How to Landscape Small Trees and Shrubs


Landscaping involves much more than placing a plant in the ground. Creating an inviting landscape begins with planning and includes maintenance throughout the life of the plant. Homeowners choose small trees and shrubs for the landscape because the slow growing varieties limit the need for continual maintenance. Small landscape plants retain uniform shape and form with minimal yearly pruning.

Step 1

Draw your landscape plan to scale. A plan allows visualization of all component parts of the landscape. Include the house, driveways, walkways, retaining walls and other permanent features. Use a measuring tape to measure outdoor areas to translate to the drawing.

Step 2

Observe available sunlight conditions for each location. Each portion of the landscape has different growing requirements. Monitor light conditions to determine available sunlight for full sun, partial sun, partial shade or shade growing conditions. This information forms the basis for shrub and tree selection.

Step 3

Evaluate soil quality. Landscape trees and shrubs require organic soil to promote healthy establishment and steady growth. Take a soil sample in a clean plastic container to the garden center or a university cooperative extension service for complete evaluation. If you're landscaping the entire yard, take multiple soil samples from various locations throughout the property. This assessment allows you to add the correct amendments to the soil to increase the chance of successful shrub and tree planting.

Step 4

Access the height of your landscape. Installation of small shrubs and trees requires planning based on the mature height of these plants. Smaller landscape plants grow slowly, but still require homeowners to consider potential future growth. Selecting small trees and shrubs affects the overall perception of the landscape. Scale, or the relationship between plants and structures, must be considered to blend these two elements together in a seamless landscape design.

Step 5

Locate your state on the map and determine the correct USDA hardiness zone. This map assists gardeners by defining parameters throughout the country based on the average minimum temperature for an area. Nurseries provide this information with each shrub and tree. USDA hardiness zone information helps landscaper's purchase the most appropriate and tolerant plants based on climate conditions.

Step 6

Select your small trees and shrubs. The selection process involves visiting a garden center to peruse the shrubs and trees. Choose plants that attract your attention with interesting foliage or flowers. Check the labels for sunlight requirements and mature plant size. The tiny size of a shrub or tree at the nursery doesn't mean the plant will remain small throughout its life.

Things You'll Need

  • USDA Hardiness Zone Map
  • Graph paper
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Ruler
  • Measuring tape
  • Plastic containers


  • West Virginia University: Planting Trees and Shrubs
  • Iowa State University: Factors to Consider when Selection Trees and Shrubs
  • North Carolina State University: Planting Techniques for Trees and Shrubs

Who Can Help

  • USDA: Hardiness Zone Map
  • University of Illinois: Assesing Sunlight Requirements for Plants
Keywords: landscape small trees, landscape small shrubs, landscaping with shrubs

About this Author

S.F. Heron is an avid gardener with three years of experience in online writing and a working background in aviation and earth and ocean sciences. She is published on various sites, including Helium, eHow and Xomba. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.