What Is A Columnar Tree: Popular Columnar Tree Varieties

Columnar Trees At Front Door Of House
columnar trees
(Image credit: dpproductions)

Spreading trees look magnificent in large landscapes but they crowd out everything else in a small patio or garden. For these more intimate spaces, columnar tree varieties work best. These are trees that are narrow and slender, perfect trees for small spaces. Read on for more information on columnar tree types.

What is a Columnar Tree?

The American Conifer Association designates eight forms of conifers, “columnar conifers” being one of them. These are defined as trees that are much taller than they are wide and include those designated as fastigiate, columnar, narrowly pyramidal, or narrowly conical.

Narrow, upright tree species, conifers or not, are useful as trees for small spaces since they don’t require much elbow room. Planted in a tight line they also work nicely as hedges and privacy screens.

About Columnar Tree Types

Not all columnar tree varieties are evergreen conifers. Some are deciduous. All columnar tree types share crisp, clean, almost formal outlines and upright, stand-at-attention postures. Given their slender dimensions, you’ll find them easy to tuck into any area of the garden that needs structure, from the entryway to the patio.

While some columnar tree types are very tall, like columnar hornbeam (Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’) that grows to 40 feet (12 m.) tall, others are much shorter, and some are downright short. For example, sky pencil holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’) tops out at 4 to 10 feet (2-4 m.) tall.

Columnar Tree Varieties

So, which columnar tree varieties are particularly attractive? Many have good features. Here are a few favorites.

For evergreens, consider hicks yew (Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’), a dense tree with an impressive pruning tolerance that does well in sun or shade. It gets to around 20 feet (6 m.) tall and about half that wide but can easily be pruned to half that size.

Another great option is weeping white spruce, an unusual but excellent choice. It has a tall central leader and pendulous branches, giving it a lot of character. It rises to 30 feet (9 m.) tall but stays a narrow 6 feet (2 m.) wide.

As far as deciduous trees go, a small columnar oak called Kindred Spirit is a nice choice. It grows to a respectable oak height, topping out at 30 feet (9 m.) tall, with silvery foliage and upswept branches. It stays slender, maxing out at 6 feet (2 m.) wide.

You can also try a narrow fruit tree, like Crimson Pointe cherry (Prunus x cerasifera ‘Cripoizam’). It grows to 25 feet (8 m.) tall but stays under 6 feet wide (2 m.) and can be grown in partial shade.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.