• Piet Stoker (PhD)

10 trees for small gardens in South Africa

We are frequently asked "what are the best indigenous trees for a small garden?" This is a valid question, because you don't want to plant trees that will become a nuisance when they grow to mature size. They may, for example, damage your roof and foundations, lift paving or block your winter sun.


This is the second post in of a series of posts with the theme "Trees for very small gardens". In post-2 I recommend 5 more trees indigenous to South Africa that can be planted in a very small garden (or tiny garden) and not cause any problems in the future. The topic is covered as follows:

- Trees recommended in the first post of the series.

- Summary of concepts discussed in the first post

- 5 more trees for very small gardens

Magnificent flowers of the Dwarf Coral-tree

1) Trees recommended in the first post of the series

In the first post I discussed and recommended the following indigenous trees (English name, Afrikaans name, scientific name):

a) Bushveld gardenia, Bosveldkatjiepiering, Gardenia volkensii

b) Bladder-nut, Swartbas, Diospyros whyteana

c) Big num-Num, Grootnoemoem, Carissa macrocarpa

d) Transvaal milkplum, Stamvrug, Englerophytum magalismontanum

e) Small-leaved dragon tree, Kleinblaardrakeboom, Dracaena mannii

Please visit Series Post-1 for details.


2) Summary of concepts discussed in the first post

I defined a very small garden (or tiny garden) to measure about 25 square meter. This is the typical garden size of a two bedroom unit in a retirement village or townhouse complex, maybe in front of the lounge and main bedroom - about 8m across and 3 m deep.


In respect of the terms "tree" and "shrub" it was concluded that:

  • These two terms play no role in a species' botanical classification.

  • Shrubs can be pruned into trees and visa versa.

  • Henceforth I will only talk about trees, but will indicate when a tree has a tendency to grow multi-stem. I will also indicate the tree's likely response to pruning.


3) The second 5 candidates (English name, Afrikaans name, Scientific name) are:

a) Lavender-tree, Laventelboom, Heteropyxis natalensis

b) Cork-bush, Kurkbos, Mundulea sericea

c) Dwarf coral-tree, Kleinkoraalboom, Erythrina humeana

d) September-bells, Klokkiesvalskatjiepiering, Rothmannia globosa

e) Blue currant, Bloutaaibos, Searsia zeyheri

I summarize below key characteristics of the above species, bullet point style, and provide a link to a Treeshop web page where you will find more information:


3.1) Lavender-tree, Heteropyxis natalensis

Lavender tree at the onset of winter. Note Autumn colors

Heteropyxis natalensis key attributes:


  • Mature size in a garden setting, 4m

  • Growth form is compact upright

  • Growth rate medium

  • Quite frost hardy but temperatures should not fall below -2 degrees Celsius

  • Non-aggressive roots

  • Well-drained, compost rich soil

  • Deciduous and slightly messy

  • Requires modest water in summer. Water wise in winter.

  • Responds well to pruning.

  • Dense flower heads attracts many insects including bees

  • Striking autumn colors. Fresh green look when budding in spring

  • Striking grey-white patches on its trunk where old bark peeled off

  • Characteristic fragrant leaves when crushed

  • Read more




3.2) Cork-bush (Mundulea sericea)

Beautiful, no nonsense tree for a very small garden

Image: With permission from TreeBook

Mundulea sericea key features:

  • Mature size in a garden setting, 3m

  • Growth form is upright, low branching

  • Growth rate slow to medium

  • Quite frost hardy. temperatures should not fall below -2 degrees Celsius

  • Non-aggressive roots

  • Well-drained, sandy soil

  • Semi-deciduous and not too messy

  • Requires modest water in summer, water wise during winter

  • Does not like to be pruned

  • Striking, mauve to purple, pea shaped flowers. Appear more than once per season, usually after good rain.

  • Characteristic light-grey corky bark

  • Characteristic grey-green leaves

  • Read more



3.3) Dwarf coral-tree (Erythrina humeana)

Dwarf coral-tree in bloom

Image: With permission from TreeBook


Erythrina humeana key attributes:

  • Mature size in a garden setting, 2m

  • Growth form is bushy

  • Growth rate is medium

  • Slightly frost hardy, tolerates temperatures up to -2 degrees Celsius

  • Swollen tuberous roots require some precautions

  • Well-drained, compost rich soil

  • Deciduous but not messy

  • Requires modest water in summer, water wise during winter

  • Responds well to pruning

  • Very beautiful, large, bright red flowers, summer to autumn while leaves are present, sometimes more than once per season

  • Striking red seeds are visible when its pods split open

  • White, fragrant flowers attracts insects

Read more



3.4) September-bells Rothmannia globosa

Something special for your very small garden

Rothmannia globosa key attibutes:


  • Mature size in a garden setting, 2m

  • Growth form is compact upright

  • Growth rate is medium

  • Slightly frost sensitive, tolerates temperatures to -0.5 degrees Celsius

  • Non-aggressive roots

  • Well-drained, compost rich soil

  • Semi-deciduous or evergreen

  • Requires modest water year round

  • Responds well to pruning

  • White flowers and striking large fruit which remains on the tree for a long time

  • Read more



3.5) Blue currant (Searsia zeyheri)

Use the tree's grey leaves to create a color contrast

Image: With permission from TreeBook


Searsia zeyheri key attributes:


  • Mature size in a garden setting, 2.5m

  • Growth form is multi-stem, upright. It can be pruned to single stem. Pruning stimulates vigorous growth

  • Growth rate is medium

  • Very frost hardy. Tolerates temperatures as low as -6 degrees Celsius

  • Non-aggressive roots

  • Well-drained, sandy soil

  • Semi-deciduous and not messy

  • Requires modest water year round

  • inconspicuous flowers, followed by red, berry-like fruit.

  • Attracts fruit-eating birds

  • Large (for the genus) grey-green leaves makes for an attractive appearance. A good candidate to create a color contrast

  • Read more


Joyful Gardening!

Piet Stoker

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