Fruiting Trees for the Small Garden

 In Fruit, Gardening tips, Ornamental trees, Trees and Shrubs

Autumn and winter is the perfect time of the year to plant garden trees and in this blog I want to cover fruiting trees for the small garden!

Now, you might expect me to launch off into apples, pears, cherries and others but it’s ornamental fruiting trees I want to recommend this time.

In any case I recently covered British Apple varieties here.

Today I’m thinking of rowan, hawthorn, hollies, crab apples and small trees of that ilk.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that some of these have culinary qualities but it is primarily for their looks that we plant them.

We are also increasingly planting these for the food that they provide for wildlife.


Rowan or Mountain Ash

rowan, mountain ash, white, berries, fruiting trees for the small garden

Sorbus pseudohupehensis [was hupehensis]

Mountain ash have many species and varieties and almost all are suitable for small gardens.

It’s interesting how the paler and white berried varieties of rowan [Sorbus] are the last to be eaten by birds.

I recall visiting the excellent Stokesay Castle west of Ludlow and there saw the most popular non-red species of rowan.

The upright growing form of our native species is ‘Joseph Rock’. This has yellow berries and was being feasted upon by fieldfares. These birds had recently arrived from Scandinavia to winter in the UK.

Our native blackbirds and thrushes had already stripped the red and orange berried Sorbus aucuparia of all their fruit.

rowan, pink, sorbus, tree

Sorbus vilmorinii

But back to those paler fruited Sorbus. You need to be careful where you plant them since the white fruits [S. pseudohupehensis] and pink fruits [S. vilmorinii] need a dark background for the berries to be seen against our often grey winter skies.

Rowans and other mountain ash can be relied upon to regularly carry a heavy crop of showy berries.








Crab Apples

red crab apples, Red Sentinel, Malus

Malus Red Sentinel

Of course, Crab Apples [Malus] are excellent trees for the small garden.

Perhaps the most often planted are the yellow and red fruited ‘John Downie’ and the yellow fruited ‘Golden Hornet’.

Both produce fruit large enough to be useful in making delicious crab apple jelly.

But there are many others and these should also be considered.

I was impressed by ‘Red Sentinel’ used as a pleached tree at both Yeo Valley Organic Garden in North Somerset but also more established pleached hedges on legs at Alnwick Garden in Northumberland.

Both provide high level shelter and screening but are pretty in spring too. In autumn and winter they carry wonderfully bright red fruits.

A yellow fruited variety grown as a tree also grabbed my attention at Alnwick.

This is Malus ‘Butterball’ and I’d heard that this was an improvement on ‘Golden Hornet’.

Golden Hornet looks great in autumn covered in yellow fruit but then the fruit rapidly deteriorates and rots on the tree. In a few weeks it looks more like Brown Hornet than Yellow Hornet!

crab apple, malus Evereste

Malus Evereste

Malus ‘Evereste’ is a naturally small tree and one that is also an excellent pollen source for apples.

The flowers of Evereste smother the tree in spring and are then followed by heaps of small beautiful crab apples in winter.






variegated holly with red berries

Ilex x alt. Golden King

Often dismissed as too slow growing, hollies [Ilex] are certainly on my recommended fruiting trees for the small garden list.

Tolerant of pollution, long living, trouble free and glossy smart looking evergreens are some of the good reasons to plant them.

They are also remarkable shade tolerant and flourish on a wide range of soils.

Of course, it is only the female and hermaphrodite varieties that bear fruit and to ensure fruit a male plant should be in the immediate vicinity.

red berries on holly

Ilex aquifolium Alaska

This doesn’t have to be in the same garden since flies [and it is invariably flies] will travel some distance to pollinate the flowers.

Of the many varieties of holly in cultivation, I would single out ‘Golden King’, ‘Handsworth New Silver’, ‘J C van Tol’ and ‘Alaska’ to plant.

The last two appear to be hermaphrodite and so can be planted on their own and will still produce red berries.

I’ve actually written about hollies in much more detail in this blog here.



Many hawthorns [Crataegus] have double flowers and so do not produce fruit.

However, some produce masses and often the fruit persists until after next year’s flowers have been and gone!

haws, hawthorn, berries, red

Crataegus prunifolia

A group of Crataegus prunifolia near to my old business Cleeve Nursery produced a great crop of uber-sized haws every year. These persist long after the leaves drop. They gave a great show to passers-by throughout the whole winter.

There are other good fruiting hawthorns but beware, some have fearsome thorns too.

These, and the dense canopy that these develop, provide good nesting places and a fine shelter for small birds. They are especially valuable when sparrow hawks come hunting!

All hawthorn are very easy to grow.







Cotoneaster tree in a garden

Cotoneaster Cornubia

Less planted now than it used to be, the Cotoneaster provides evergreen leaves and a mass of bright red berries.

Of course, the vast majority of Cotoneasters are low growing ground cover plants but a few can be trained to make splendid trees.

The ultimate weeping variety is Cotoneaster hybridus pendulus and needs very little space at all. It will fit into even the smallest front garden!

Larger growing and much wider spreading Cotoneaster watereri, ‘Cornubia’ or the yellow berried form ‘Rothschildianus’ are really easy to grow.

These provide excellent screening material too.

Not only are the berries of Cotoneaster loved by birds but the flowers are extremely popular with honey bees.




Fruits of magnolia on a branchNow Magnolia are not an obvious choice as recommended fruiting trees for the small garden!

But most years many produce very showy fruits.

I spotted one at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire and it really caught my eye.

Was it just the name or was it the size of these enormous pink fruits that caught my attention?

Anyway Magnolia ‘Big Dude’ certainly has large fruits!





November is one of the best months of the year to plant trees.

But anytime whilst trees are dormant [during the winter] is a good time to plant.

National Tree Planting Week is always around the end of November and early December. This is a campaign run by the Tree Council. In 2021 the dates are Saturday 27 November to Sunday 5 December. More details of this event here.

For National Tree Planting Week 2020 I demonstrated tree planting on this short video here. Why not watch it now?


Do you have plans to plant a tree?

What variety are you going to plant and why have you chosen it?


More reading

I recently published a blog on which garden trees to plant for wildlife here.

If you prefer to plant evergreen trees then you may care to read this.

Birch trees are fast growing and very beautiful all year round. I’ve written about the National Collection of birch at Stone Lane Gardens [Devon] here.

I’ve also featured trees that have good autumn colour here.


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