The value of trees is immeasurable. They provide us with clean air, anchored soil on which to build our homes and outdoor spaces and, in some cases, food.
Choosing Trees For Your Backyard
Choosing trees for your backyard should be fun, not worrisome. Simply start by comparing the maturity size, light requirements, care needs and recommended hardiness zones of each of these trees to what your intended planting location offers.
If you’re looking for evergreen or deciduous trees, flowering or non-flowering, you can narrow down your list even further.
It’s also important to note how big root systems are, as these can affect foundations and other hard surfaces. As well as mature heights that may interfere with utility lines.
We’ll start with some options that offer the added bonus of privacy.
Backyard Trees For Privacy
Trees recommended for privacy are typically those that can be planted side-by-side (or offset) without each affecting the growth or health of the others.
Large root systems merge together, creating a secure, protective anchor against adverse weather conditions.
These can be deciduous and even flowering. But usually, they’re evergreen. In autumn, deciduous trees lose their foliage, leaving you with bare branches. Evergreens, however, maintain its lush privacy features year-round.
Handsome, fast-growing evergreens are even better, allowing you to reach your privacy goals quickly. Let’s take a look at some impressive performers.
Thuja Green Giant
(Thuja plicata x standishii ‘Green Giant’)
Thuja Giants are popular choices, growing 3-5ft per year, to a mature height of 20-30ft. These trees have a tall, skinny, columnar growth habit and despite their soft appearance, these are cold-hardy down to zone 5.
Just remember to take particular care when it comes to planting and spacing giant arborvitae due to their steady growth rate.
As well as pest and disease resistance in full/partial sun and a variety of soil types.
Feathery, green sprays spiral around compact branches, producing an attractive pyramidal shape. As temperatures drop, Thujas develop bronze undertones for added winter interest.
Water new Thuja trees every other day, tapering off to twice weekly until established. If needed, apply an evergreen-formulated NPK in spring. Prune only to maintain the desired shape for your privacy hedge.
(Bambusa textilis gracilis)
In zones 8-11, an evergreen can look much different. This elegant bamboo can be left to grow naturally or pruned into beautifully manicured shapes that reach 25ft tall by 8ft wide. Preferring full to partial sun and well-draining soil.
Arching stalks form in tight clumps and release plumes of slender leaflets along each node. Foliage grows thicker toward the top, offering dense privacy throughout the year.
Young Bamboo trees require deep and frequent watering, for the first month Then, only when the soil is dry down to 3”. If needed, apply nitrogen-rich bamboo-specific fertilizer granules in spring and summer. Prune only to maintain a preferred shape.
Willow Hybrid Tree
(Salix x matsudana x alba)
In zones 4-9, this Willow exhibits impressively fast growth. This tree can spread to 45ft tall by 10ft wide, at a rate of 6-10ft per year, when planted in full to partial sun and moist, well-draining soil.
A cross between a Hankow and White willow, this robust hybrid presents upward arching branches and densely-growing foliage. New, pale green growth sprouts from the top, giving your privacy hedge a lovely ombre appearance.
Water new trees daily, tapering off to weekly until the establishment at 6 months. Willow hybrids may need pruning to control their rapid growth and size. But, fertilizing is typically not necessary.
Backyard Shade Trees
Backyard shade trees can be deliciously luxurious, especially on a warm day. Adding eye-catching colour and interesting form, while potentially keeping your AC bills down and your property values up.
The best tree for your backyard will grow to a manageable maturity size and have a root system that doesn’t pose a risk to surrounding structures.
Some are known for their foliage, some for their flowering and others for their gorgeous, seasonal changes. It’ll be hard not to pick a favourite.
American Sycamore Tree
Reaching 75ft by 50ft, at maturity, the American Sycamore provides shade, evolving colour and exquisite form in large, open landscapes. Young trees will tolerate partial shade, yet will thrive in full sun as they grow larger, in zones 4-9.
Scalloped, green leaves hang in clusters along outward-reaching branches, forming a conical canopy. Small orbs, covered in tiny pink florets appear throughout. In autumn, these develop into downy seed heads amid bright orange foliage.
Water sycamores well for the first 3 years. Once established, rainfall will be sufficient. Prune only to remove damaged branches. If growth seems slow, a triple 10 NPK will replenish needed nutrients.
The Tulip Poplar adds a stunning floral display to spacious, sun-filled backyards in zones 4-9. Given its mature size (70ft x 50ft), this tree should be planted 15ft or more from your home or other structure and away from overhead utility lines.
Vibrant leaves offer colourful support to cupped, pastel yellow and peach blooms. The flowers can open and fill your tree’s canopy in a single day. Sending a sweet scent throughout your garden. In autumn, green leaves slowly fade to yellow and gold.
New Tulip Poplars should be watered well during extended periods of drought. Fertilize with a triple 10 NPK when planted in poor soil. Prune only to remove damaged branches.
If saturated soil in your backyard is an issue, no worries! The weeping willow is the perfect shade tree for such an environment, in zones 4-9. Toxin filtration and erosion control are just some of its many attributes, as it matures 30-50ft tall and wide.
Graceful, pendulous branches sway from an open crown on a thick, sturdy trunk. Silvery green foliage spiraling around each branch that ebbs to a golden yellow in fall. This has to be the ultimate weeping tree and every garden should have one.
Water Willows frequently for the first year, especially when planted in dry soil. A balanced, triple 10 NPK will promote nutrient-rich soil. Prune only to prevent cross-branching and pest/disease infestations.
Low Maintenance Trees
Certain trees can react unfavourably to changes in their care and environmental conditions. Others often blanket the surrounding area with leaves and seeds.
If you’d prefer something more resilient and less messy, these next backyard trees should definitely be on your list.
One great aspect of my selection of these low-maintenance shade trees is their versatility. You can grow them in the ground and let them grow to full maturity size. Or, you can grow them in pots.
With less shedding, these are especially beautiful when placed around pools. No soggy leaves or seed pods to scoop out. Just lush and lovely ambience.
Red Dragon Japanese Maple Tree
(Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’)
The Red Dragon Acer casts a rosy glow around pools and patios. In zones 5-8, this colourful maple can reach 12ft tall and wide. In pots, they’ll grow much smaller. Full/partial sun and well-draining soil will encourage vibrant colour and healthy growth.
The Red Dragon presents lush, crimson foliage that can offer luxurious privacy. In autumn, leaves alight a bright orange-red. These fall a few at a time, for easy cleanup.
Fairly drought-tolerant at maturity, new Acers should be watered well until established. When needed a gentle, balanced NPK will suffice. Prune only to maintain the desired shape.
Sago Palm Tree
The Sago Palm adds a tropical touch to indoor or outdoor spaces as it matures to 6ft by 10ft, in zones 4-11. Potted specimens will grow to 6ft by 5ft and can be wintered over, indoors. Both require full or partial sun and relatively moist soil.
Long, fringed fronds form a rounded crown atop a short, textured trunk. In warm and cold climates alike, Sago palms are evergreen plants and produce little to no mess.
Water potted palms weekly to maintain sufficient moisture and humidity levels. Browning fronds can be pruned away and when necessary, a palm-formulated NPK can be used in spring or summer.
Meyer Lemon Tree
(Citrus × meyeri ‘Improved’)
Imagine picking a fresh, juicy lemon for your poolside beverage, straight from the tree. Meyer Lemons can reach 8ft x 4ft, at maturity, and are easily grown in pots, in zones 4-11. Full sun and loose, gritty soil will encourage a higher yield.
Meyer Lemon trees are self-fertile with fragrant, white blossoms and glossy, dark green leaves. Bright yellow fruits develop that have both sweet and sour notes with an aromatic rind.
Allow the soil around mature trees to dry down 2” between waterings. In dry conditions, daily misting will maintain adequate humidity. Fertilize with a citrus tree NPK from April to September.
Deer Resistant Trees
If deer are naturally present around your home, there are many ways to try and deter them from seeing your garden as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Some methods are more effective than others. But, after putting so much time, effort and money into creating a beautiful garden, there’s no better method than choosing backyard trees that naturally repel them.
How do trees do this?
Certain biochemicals in the foliage emit a certain scent, which signals its toxicity to wildlife. They smell it and move on.
Deer aren’t big fans of these next backyard options, but gardeners certainly are!
(Lagerstroemia indica ‘Twilight’)
Rising in a billowy, lavender cloud, this Crape Myrtle cultivar will grow to 25ft by 20ft. Creating a striking feature when planted in full sun and acidic soil. Deer and rabbits will steer clear, allowing you 70 full days of blooming.
New spring leaves emerge in soft bronze tones, maturing to a deep green. Fragrant flower clusters follow and in autumn, foliage fades to shades of gold, copper and burgundy.
Crape Myrtles are drought tolerant but may need more water during prolonged dry weather. Only light pruning is needed to encourage blooming. One spring application of a triple 10 NPK will provide adequate nutrients.
A favourite in zones 9-11, the Bronze loquat will brighten your garden with lush, multi-toned foliage. Reaching 25ft tall and wide, at maturity, this balmy beauty prefers full sun and well-draining soil.
Evergreen leaves emerge a vivid bronze colour and mature to glossy green, often taking on golden undertones with age. Spring brings tiny, white, highly fragrant flowers that only heighten this tree’s appeal.
Young Loquat trees need to be watered twice a week for the first two months. Then, only during long, dry periods. A nitrogen-rich fertilizer will encourage robust growth and vibrant colour. Pruning young loquats will promote fuller branching.
Hearts of Gold Redbud Tree
(Cercis canadensis ‘Hearts of Gold’)
This Redbud is the sweetest of trees, just not to deer. This tree can reach 25ft tall, at maturity. Yet, it can be pruned smaller, in zones 5-9. Preferring full to partial sun and different soil types.
Each chartreuse leaf hangs like a botanical valentine. Thickset growth on a parasol crown is covered in lavender flowers, in spring. What could be more magical?
Water Redbuds when the soil is dry down 3 inches. A 5-10-5 NPK application, in spring, will support vigorous growth. Prune after blooming, to relieve cross-branching and to clear the trunk of any new sprouts.
Small Backyard Trees
As we saw with the Heart of Gold Redbud, trees don’t have to be huge to have an impactful presence.
Varieties that don’t grow taller than 6 feet can still put on a spectacular show with foliage colour, a burst of spring or summer flowers or just interesting form.
Small trees can also have evolving visual interests. Working in tandem with the rest of your garden to create a cohesive, relaxing environment throughout the year.
Let’s take a look at a few final examples that do just that.
Sunny Knock Out Rose Tree
Despite its dainty size, this rose is hardy down to zone 4. Maturing to just 4ft tall and wide, this little tree is a prolific bloomer and pest-resistant when planted in full sun and well-draining soil.
Surrounded by bright green leaves, yellow and white, fragrant roses bud and bloom from spring to fall. All forming a rounded, bushy crown on a slim trunk.
Water weekly at the soil level, as rose leaves are prone to rust and fungal infections if allowed to remain wet. Apply a rose-formulated NPK as directed on the label. Prune to the desired shape, in early spring.
Bottle Palm Tree
Bringing tropical intrigue to gardens in zones 4-11, this petite palm takes on the shape of a bottle that reaches 8-15ft in height, depending on ground or container planting. Pots can be wintered over in any room of your home.
Contributing to a relaxing, tropical oasis, large arching fronds sprout from atop a pale green bottleneck and layered trunk. Two or three can be placed together for a higher visual impact.
Water Bottle palms when the soil is dry down 2”. Prune only to remove any yellowing fronds. If fronds are yellowing too quickly, a palm-specific NPK can be applied in spring.
Bloomerang Lilac Tree
(Syringa ‘SMSJBP7’ PP26549)
This final backyard tree may reach only 7ft by 5ft, but it’s not short on personality. Once-blooming finishes in May, it boomerangs back and blooms a second time, in July! Recommended for zones 3-7, this beauty thrives in full sun and well-draining soil.
The Bloomerang presents a lovely, orb shape cloaked in panicles of starry flowers with that infamous fragrance and shade of purple. Soft, green leaves line each compact branch.
Water new Bloomerang Lilacs weekly until established. Fertilize twice per growing season with a 5-10-10 NPK for a higher bloom count. Deadheading and light pruning will encourage a more robust root system.
Verdict: Best Trees For Your Backyard or Garden
When moving into a new home or simply improving the landscape around an existing one, incorporating beautiful backyard trees can be a comforting exercise in putting down roots. Both metaphorically and literally.
Large, fast-growing specimens like the Thuja Green Giant or Graceful Bamboo can also provide year-round privacy, in addition to beauty.
Low-maintenance and deer-resistant options such as the Sago palm and the Hearts of Gold Redbud will minimize care and clean-up efforts while maximizing your investment dollars.
Regardless of the size of your backyard, there will always be a tree just waiting to be a part of it.
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.