Thin Is In

The Green Light

I love big, beautiful, majestic trees, and who doesn’t? But there are times when a massive Sugar Maple that will grow to 100-plus feet high and 75 feet wide isn’t going to fit.

Tall, thin, and beautiful: "Slender Silhouette" American sweetgum.

If you need to keep your tree choices narrow, I have some ideas. I’m not talking about small, ornamental, flowering trees; I’m talking about narrow versions of some of our most beloved, majestic trees.

Many of the best-performing large trees common to our forests as well as to our landscapes are now available in forms that grow rigidly upright, tall, and narrow.

The most common uses I’ve seen for these fastigiate forms is along streets and in parking lots, but many clever landscape designers have begun to realize what an incredible addition they are to a mixed bed, border, or as a lawn tree.


"Slender Silhouette” American sweetgum ( Liquidamber styraciflua "Slender Silhouette”) is a perfect example. It is incredibly upright, growing 35 to 45 feet tall, but is only 7 feet wide, with great attributes for all four seasons.

The leaves are in an attractive star shape, deep-green in spring and summer, and turn to brilliant colors of orange to red in fall. The strong upright branches and corky bark add a nice touch of interest in winter.

I’ve seen this beauty used in a mixed border of annuals, perennials, and ornamental shrubs, and it adds an entirely different aspect to its companions through the growing year.

It is cold-hardy to zone 5, and easy to grow. Even though it isn’t fast-growing, it will add interest to a garden even when small.

Pin Oak is another example of a large and beautiful tree that is perfect for big spaces, but absolutely overpowering in a smaller garden. I was recently introduced to the “Green Pillar” Pin Oak ( Quercus palustris ”Green Pillar”) on a visit to Klyn Nurseries in Perry, Ohio, and I think this will also be a perfect addition for mixed borders, narrow spots, or even as a tree for smaller yards.

Like the old-fashioned Pin Oak, "Green Pillar” has the strong, masculine branching, but with the branches growing upright instead of straight out. It also features the beautiful maroon-red fall color, and, like other Pin Oaks, will hold a good portion of its leaves through the winter.

This is another fairly slow-growing selection, but wonderfully cold-hardy to zone 4. It will eventually grow to 60 feet tall with only a 15-foot spread.


If a narrow, upright tree is the right choice for the garden or space you’re designing, but you need something that will grow more quickly, I think you’ll love the "Armstrong” Red Maple ( Acer rubrum "Armstrong”).

It is more spreading, maturing to a teardrop shape, 45 feet tall by 15 feet wide. An absolute stunner in the fall, with brilliant orange-red foliage, this beauty is a show-stopper.

A tall, narrow tree doesn't have to skimp on color in the fall.

It also offers all-year interest with an attractive branching pattern and silvery bark in winter. The softer-green leaf color in summer makes this a beautiful complement to flowering annuals and perennials.

It is cold-hardy to zone 4, and easy to grow, and few pests will bother it.

There are many more selections of narrow, upright forms of more traditional trees on the market today. Just because the trend in garden and private yard sizes is contracting doesn’t mean you have to give up on those much-loved shade trees.

Just think upwards—not outwards!

Jesse Hensen is the Vendor Relations/Customer Service Manager for Eason Horticultural Resources, a wholesale plant-broker company. He can be reached at 859-578-3535 or via email at .