A yard tree provides many benefits, like shade, protection from the elements, and privacy. Trees are beneficial to local wildlife and add biodiversity, especially if they are native, non-invasive, non-problematic trees.
Problematic can mean a few things—trees might be messy, have invasive root systems that cause damage to lawns and nearby structures, or grow too large for the site, causing issues down the road.
It can be a daunting task to try and find the right tree for your property, as there are lots of options and things to consider, like how far away to plant it, how exposed it is, and other site conditions.
We've narrowed it down to the very best yard trees to plant near your house, whether you want deciduous fall color, all-season evergreen foliage, spring flowers, fruit-bearing types, or simple ornamental beauty.
Ornamental trees are grown for their aesthetic beauty, not for their wood, fruit, or ability to provide shade.
That doesn't mean they don't provide these benefits, that's just not their sole purpose. They're usually smaller, between 10-30 feet tall, and have attractive leaves or blooms, making them excellent choices to plant near homes.
These are some of the most popular ornamental trees, as there are hundreds of varieties to choose from to add striking beauty to your yard. These small maple trees are prized for their unique maple foliage that puts on vibrant displays through many seasons.
Most varieties grow 10-25 feet tall and are great choices for planting close to your house. 'Bloodgood' and 'Crimson Queen' are two popular cultivars; the first, an easy-going, fast-growing typical "blood red" variety that reaches 20-feet tall, and the second, a bushier, wider tree that provides privacy and shade.
Opt for a dwarf Japanese maple for even tighter spots, and always choose a variety that does well in your climate: most prefer some protection, and are best planted among other established plants. Hardy in zones 5-8.
A larger ornamental deciduous tree that grows in a pyramidal shape, the ginkgo biloba is a delightful tree with interesting fan-shaped green foliage that turns a stunning golden yellow in the fall.
With a medium growth rate, this tree can get 25-50 feet high with a 15-25 foot spread. It's a wonderful urban tree that tolerates air pollution, road salt, as well as small spaces.
Even the tallest ginkgo biloba has root systems that are not invasive and seek downward instead of horizontally, making them safe to plant near homes.
Easy to maintain, just make sure you are getting a male tree, as the females produce odiferous fruit. Hardy in zones 3-8.
Ornamental cherries are also called flowering cherry trees, as their showy blooms harken the coming of spring. Gorgeous white, pink, and purple colored flowers are prized among gardeners and passers-by, making them a perfect focal point for your yard.
Non-native but non-invasive, these trees range from 10-35 feet tall and are excellent trees for small spaces. With many varieties to choose from, some produce edible fruit for birds (too tart for human palettes) and come in many different cultivars to fit your needs.
Yoshino cherry is a fast grower but short-lived. Higan cherry is a hardy, double-blooming, larger tree that produces fruit the birds love. Weeping higan is slightly smaller and forms an umbrella of flowers. Native alternatives are flowering crabapples 'Indian Magic' and 'Red Jewel.'
Easy to care for, they prefer full sun and well-draining soil, just know they aren't meant to last long, with lifespans of around 25-50 years. Hardy in zones 5-8.
Flowering trees are a sub-category of ornamental trees, as not all ornamental trees flower, and not all flowering trees are ornamental.
All flowering trees are "angiosperms" and have seeds that mature in ovules or "fruits", both edible and non-edible. These trees tend to be on the smaller side, and offer ornamental benefits, and award-winning blooms.
Cornus Florida is a beloved native, deciduous tree that produces some of the earliest spring flowers that are beneficial to pollinators when they most need it. Beautiful white or pink flowers can last a full month.
Leaves turn green in the summer, and in the tree produces tiny red fruit—a favorite among local birds. Foliage turns a bright scarlet red in the fall, giving homeowners three full seasons of interest.
They range from 20-40 feet in height with shorter trunks than their spread, offering a horizontal design to the yard. The hard wood is used to make specialty items, and the roots and bark can be used as a remedy for fevers, colic, and malaria.
Dogwoods are understory trees, so partial shade is preferred over hot and sunny locations. The tree will benefit from light feeding, well-draining soil, and extra watering in periods of drought. Best in zones 5-6 in full sun, or part shade in 7-10.
Tip: choose the non-native 'Kousa' flowering dogwood that only grows 8-10 feet tall for a smaller specimen tree you can plant even closer to the house.
The eastern redbud is another native flowering tree that puts on a brilliant display very early in the spring. They're often shocking to see amongst the still dormant branches around them, as most varieties have vibrant pink or lavender flowers that last 2-3 weeks.
Flowers and fruit are "ramiflorous," meaning they emerge on bare branches. Stunning spring color turns into green, heart-shaped foliage in the summer, then various autumn colors arrive with pods of fruit that local wildlife love to eat.
The tree is easy to care for as long as it's planted in the right climate. They're hardy in zones 4-9, but most cultivars prefer milder climates, though they aren't picky about soil.
Average height is 20-30 feet tall, as is their spread. 'Forest Pansy' is the most popular cultivar, but there are dwarf and weeping varieties like 'Ace of Hearts' and 'Ruby Falls,' respectively.
In horticultural terms, the name "fruit tree" is assigned to ones that provide edible fruit for humans, though fruit trees are also flowering trees, and used ornamentally in the garden.
Fruit trees like apples, pears, and cherries can often be planted even closer to houses because of their short, shallow root systems, though make sure to check before planting as the roots of some types, like mulberry, are incredibly invasive.
Pear trees are some of the easiest fruit trees to grow. They're low-maintenance, and pest and disease-resistant. There are fruiting and non-fruiting varieties, and while most grow up to 30-feet tall, there are dwarf trees if you want something even smaller.
Ornamental pears can be grown simply for the spring flowers and autumn foliage, and some may prefer not to deal with fruit for various reasons (attract wildlife, falling fruit, clean-up).
Fruiting pears are excellent choices for the flowers and fall foliage, as well as delicious and abundant fruit. They're non-native but non-invasive and can last up to 100 years, making them a reliable and easy-going tree that you can plant almost anywhere in the garden.
Look for self-pollinating varieties if only planting one. Anjou and Bartlett will self-pollinate but produce more with cross-pollination, whereas Baldwin is self-pollinating.
Tip: a native alternative is the wild plum tree which offers many of the same benefits and can be a better choice for supporting local biodiversity. Most have thorns and need regular pruning of suckers, however.
This native tree is both beautiful and hard-working. Blooms will be more plentiful in full sun, but this flowering fruit tree is incredibly tolerant of shade, and various soil types, and only needs supplemental watering in extreme times of drought.
Spring flowers are the classic white that most fruit trees display, which turn into reddish-purple berries that can be enjoyed by humans and birds alike. Glossy green summer leaves become a multi-colored blend of orange, yellow, green, and red in the fall.
They're incredibly beneficial to all kinds of pollinators who dine on flower nectar and fruits throughout the seasons. Not too big and not too small, serviceberry height and width expectancy is 15-25 feet. Hardy in zones 4 to 7.
Deciduous trees include classic varieties like maple, oak, elm, birch, beech, and ash. Many of these trees are large, and while root systems may not be overly invasive, they need to be planted at least 15-20 feet away from the house.
There are many deciduous cultivars that have been bred to grow slightly smaller, topping around 25-40 feet tall instead of 50-feet and higher. Here are some options.
Admiration Hybrid Oak
It's hard to beat the stately look of an oak tree, but most grow too large to be planted close to homes. 'Admiration' is a hybrid oak bred to reach a mature size of 40-feet with a 30-foot span.
Notable characteristics are glossy foliage with the classic oak design that grows in a pyramidal form with interesting shaggy bark. Golden yellow fall foliage retains through the winter, making this one a winner for homeowners who want a nice, compact shade tree.
These trees are fast-growers that are drought-tolerant, rabbit-resistant, and hardy down to zone 2. A great choice for colder climates and full sun locations.
Another understory tree that prefers part or full shade, the Eastern hop-hornbeam is a slow-growing native tree with a lovely oval crown that only tops out around 35-feet, (though some reach 50-feet).
There is some resemblance to birch as they are in the same family, but it also shares qualities with elms. As the name suggests, it grows interesting hop-like fruits along slender branches and slim trunks.
Easy to grow and tolerant of different soils, this is a low-maintenance tree perfect for urban or country settings. Although fall foliage is non-distinct and short-lasting, the shaggy bark offers fall and winter interest.
Hardy to zone 3, the trees roots will not disrupt sidewalks or lawn surfaces and are pest and disease-resistant. They are not drought-tolerant and have a sensitivity to salt.
Linden 'Harvest Gold'
Linden trees are gorgeous trees but can be messy and large, making them inappropriate for planting near homes. The cultivar Harvest Gold' tops out at 40-feet tall and 30-feet wide with a beautiful round, pyramidal form that does well in urban settings and isn't as messy.
With a strong leader trunk, this is a classic looking tree that offers glossy green foliage in the summer and a spectacular fall display of golden yellow leaves. The bark peels slightly, giving it some winter interest, as well.
Fast growing, resistant to pests like the Japanese beetle, and tolerant of air pollution, this Linden tree is a winner for anyone who wants a well-behaved shade tree hardy to zone 3.
Evergreen trees provide shade, privacy, and habitat for wildlife with foliage that lasts through the winter, making them appealing to gardeners who want year-round interest.
Most varieties grow quite large, and shouldn't be planted close to homes, but there are dwarf varieties that give homeowners some good options.
Known as the cedar tree, thuja occidentalis is not a true cedar at all. Semantics aside, this is a wonderful tree to plant next to houses, fences, or other structures because the tree is slim and upright, with root systems that mostly extend downward.
The most popular variety is 'Emerald' cedar which tops out around 20-feet tall and 4-feet wide. For an even taller and faster-growing variety, 'Green Giant' grows up to 50-feet tall, but should be planted a little further away from structures.
Plant in full sun and make sure to water deeply in the first year; otherwise, these trees are low-maintenance and hardy to zone 3.
Tip: another upright, compact evergreen for small spaces is the Dwarf Pencil Point Juniper that only grows 5-feet tall.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce
You can get the classic look of a spruce close to the house without the worries of a large tree with this dwarf variety. Typical pyramidal shape and dense, green foliage, this conifer reaches a max of 12-feet tall and 10-feet wide, but may take decades to reach it.
It can be planted as an ornamental evergreen tree, or used to provide shade for first-story windows and front entrances due to its bushy girth. Easy-going and hardy in zones 3-6, this compact tree is not recommended for extremely hot climates.
Pro Tip: another dwarf spruce is the 'Globe Blue Spruce', which comes in low or high graft options for either a compact bush or ornamental tree specimen that only reaches 6-feet tall and 4-feet wide.
Stay Away From...
Invasive non-native trees like Norway and Amur maples easily self-seed and end up choking out native species. In general, maples are known for their surface-level roots that can disrupt sidewalks and come up through lawns.
Ash are beautiful trees with perfectly round crowns, but sadly all varieties are susceptible to the invasive emerald ash borer. Once this beetle infests the tree, there is almost certain death. Until prevention and treatment options are found, do not plant this lovely tree.
Walnut trees are another beautiful shade tree, but are not recommended near houses because of falling fruit, twigs, and catkins. Great if you have squirrels who will remove them for you, not great if you want to plant a vegetable garden as the juglone released by the tree can affect soil quality.
The honey locust tree was originally on the "plant" list, as native thornless, seedless cultivars like 'Sunburst' and 'Northern Acclaim' are fast-growing, smaller, and considerably less messy. However, they still end up with large surface roots that create issues in the lawn and nearby sidewalks.
Magnolias are gorgeous flowering trees that are also notorious for root systems that damage foundations. Most varieties should be planted at least 50-feet away from any structures, though there are some cultivars that have been bred to be less destructive.
Trees aren't cheap. Before you decide to plant one in your yard, make sure it won't cause any issues for you in the future, as removing them is expensive and disheartening, as well.
Generally speaking, any large tree over 70-feet tall should be planted at least 20-feet from your home, 50-foot trees need a 15-foot buffer, and smaller trees under 30-feet can be planted 8-10 feet away from the house.
This is merely a guideline, and while you can't go wrong with any of the trees on this list, it really only scratches the surface of what's available.
Now that you're armed with some options, take a trip to your local nursery to further help you choose the best trees to plant near your house.