress 
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Size: 40 to 70 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 7 to 11

The Italian cypress is native to the Mediterranean and is an ideal tall and skinny tree to protect your privacy. It can reach heights of 70 feet. It has very thick, evergreen foliage that is fragrant. This tree is very low maintenance because it is strong, resilient and resistant to many diseases. 

Hot and arid climates are ideal for an Italian cypress. They thrive in the full sun, are drought tolerant and cold hardy. These trees grow best in sandy, well-draining soil with a pH range of slightly acidic to slightly alkaline.  

2. Sky Pencil

Scientific Name: Ilex crenata

Sky Pencil
  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade
  • Average Size: 6 to 10 feet tall and 1 to 3 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 6 to 8

The sky pencil, also called Japanese holly has a narrow yet modest growing habit and averages around 8 feet. 

This tree has dark green leaves that are slightly convex in shape. The thick foliage begins near the base of the tree and is evergreen, so provides privacy all year round. The image above shows how effective it can be when pruned and used for ornamental purposes as a type of topiary tree, however, it also looks great as a less formal tall, skinny evergreen too.

During the spring, the sky pencil becomes decorated with delicate white flowers which develop into black fruits during the summer and fall. This tree is drought tolerant and prefers slightly acidic soil, although it can also withstand neutral and slightly alkaline soil types too. 

3. Swedish Aspen

Scientific Name: Populus tremula 

Swedish Aspen
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Size: 40 feet tall and 8 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 2 to 6

The Swedish aspen has a long, straight trunk with remarkably silvery-white colored bark and is capable of reaching around 40 feet in height. 

It has thick green foliage from spring and throughout the summer that makes an excellent windbreak. Being deciduous, the leaves turn yellow and orange in the fall before dropping for the winter, revealing its mesh of branches. During the spring, catkins grow among the foliage. 

Although the Swedish aspen favors well-draining soil, it is capable of growing in poorer soils. Sandy to loamy soil that ranges from pH 5.5 to 8.0 is best. 

This tree grows best in cooler climates and is very cold and hardy with an ability to withstand frosts and cold winds. It is also great at cleaning the air from pollution. 

4. European Silver Fir

Scientific Name: Abies alba 

European Silver Fir
  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Average Size: 50 to 80 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 5 to 8

The European silver fir is an evergreen conifer that boasts a beautiful, conical shape. The branches droop downwards slightly and are covered in emerald green, needle-like leaves. The thick foliage remains present all year round, providing you with life and privacy throughout the seasons. These trees can live up to 600 years old. 

Due to the conical shape of this tree, they are less suitable for creating “hedges” as there would be gaps at the top. However, they are still excellent at blocking views. 

Like all conifers, European silver firs prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soil. 

5. American Arborvitae

Scientific Name: Thuja occidentalis

American Arborvitae
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Average Size: 20 to 40 feet tall and 8 to 15 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 2 to 7

The American arborvitae, also called the Tree of Life, are elegant, columnar evergreen trees. The scale-like leaves create a unique texture and form a conical shape. The foliage densely covers the trunk and produces a fresh fragrance. 

As the tree matures, its bark develops into a reddish color. American arborvitaes can live up to 1,500 years. During the spring, greenish seed cones grow on the branches. 

These trees can grow well in sandy, loamy or clay soil, so long as it is moist, rich, well-draining and acidic. 

6. Norway Spruce

Scientific Name: Picea babies

Norway Spruce

The Norway spruce is a fairly narrow columnar tree that grows rapidly. It can add up to 12 inches in its height every year. 

This popular evergreen has dense, green, needle-like leaves that turn slightly blueish during the winter and produce red-brown cones that release their seeds during the spring. 

Although the Norway spruce grows quickly, it won’t exceed 25 feet in height. As such, it is a great choice for quickly adding privacy to small gardens. 

It can grow in a variety of soil types including sandy, loamy or clay. However, it must be moist, well-draining and have a slightly acidic pH. This tree prefers cooler climates and is frost-hardy.   

7. Chinese Juniper

Scientific Name: Juniperus chinensis

Chinese Juniper
Credit: Pescov CC: 3.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Average Size: 15 to 20 feet tall and 5 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 4 to 9

The Chinese juniper is a narrow, columnar evergreen that does not exceed 20 feet in height, making it ideal for smaller landscapes. It has dense, emerald-green foliage that gives it an elegant look. This tough tree is cold hardy and disease resistant. 

During the spring it produces dark blue berries. Its fast growth habit makes it a popular choice for quickly adding privacy to a garden. 

With the ability to withstand a variety of soil types ranging from sand to clay, the Chinese Juniper is also salt and drought-tolerant. However, well-draining soil that ranges from pH 5.0 to 8.0 is best. 

8. Japanese Flowering Cherry

Scientific Name: Prunus amanogawa

Japanese Flowering Cherry

Credit: Shigen Net CC: 4.0

  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Average Size: 20 to 25 feet tall and 4 to 8 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 6 to 8

If you wish to add both privacy and beautiful blooms to your garden, the Japanese flowering cherry tree is the way to go. It is ideal for growing in small spaces as it is narrow and naturally compact. 

In spring, this tree boasts delicate, fragrant blooms of pink and white flowers. 

Following bloom, the Japanese flowering cherry tree produces copper leaves that become green as they mature. 

During the summer, sweet cherries are in abundance. However, during the winter its branches become bare. 

These trees grow best in well-drained soils that are rich in organic matter. Chalky and alkaline soils are ideal. 

9. Japanese White Birch

Scientific Name: Betula platyphylla

Japanese White Birch
Credit: Nickel Nitride CC: 1.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Average Size: 30 to 40 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 4 to 7

Japanese white birch is a medium to large-sized columnar tree. They have straight, narrow trunks that are covered in peeling white-silver bark. 

During the summer these trees have a triangular canopy of emerald green leaves. As the fall approaches, the leaves turn fiery shades of yellow, red and orange. 

In the spring, female trees boast green flowers whilst male trees produce yellow-brown flowers. Both male and female blooms develop into seeds. 

Japanese white birch is ideal for providing a canopy that allows filtered sunlight through. 

These trees grow best in moist, well-draining soils. They can tolerate a variety of soil types but prefer sandy or rocky loam soil that is slightly acidic. 

10. Japanese Maple

Scientific Name: Acer palmatum

Japanese Maple
Credit: Revjoy CC: 4.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Average Size: 15 feet tall and 7 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 5 to 9

The Japanese maple, also called Twombly’s red sentinel, differs from other maple trees due to its columnar and dense habit. It boasts five-point leaves that are green during the summer and deep red during the fall. Once the winter hits, these trees lose their leaves. 

Japanese maples look great when grown among other trees as they create a stunning contrast. Not only do they provide privacy during the warmer months but are also highly decorative. 

These trees favor slightly acidic, loamy soil that is rich in organic matter. It should be moist but well-draining. 

11. Lombardy Poplar 

Scientific Name: Populus nigra

Lombardy Poplar 
Credit: Harum Koh CC: 2.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Size: 40 to 60 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 3 to 9

The tall and erect habit of this tree makes it a popular landscaping species. It has upward-pointing branches and can reach up to 60 feet in height. 

Lombardy poplars are incredibly fast-growing, making them a popular choice for homeowners looking for privacy screens and windbreaks. 

Their green, diamond-shaped leaves turn yellow, orange and red in the fall, and during the spring, they produce catkins. 

This tree grows best in cold, dry climates and is hardy to wind and frost. The ideal soil type is moist, well-draining and sandy to loamy, with a soil pH ranging from 4.5 to 8.5. 

12. Dawyck Purple Beech 

Scientific Name: Fagus sylvatica 

Dawyck Purple Beech 
Credit: James St. John CC: 2.0
  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade
  • Average Size: 10 to 50 feet tall and 5 to 15 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 4 to 7

The dawyck purple beech tree is so-called due to its purple leaves. When the leaves first emerge in spring, they are red-purple, and by the summer they darken to a deep purple. 

This deer-resistant deciduous tall skinny tree has much to offer for the majority of the year. During the fall the leaves turn copper before dropping for winter. In spring, small, green-yellow flowers emerge which develop into berries by the fall. 

The narrow and erect habit of the tree combined with its unusual foliage color makes it a centerpiece of any garden. The dawyck purple beach grows best in moist, well-draining soil that is rich and loamy. 

13. False Ashoka

Scientific Name: Polyalthia longifolia

False Ashoka
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Size: 30 to 60 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 10 and 11

Native to Sri Lanka and Southern India, the false Ashoka is a tall, columnar evergreen. It has a straight trunk and slender, drooping branches. It has long, green leaves that grow densely in a hanging fashion, and give the tree a somewhat “fluffy” appearance. 

This tree is often planted around temples for its religious significance and its leaves are used for Ayurvedic medicine.

During the blooming season yellow, star-shaped flowers emerge and develop into dark purple fruits when they are ripe. 

The false Ashoka grows best in humid, tropical environments and is not hardy to cold or frost although it can tolerate drought. These trees require rich, loamy, well-drained soil. 

14. Slender Silhouette Sweetgum

Scientific Name: Liquidambar styraciflua

Slender Silhouette Sweetgum
Credit: Luis Fernandez Garcia CC: 2.5 
  • Ideal Position: Full sun 
  • Average Size: 50 to 70 feet tall and 5 feet wide 
  • USDA Zones: 5 to 9

The slender silhouette sweetgum is a cultivar of the American sweetgum that grows in a columnar rather than a bushy fashion. This species also produces minimal fruits. 

With star-shaped leaves that are green during the summer and turn red, orange and yellow during the fall, the vivid foliage makes this tree a popular ornamental species.

Slender silhouette sweetgums grow quickly and are resistant to drought, deer and pollution. They prefer warm climates and grow best in moist, rich, acidic soil that is well-draining.  

Alongside their elongated stature and tough nature, these trees make excellent additions to urban habitats and are great at providing privacy and color. 

Tall Skinny Columnar Tree Care

To ensure your tall skinny columnar tree remains happy and healthy, there are a few tips you can follow. Obviously, the exact care requirements will differ between each species, but below are some general guidelines that can be applied to most. 

Watering

Young trees require sufficient and frequent watering to help them become established. Mature trees typically don’t require artificial watering, as their deep and wide-spreading roots should be able to absorb enough water from the environment. However, extra watering may be required during prolonged hot and dry spells. 

Position

Trees that thrive in the full sun, including those that I have highlighted in this article, will require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. 

Generally, the longer the exposure to daily sunlight, the more quickly a tree will grow and develop. 

Even full-shade trees need sunlight, although 3 to 4 hours each day per day is usually sufficient.   

Temperature and Humidity

Optimal temperature and humidity can fluctuate greatly between species, usually depending on the native climate of the tree. For example, the Italian cypress thrives in hot and arid climates whereas the Norway spruce prefers cooler climates. For each species of tree listed, I have provided the USDA zones in which they grow best. 

Soil

Like most trees, the ones listed in this article require moist, well-draining soil. This is to ensure that essential nutrients can be absorbed by the tree without causing waterlogging which can lead to root rot. 

Most trees listed can tolerate a range of soil types, though slightly acidic soil is preferred by a lot of species. 

Feeding

Young trees will greatly benefit from feeding to ensure they develop strongly. Mature trees don’t generally require feeding, although flowering or fruiting trees will benefit from a slow-release fertilizer during early and late spring to enhance bud production. 

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) are the main nutrients in all fertilizer products and are essential for plant growth and development. Nitrogen supports foliage growth via photosynthesis. When applied in spring, potassium helps with bud development and flowering. Phosphorus is vital for root and shoots growth. 

Propagation 

The fastest and easiest way to propagate trees is through cuttings. Take a healthy branch and cut it just below a node at an angle. Remove any leaves or buds from the bottom of the cut branch. Plant the cutting in a container with some potting soil. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the fastest growing tall skinny columnar tree for privacy?

Lombardy poplars are rapidly growing trees, growing as much as 6 feet every year. They have dense branching that begins close to the ground and can reach between 30 feet and 100 feet. As such, they are commonly grown as privacy screens. 

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.