12 Narrow Columnar Trees for Small Spaces

In landscaping, columnar trees provide both lovely foliage and a distinctive shape. Horticultural expert Lorin Nielsen reveals 12 of her favorites that you should consider.

columnar trees

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Columnar trees add beautiful color and power to a landscape. They have their own spire-like beauty that provides a wonderful contrast against wide-spreading plants.

These narrow trees look formal and crisp in appearance. Their slender shape often makes them appear well-pruned and neat, even though they may not have been pruned in a while. Instantly, they add a bit of beauty and grace to a landscape.

These 12 columnar trees are perfect for narrow spaces, adding structure and elegance to your garden. But first, what exactly is a columnar tree?

What Is a Columnar Tree?

Tree farm with rows of tall, column shaped, fruit trees with a cloudy sky.
Columnar trees will grow straight up, making them perfect for yards with small spaces or just need more privacy.

With columnar trees, you don’t need as much space for growth. Many have fastigiate branches, which means they grow almost straight up rather than out from the tree, narrowing the size of the tree’s canopy. This form of growth allows the foliage at the branch tips to reach sunlight easily.

Columnar trees are extremely effective as a windbreak. Planting a row of them creates a green wall that breaks up high wind and slows it as it rolls across your property. They’re also used as privacy fences since their foliage is often dense and thick. 

In addition, columnar trees can be a dramatic garden feature. Planting along the length of a driveway makes for a stunning visual display, and a pair at either side of a porch can produce a dramatic, pillar-like effect.

How To Maintain Your Columnar Tree

Close up of a gloved, man's hand holding a pair of pruning shears and trimming a tall tree with dense, thick, branches and pine leaves.
Columnar trees are easy to maintain, but may need some shaping and pruning to help them keep their shape.

Much of the process of pruning columnar trees is intended to enhance their upright growth habit. Since their branches do stay mostly upright, the goal is to reduce excess growth bending branches outward.

Examine any branch sections that are starting to curve outward. Is the branch itself thick enough to support the weight of its foliage? If not, look for a leaf node on the branch. These nodes provide a point from which new foliage can develop in the future.

Clip just above that node, leaving the node in place and removing excess leaf weight. Be sure to use sterile clippers.

Whip-like slender growth that can’t support its greenery is often the most common target of pruning. But what about columnar fruit trees which require older wood to fruit on? Be careful with these to maintain some of that necessary older wood.

If there are dead branches, those can and should be removed. Look to see whether any of the branch is still alive, and if so, try to keep the lower segment which is living. If not, remove it low on the tree to allow for other foliage to fill in space.

Most pruning of small trees for gardens will happen in the late fall or early spring. Select a time in which fruit trees and some other species are dormant if possible. If there are broken or wind-damaged sections at other times of the year, you can remove those as needed to prevent damage to the rest of the tree.

12 Columnar Trees For Tight Spaces

Whether you’re looking for edible narrow trees, something a little more compact, or tall species to make a statement, these are the ones to look out for.

Green Apple

Close up of a tall, column shaped, apple tree with reddish-green apples and big green leaves.
The “North Pole” green apple tree takes up little space and also yields delicious fruit.
botanical-name botanical name Malus ‘North Pole’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 8-12 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

The ‘North Pole’ cultivar of columnar apple can grow up to 8-12 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide, and is perfect for USDA Zones 4-9. These are widely grown by home gardeners looking for an easy-care fruit tree. This deciduous tree also puts up a beautiful display of white flowers during spring.

The fruit is extremely juicy, crisp, and delicious and appears from late August through the entire month of September. Some grafted varieties can produce fruit even in their first year of growth!

Red Apple

Close up of a tall, column shaped, apple tree with red apples and big, dark green leaves.
The ‘Scarlet Sentinel’ will bloom fragrant, white, flowers in the spring and delicious, crisp apples to follow.
botanical-name botanical name Malus ‘Scarlet Sentinel’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun
height height 8-12 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

The ‘Scarlet Sentinel’ cultivar of apple is a deciduous, super-narrow, beautiful specimen. Strong branch development is key here, as it has a lower number than other species. But that strength also supports its eventual fruit.

Brilliantly white, lovely flowers form in the spring. These white blossoms give way to sweet red apples that ripen in September. Like the other apple, it averages 8-12 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide.

Weeping Persimmon

Close up of a tall, narrow, tree with long, drooping branches, that have large, bright, green, leaves on it.
These columnar trees can live as long as 75 years providing delicious fruit every fall.
botanical-name botanical name Diospyros virginiana JN5
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 10-15 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-9

As claimed by one seller, this tree will likely outlive you! The average lifespan of a weeping persimmon is 75 years, and in that time it can reach a height of 10 to 15 feet with a spread of only five to seven feet wide.

Unlike other columnar trees, the branching habit starts by pointing up and then deliberately curves downward, creating the ‘weeping’ form which provides its unique shape.

Thick, jade-colored leaves produce ivory-white flowers in the spring. As the seasons progress, the leaf color will develop some of the most lovely shades of autumnal brilliance you’ll see in a fruit tree.

Brilliant red, yellow, and orange leaves will fall, leaving behind only plump and sweet orange fruit in late October and early November.

Sky Pencil Holly

Row of several, tall, skinny, dense trees in a planter in front of a white brick wall.
This holly is easy to maintain and can be kept small, compact and slender for tight spaces.
botanical-name botanical name Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 4-10 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5-8

Sky Pencil Holly, native to Japan, is one of the most beautiful trees for small gardens. The name itself reveals its slender shape. It is extremely narrow and can grow 4-10 feet tall with only a two foot width, but it can also be kept shorter through pruning and shaping.

Evergreen in USDA Zones 5-8, this lovely landscape tree is fairly low-maintenance. It seldom needs pruning unless you’re trying to keep it to a dwarf habit. It’s one of the smallest columnar trees you can find, but that in no way reduces its potent beauty.

Slender Hinoki Cypress

Close up of a bright green tree with dense pine leaves, in a cement planter.
While not a true columnar tree, the Hinoki cypress has been used as a Bonsai for their easy detailed pruning.
botanical-name botanical name Chamaecyparis obtusa
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 8-12 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-8

While technically not a true columnar tree, the slender Hinoki cypress grows in a similar fashion. Soft, green foliage forms a slender column that grows almost from the soil all the way up to the tip of the tree. It averages 8-12 feet tall with a spread of four to five feet wide. 

Somewhat bushy at its base, it has been popular over the years for large-format bonsai. But even when not formally trained into detailed shapes, your cypress will provide a lovely minimal-space, good-height addition to your landscape in USDA Zones 4-8.

Skyrocket Juniper

Two, small, skinny, column shaped trees that are spaced apart in there own separate plater boxes on a sidewalk next to a large building.
The Skyrocket Juniper can reach a height of 15 feet and can maintain their shape with little to no pruning.
botanical-name botanical name Juniperus virginiana ‘Skyrocket’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 15-30 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

Hardy down to -20°F (-29°C), the skyrocket juniper can grow comfortably in USDA Zones 3-9. Native to North America, it’s prized for its blue-green foliage and ability to create a stunning privacy screen. 

When mature, the skyrocket juniper easily hits heights of up to 30 feet with a two to three foot spread. Its evergreen foliage is similar to other juniper species but with an added bonus. This species almost never requires pruning or detailed maintenance to keep it in shape. 

Spartan Juniper

Row of tall, skinny, bright green trees lining a fence in a yard.
These popular trees are drought tolerant and used often for wind break and privacy.
botanical-name botanical name Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 15-20 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4-9

Tolerant to drought, a wide range of temperatures, and salt spray, the spartan juniper is one of the most popular upright and narrow junipers available today.

Its deep green foliage provides plenty of color as a garden screen or windbreak. The dense-packed branch development on this plant effectively blocks anything from seeing through it.

In addition, junipers as a whole are pest resistant, which means you’re not going to be constantly spraying it down to keep it going. Hardy and easy to grow in either partial or full sunlight, this plant is best in Zones 4-9. It easily hits 15-20 feet tall and four to five feet across in size.

American Arborvitae

Row of tall, skinny, bright green trees lining a wood fence in a yard.
The American Arborvitae is often used for a privacy hedge and can reach heights up to 30 feet tall.
botanical-name botanical name Thuja occidentalis
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 10-40 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-7

The rounded conical shape of the American arborvitae is perfect as a privacy fence for your garden. In addition, it’s a visual stunner, reaching heights of up to 40 feet with a maximum five-foot spread at its base. A row of these can make for a stunning peaked display.

Emerald Green

Row of tall, skinny, bright green trees lining a small, white fence on a side yard.
The Emerald Green is known for its fan-like branches and pointed tips.
botanical-name botanical name Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 12-14 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-7

The scaly leaves and fan-like branches are covered with a rich, red-brown bark. When it produces seed cones, they’re narrow and yellowish-green in color.

It’s tolerant of most soil types, and is low-maintenance to keep going. Of the arborvitae species, I love the narrow-tipped look of this one best.

Brodie Eastern Red Cedar

botanical-name botanical name Juniperus virginiana ‘Brodie’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 45 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3-9

With one of the widest growing ranges of the columnar tree species we’re covering today, Brodie can be grown in Zones 3-9 outdoors. It’s hardy down to -30°F (-34°C), yet tolerates the warm and balmy climates of southern California as well. Best of all, this species can tolerate most levels of humidity from wet to incredibly dry with no problem.

The Brodie’s feather-like foliage is very self-maintaining. Little to no pruning is required to care for this tree. And if you want it to soar, it can. The Brodie can reach a maximum height of an astonishing 45 feet, with up to a 10-foot width. Kept pruned, it will stay at a more manageable height if you’d prefer.

Eastern red cedars provide lots of brilliant greenery in a densely packed space. You’ll love the beauty that the Brodie can offer.

Italian Cypress

Several tall, skinny, large trees in an open landscaped area, surrounded by other trees and vegetation.
Italian Cypress trees can handle full sun and dry weather conditions.
botanical-name botanical name Cupressus sempervirens
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 40-70 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7-10

The Italian cypress is a true columnar variety, narrow in width and perfect for a myriad of uses. Their maximum width at full height is 5 feet, but if kept shorter they stay a narrow 2-3 feet wide at most.

While they can achieve heights up to 70 feet if left to their own devices, they can be topped and maintained at a shorter height as well. 

These are great for container or planter growing, and their lush green foliage thrives in full sun conditions. They perform the best in Zones 7-10, and as a result, are a common sight in residential developments throughout the southwestern US.

Lombardy Poplar

Row of tall, skinny, large trees in an open landscaped area, surrounded by a field of tall, dry grass.
The Lombardy Poplar is often used to line streets or long driveways creating a grand, impressive entrance.
botanical-name botanical name Populus nigra
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun
height height 40-70 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2-10

Have you ever driven past a large property with a towering line of trees along one side? They might be lombardy poplar, particularly if they stand between 40-70 feet in height.

These lovely poplar trees can form a large, solid barrier that makes them a prime candidate for windbreaks. They’re even used to prevent topsoil from blowing off farms.

Due to their height, they’re also astonishingly effective as shade trees. Planted eight feet apart, they intertwine to form a dense visual barrier as a living privacy screen. If you’re looking for something massive to create a living, woody boundary in Zones 2-10, this is a great choice.

Colorado Blue Spruce

Four, silver colored pine trees in a tree farm.
With its silvery blue-green needles these little beauties will thrive in cold weather and can withstand high winds.
botanical-name botanical name Picea pungens
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 30-60 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2-7

Last but certainly not least on our list is the Colorado blue spruce. This gorgeous coniferous evergreen has silvery blue-green needles and a conical growing habit. It’s the most adaptable to cold conditions of our recommended columnars, tolerating chill weather down to -40°F (-40°C). Most often, it’s grown in Zones 2-7.

Most people think of spruces in terms of a Christmas tree, and this one has that rounded conical habit. But due to its deep root system, it resists high winds well, and it’s low-maintenance.

As it grows throughout the year, you’re treated to a lovely silvery-blue shade which stands out in landscaping. In the fall, you’ll also have 3-inch cones appearing in the upper crown of the tree.

While it grows to reach 50-75 feet in height in the wild, it can be maintained as a much smaller specimen, even as short as 10-12 feet. The top of the tree is narrow, but as it cascades downward, it widens to a pleasing base.

Final Thoughts

These narrow trees are perfect for squeezing into tight spaces. Use them to create a privacy screen, a windbreak, add height to your garden, or simply for their aesthetic value.

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