What to look for when choosing an indigenous tree for your small garden

There are five main characteristics to look out for when deciding which South African tree is the best fit for your small garden.

  • Height – It might seem obvious, but you don’t want a tree that’s too tall. Trimming trees in small spaces is difficult and if any branches fall off they can damage your house.
  • Canopy spread – Although a tree in a small garden doesn’t necessarily have to have a small canopy, you need to think about your space and what kind of tree shape will work best. Do you need a narrow tree with a small canopy or is your small space big enough to accommodate a wider canopy?
  • Root system – It’s essential that a tree in a small garden has a non-invasive root system. Your definitely don’t want to have to deal with roots lifting your paving or cracking walls.
  • Can be planted in a pot – if your garden is very small or you’re looking for a tree for a courtyard, consider planting your indigenous tree in a large pot. All of the trees on this list should do well in a pot.
  • Can be pruned – Trees in small spaces often need to be shaped and pruned. You need to make sure that the tree you choose can handle being pruned.



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Dais Cotinifolia, or Pompon Tree

Pompon trees grow fast, but won’t reach much higher than six metres, making them ideal for smaller gardens.  It is a deciduous, frost-resistant tree when well-established, and hardy in times of drought. It has blue-green leaves and pink flowers from November to February that cluster together in ball-shapes – looking like pom-poms from afar.

They can look a bit shabby once the flowers die, so keep that in mind.

Dombeya Rotundifolia, or Wild pear

This tree is frost and drought tolerant, grows quickly, and has beautiful white flowers during late winter and springtime. This deciduous tree needs full sun but is otherwise low maintenance. It will attract human and non-human admirers such as birds, bees, and butterflies that will make your little garden come to life. Prune the branches to encourage the crown to stay narrow.

Pappea Capensis, or Indaba Tree

The indaba tree or jacket plum is hardy, evergreen, and drought- and frost resistant. This tree has edible fruit (even for humans) and will attract birdlife. It has a spreading and dome-shaped crown, which is why its popular name reflects one of its original uses – hosting indabas underneath it. A famous one that you can visit is that of King Lobengula’s indaba tree in Bulawayo.

They are slow growing trees, so they don’t get big very quickly, but they do have spreading canopies, so if your garden is very small, it’s not a good option.

Gardenia Thunbergia, or White Gardenia

The White Gardenia prefers acidic soil and enough water throughout the year. That being said, this evergreen tree is tolerant to light frost and will survive short periods of drought. It has glossy green leaves and a grey bark and in spring and summer carries fragrant white flowers, the heady scent of which is most conspicuous at night, making it a great indigenous tree for your small garden.

Ziziphus Mucronata, or Buffalo Thorn

The Buffalo Thorn’s other common name is the “wait-a-bit-tree” – so called because of the hook-shaped thorns that tend to latch on to a passer-by. However, while you are caught by the tree, you’ll see that it is pretty wonderful. Not only is it tolerant to heat and cold, it is also drought and frost resistant! It also has a spreading crown, so only grow this indigenous tree in your small garden if you have a little more space.