10 Best Small Trees for North Texas
Many stunning plants are known for thriving in the warm landscapes of North Texas, a region that is wholly landlocked yet fairly diverse. Comprised of economically important counties and major cities like Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington, this well-developed part of the state has a subtropical climate. Its hot summers, marked by spring floods and the occasional dust storm, and its mild winters facilitate a wide annual temperature range.
North Texas has a long warm season and a moderately short cool period. The warm season lasts for around 250 days each year, with peak temperatures easily rising to above 38˚C (100˚F). In stark contrast, temperatures around November to mid-March may drop to below 0˚C (32˚F). This means that the region’s native flora and fauna are equipped with adaptations for withstanding both cool and warm conditions.
Due to the region’s sweltering summer conditions, local residents must choose their plants wisely. A small tree is usually a fantastic focal point or corner plant for many reasons. Apart from adding color and texture to an open space, a low-maintenance yet productive canopy should provide benefits like shade and shelter for birds and butterflies in summer. The ornamental trees listed below rarely grow to more than 30 feet (9 meters) tall and are favored for their overall hardiness.
1) Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)
Widely regarded as one of Texas’ best native trees, the desert willow is frequently cultivated as an ornamental tree because it rarely grows to more than 20 feet (6 meters) tall and 20 feet wide. This lovely species thrives best under full sun exposure and, once mature, is tolerant of dry conditions. In the wild, its roots are well-adapted to the substrates of temporary desert streams.
Desert willow roots are known for penetrating deeper layers of sandy substrates in order to obtain leftover surface waters. For this reason, this tree can be referred to as a phreatophyte. Its adaptations make it suitable for both the urban and rural areas of North Texas, where a consistent source of moisture may be hard to come by in summer.
Despite its common name, this drought-tolerant tree is not actually a true type of willow. Instead, it is a flowering catalpa that produces deciduous leaves on a raised canopy. Its blooms, which resemble the delicate appearance of tropical orchids, occur on the tips of its newest branches from May to September. These create a lush, light pink to purple spectacle, attracting all sorts of buzzing pollinators through the season.
2) Eve’s necklace (Styphnolobium affine)
Naturally found in the prairies, plains, meadows, savannas, and open woodlands of North Central Texas, Eve’s necklace is a wonderful small tree for partly shaded gardens. It favors relatively dry substrates with a predominantly sandy or loam-based composition. Given its low water needs, it can be cultivated in gardens that experience lengthy dry spells in summer. Excess water may cause its foliage to develop chlorotic symptoms.
A deciduous perennial, Eve’s necklace typically grows to a maximum height of 30 feet (9 meters). In cultivation, however, it rarely grows this tall and is perfectly suited to be an ornamental specimen. Its moderate rate of growth coupled with its low-maintenance needs makes it an ideal tree for roadside naturalization and for small to medium-sized gardens.
Named for its generous clusters of pink, wisteria-like flowers, Eve’s necklace is a member of the Fabaceae or pea family. Its foliage is distinguished by pairs of small, oval-shaped leaflets on reddish-brown branches. Its fragrant blooms appear from March to June, creating a stunning canopy that may last into early summer.
3) Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa)
The sole member of its genus, Ungnadia, the Mexican buckeye is known for its sweet yet poisonous seeds. Sometimes used as marbles, the seeds of this ornamental tree are contained in attractive, multi-lobed capsules. As these are reddish-brown in color, they complement the appearance of any remaining mauve blooms. Their presence can drastically alter the appearance of the canopy in the fall.
Although the Mexican buckeye does not naturally occur in North Texas, preferring instead the limestone outcrops of the surrounding areas, it can quickly adapt to the conditions of this subtropical region. A well-draining, neutral to alkaline substrate should allow for the rapid establishment of buckeye seedlings, especially in areas receiving partial shade.
Often planted in rows to create a natural buffer around parking lots and highways, this ornamental tree is drought-tolerant. Due to the coarse texture of its foliage, its mature specimens should make for fantastic additions to shrub plantings or borders. If you find that the corners of your property are quite stark, consider softening their appearance by planting a few specimens of this 8 to 15-foot (2.4 to 4.6-meter) tall tree! Year-round interest is a guarantee as even its winter trunk is showy.
4) Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei)
In its native range, the largest wild specimens of ashe juniper tend to occur in Central Texas. Here, it is present in relatively extensive stands providing crucial, year-round benefits like erosion control and shade. An evergreen tree, it tends to grow to an average of 33 feet (10 meters) tall. Specimens in small gardens, however, can be cultivated to maintain a more easily manageable height and spread.
The ashe juniper is unfortunately often regarded as a nuisance tree due to its capacity to self-propagate and form dense thickets. However, when its spread is limited and well-managed, it can prove to be tremendously beneficial to wildlife. Its stands can also be used as a natural windbreaker and as a source of decay-resistant wood.
Distinguished by the twisted appearance of its trunk and by the flattened shape of its scale-like leaves, the ashe juniper may appear to look like a multi-trunked tree. Its lower branches may arise from the trunk at almost ground level, making it appear remarkably bushy. When it has produced a dense arrangement of branches, this tough tree should begin to attract many native birds and small mammals.
5) Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)
A member of the Fabaceae family, honey mesquite is a small tree that normally grows to about 20 feet (6 meters) tall. Though it is considered a troublesome and invasive species outside of its native range, it is a valuable source of benefits and resources in many parts of Texas. Whether it grows as a shrub or a tree, its branches serve as a sturdy form of shelter for wildlife. Many birds use its twigs as nesting materials.
As its common name suggests, this small tree is a vital source of nectar for many local pollinators, including cultivated honey bees. Its fragrant and creamy white blossoms appear in spring. When these are successfully pollinated, their ovaries develop into distinctly lengthy and tan-colored seedpods. Their summer seeds are a rich source of nutrients for many wild mammals and birds.
Honey mesquite is generally a great option for areas experiencing prolonged droughts because it is capable of fruiting in dry conditions. While other trees might die back and fail to produce food for wild animals, this particular species can be relied upon as a source of seedpods. If you intend to cultivate it to attract wildlife, make sure to grow it in groups of 2 or 3 trees. From a landscaping perspective, it is perfectly suited to be a somewhat irregular yet eye-catching specimen tree for North Texan gardens.
6) Texas olive (Cordia boissieri)
Also referred to as anacahuita, white cordia, or Mexican olive, the Texas olive is now rarely found in the wild. This small tree is an evergreen species that keeps growing until it is about 20 feet (6 meters) tall. At maturity, its canopy may measure up to 15 feet (4.6 meters) wide. If ample moisture is available in the substrate, it may become remarkably lush and dense with velvety foliage.
Through fall and winter in hardiness zones 9 – 11, the rich, green foliage of healthy trees should continue to flourish and provide shade to underlying perennials. In late spring to early summer, delicate clusters of white blooms may appear on the tips of well-developed branches. Funnel-shaped, these flowers are distinguished by their yellow centers. Once they are pollinated, they develop into juicy, yellow-green, and olive-like fruits.
In urban areas, the Texas olive is frequently cultivated as an ornamental tree due to its small size and minimal needs. It thrives best when it is rooted into well-draining substrates and situated under full sun. As its roots are rarely problematic, it can be grown in rows to create naturalized borders for roadways and parks. It also works quite well as a free-standing specimen or as a container plant for private lawns.
7) Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)
The eastern redbud is a horticultural favorite because of its undeniably eye-catching canopy in late spring. This deciduous tree’s vivid pink blooms appear just before its leaves begin to develop, creating a uniformly pink and highly textural spectacle that lasts for just 2 – 3 weeks. If you’ve been lucky enough to witness the bloom period of a mature redbud, you’ll understand why many locals are keen on having this particular species in their ornamental gardens.
Also known as the Judas tree, C. canadensis is the state tree of Oklahoma. A couple of its cultivars, such as ‘Ruby Falls’ and ‘Forest Pansy’, are recipients of the RHS Award of Garden Merit due to their ease of care and their attractiveness as landscape plants. While their mature specimens are fairly hardy and can thrive in many types of soils in disturbed sites, they may need additional irrigation in the intense summer heat of North Texas.
As this garden tree tends to grow best in the understory, partial shade should facilitate the rapid production of its leaves and blooms. Note, however, that it may take up to 6 years for its healthiest specimens to grow to a desirable height of 7 – 10 feet (2.1 – 3 meters). If you have enough space for more than one small tree, you might consider cultivating this species in small groupings too!
8) Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Though the chaste tree is not native to Texas, it is generally considered a local favorite because of its lengthy blooming period and its preference for subtropical conditions. Its fragrant, purple blooms occur on stems that can grow as tall as 15 feet (4.6 meters) in optimal conditions. Drawing visitors like honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to the garden, the delicate blooms may develop into oil-rich fruits.
Partial to warm ambient conditions, the chaste tree grows best when its sprawling branches are exposed to full or partial sun. If the roots are afforded ample moisture and nutrients in well-draining soil, more hours of direct sun per day should lead to higher flowering rates. Proper growth conditions should also enhance the essential oils of the leaves and bark.
Recommended cultivars for cultivation in North Texas include ‘Texas Lilac’, ‘Shoal Creek’, and ‘Monstrose Purple’. Note that these grow in a coarse manner and should ideally be pruned after their blooming periods. Regular pruning should lead to a more spectacular show of blooms in the subsequent year.
9) American smoketree (Cotinus obovatus)
The American smoketree is named for the smokey appearance of its dense inflorescences. Summer blooms, which initially occur as pinkish-grey flowers, eventually give way to tufts of hairlike petioles on 6- to 10-inch (15 – 25 cm) long panicles. Collectively, the petioles look like wafts of smoke that are frozen in time. The flowers themselves are quite tiny and somewhat inconspicuous in comparison.
In Texas, this ornamental tree has a few native populations in the central regions of the state. Drought tolerant, it favors rocky, dry, and well-draining substrates. This preference for semi-arid conditions makes it an ideal species to grow in dry or rocky gardens in North Texas. As it dislikes being overwatered, it should not be planted in moisture-retentive soils.
Though the American smoketree is capable of growing to a full height of about 30 feet (9 meters), its cultivated stands rarely grow this tall. It is often prized for its low-maintenance needs and for the year-round interest it provides. Its smokey puffs of summer inflorescences are followed by brilliantly red, orange, and yellow leaves in fall. When these drop off in winter, they reveal a highly textural and flaky bark.
10) Texas mountain laurel (Dermatophyllum secundiflorum)
Also commonly referred to as “mescalbean”, the Texas mountain laurel is an evergreen, flowering perennial. A slow grower, it eventually reaches a mature height of about 15 feet (4.6 meters). It is often grown as an ornamental tree due to its manageable height and its showy features. It is highly poisonous, however, and should not be planted if pets or young children frequent your property.
If you do find that your garden has room for this attractive plant, you won’t regret investing in a seedling or two. After a few years, you should have a small, multi-trunked tree with dense branches and sets of shiny, leathery leaflets. In early spring, you’ll be rewarded with remarkably fragrant clusters of lavender blooms. The scent resembles that of grape-flavored juices and sweets.
In the wild, Texas mountain laurel favors the dry conditions of limestone soils in open plains and slopes. Good drainage is crucial for maintaining the health of its roots. As this species matures, it develops an increasingly dependable tolerance toward heat, cold temperatures, calcium carbonate, and dry conditions. When grown in the proper substrate, it should also easily survive through moist conditions in fully-exposed areas.