best small trees for dayton, oh

Large, towering trees are majestic, provide shade, and grow with your family. But sometimes you have a small or narrow area of your yard where a smaller tree would work better. Whether it’s under a window, in a corner, or as a property marker, here are some smaller trees that we recommend for your Dayton landscape.

If you’re not sure which tree would work best in your yard, don’t forget that we can come to your property and suggest trees that would work best with your yard, soil, and landscape. We then bring the tree to you, properly plant and stake it, and make sure it’s thriving for an entire year. Learn more about our tree planting services here >>

Hawthorn (Crataegus)

flowering hawthorn - small tree for Dayton, OHThe hawthorn tree is not only beautiful but also steeped in legend. A popular tree in England and Scotland, stories abound about this small but thorny tree. In Celtic myths, the hawthorn was the (literal) cure for a broken heart. It also appears in many tales about fairies. In more modern times, some blame the fall of the De Lorean Motor Company on the tearing down of a hawthorn tree to make room for a factory.

While we doubt you’ll conjure up such difficulties, we would warn you not to plant this in high-traffic areas, as the thorns might brush up against passers-by. Or you could get a thornless version, such as the “Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn” (Crataegus crus-galli var. inermis)

Hawthorn trees handle dry seasons well (after the initial planting season – always water any newly-planted tree well for at least the first year), but they need full sun to thrive.

The hawthorn can be grown as a shrub or a small tree and will grow 15-30 feet tall, depending on the variety.

Hawthorns produce fruits that look like berries but are actually a stone fruit, similar to plums or peaches.

In the spring, hawthorns have pink or white flowers, and birds love the berries in fall and winter.

A good option here in Dayton is Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum). This slow-growing cultivar reaches only 20 feet high, with a 15-foot spread. With white flowers in spring and orange-red fruits in autumn and winter, it’s sure to make a splash in your yard.

‘Forest Pansy’ Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’)

'Forest Pansy' redbud - small tree for Dayton, OH

Image: T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University,

‘Forest Pansy’ redbud, a cultivar of the common eastern redbud tree, is one of those small trees or shrubs that is beautiful in every season. In the spring, the redbud explodes with a colorful burst of bright pink to reddish purple flowers. The flowers are so notable because of their bright, pansy-like appearance (where the tree gets its name), and because the flowers show up before the leaves start growing. Hummingbirds love the flowers on the ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud tree.

The leaves are almost heart-shaped, and in the fall, ‘Forest Pansy’s purple leaves turn reddish purple or orange. Growing to about 20 or 30 feet tall and around 25 feet wide, be sure you pick the right spot for this tree, as it does not transplant well. It needs well-drained soil and sun or partial shade.

Japanese Maple

japanese mapleThere are many varieties of stunning Japanese maples to choose from, so picking the right one for your yard depends on the planting location and personal preference.

Japanese maple leaves can be wide, like traditional maples, or long and narrow – there are even weeping varieties of Japanese maples. Some varieties can become very tall, and others can branch out and become quite wide. The weeping varieties, in particular, can grow wide, and most don’t do well in full sun as the fragile leaves are easily scorched.

Here are a few options that will do well in the Dayton area:

Crimson Queen Laceleaf Weeping Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’) – This small, weeping variety has fine, crimson-purple leaves. It needs part shade (to prevent leaf scorch) and well-drained soil. It grows slowly, reaching 8 to 10 feet in height and width.

Beni Schichihenge Variegated Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Beni Schichihenge’) – Variegated pink/cream leaves that turn orange/gold in fall. Resists leaf scorch better than other varieties. Prefers part shade and well-drained soil. Grows to 8 feet tall and wide.

Cutleaf Fullmoon Maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’) – If you’re looking for something a little unusual, this could be a good option. It has interestingly-shaped leaves that are red, orange, and yellow in the fall. Like other Japanese maples, give it part shade and well-drained soil. At maturity, it can grow to 10 ft tall and wide.

Bloodgood Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’) – A popular tree for Dayton yards, the slow-growing ‘Bloodgood’ can eventually reach 20 feet tall and wide. It has burgundy-purple leaves that turn brilliant scarlet in fall. It will grow in full sun but prefers a sheltered, partially-shaded spot with moist, well-drained soil (it doesn’t like to dry out).

Serviceberry (Amelanchier)

Serviceberry - small tree for Dayton, OHThe serviceberry is a tough native plant that produces fragrant white flowers in the spring. The flowers are similar to apple blossoms, but these petals are a bit thinner. Soon after the flowers, it produces purple-red berries, which is why it is sometimes called “Juneberry.” The berries are edible, with a taste similar to blueberries. You can use them to make jam, baked goods, or juice – but the birds love this fruit as well, so be sure to watch for the berries to appear or you might miss your chance to try them.

The leaves of the serviceberry tree turn a bright orange/red in fall, and the bark is a silvery color in winter. The foliage allows light to shine through, which means that you can place partial shade plants below the serviceberry.

The serviceberry tree is drought tolerant and can be grown as a shrub or a tree. It can grow about 8 to 20 feet tall and 4 to 15 feet wide, depending on location and variety, and is a slow to moderate grower.

Excellent smaller serviceberries for the Dayton area include Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon Serviceberry), Amelanchier arborea (Downy Serviceberry) and Amelanchier canadensis (Shadblow Serviceberry), all of which form clumps that mature at about 15′ tall by 10′ wide.

Dogwood (Cornus spp.)

dogwood in bloom - small tree for Dayton, OHLast but not least, the dogwood tree comes in many different varieties and is also known for its spring blossoms. During the Civil War, soldiers would make tea from the bark of dogwood trees to treat pain and fevers, and pioneers used dogwood twigs to brush their teeth (after peeling off the bark). While we doubt you would use the tree for either of these purposes, it does bring a bit of historical interest to your yard.

Dogwood trees produce berries over the fall and winter, which provides a food source for birds and animals. Also in the fall, the leaves turn a reddish-purple color.

Dogwood trees grow naturally in shaded forests, so they prefer partially shaded areas. While they’ll do well in most soil types, they do best with organic soil and with mulch to hold in moisture.

Depending on the variety, they can grow 10 to 25 feet tall. Dogwood trees grow quickly, over a foot each year, so will reach full size within a decade.

They exist across Ohio where they grow in both moist and dry woodlands, although landscape specimens grow and look best when planted in full sun.

Wild trees are susceptible to dogwood anthracnose, a deadly disease, which is why homeowners should choose anthracnose-resistant varieties. One of the best is Cornus florida ‘Appalachian Spring’, a white-flowered selection with red fall leaves and fruit, although it’s a little larger at up to 20′ in height.

Medium-sized dogwood trees that do well in Dayton’s climate include Cornus kousa ‘Snow Tower’ (a stunning, upright, columnar tree reaching 10-15′ tall and only 4-8′ wide) and Cornus kousa ‘Summer Gold’ (an elegant, upright, variegated small tree or large shrub, to 8′ tall, 4′ wide).

Get Ready to Plant!

It can be disheartening to see all the beautiful trees available for those with larger properties and feel that there isn’t anything that would fit your smaller yard. We hope this article has given you some good ideas and shown you just how many truly stunning trees will fit in a small space!

Remember to plant your new trees properly (see our tips here) and water them well for the first two years to ensure that they’ll be beautiful and healthy for a long time to come! If you aren’t sure how, or if you’d like help selecting and planting spring flowering trees in your landscape, give us a call. We offer a full range of tree planting services.