Your gardening questions answered: What evergreen tree is suitable for a windy garden?

The Killarney strawberry tree is an elegant option with pollinator-friendly flowers

Q: My front garden is south facing, which is great, as there are plenty of drought tolerant plants to brighten up my garden in summer. The site is very exposed with low surrounding walls. My problem is I’d love to add height to the garden with an evergreen tree that’s not too big as it’s a small garden. However, we have really strong westerly winds, which the tree would need to stand up to. Can you suggest any tree that would be suitable for this situation and the best windbreaking evergreen plants to slow the wind down to protect my more delicate plants? LK, Co Dublin

A: One of the very best small evergreen garden trees with multiple seasons of interest and an impressive ability to withstand strong, salty winds (just so long as they are not cold) is the Killarney strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo. It is so called because its very decorative strawberry-pink fruits are not as tasty as their appearance might suggest (roughly translated, “unedo” is the Latin for “I eat one only”).

While it prefers an acidic or ericaceous soil, this versatile, drought-resistant tree will also grow happily in a neutral or slightly alkaline soil so long as it’s fertile and free-draining, slowly forming a smallish, rounded, evergreen tree. Its elegant growth habit, cinnamon-brown peeling bark and pollinator-friendly flowers are other great reasons to grow it.

Another alternative is the ruggedly handsome mountain pine (Pinus mugo “Mughus”), a slow-growing hardy coniferous tree that’s happy in full sun and a free-draining acid to neutral soil. Known for its sculptural growth habit, it’s also prized for its ability to tolerate challenging growing conditions and will very gradually reach a height and spread of 3m x 3m-5m.


Another option that I’d also highly recommend considering is to use a resilient, wind-tolerant species of evergreen shrub and then crown-lift it by pruning the lower branches to give the appearance of a small evergreen tree. Suitable choices include holly (Ilex); Pittosporum tenuifolium; Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica); Osmanthus burkwoodii; Viburnum tinus; and Eleagnus x ebbing.

Crown lifting (or skirt lifting as it’s also sometimes known) is a time-honoured technique that’s particularly useful in small gardens like yours where space is at a premium. By removing a woody plant’s lower branches in this way, not only can you give it a much more sculptural appearance but you also free up valuable growing space for lower canopy plants including smaller shrubs and perennials. For more information and useful tips on this, seek out a copy of Jake Hobson’s classic guide to the subject, The Art of Creative Pruning: Inventive Ideas for Training and Shaping Trees.

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon is an Irish Times contributor specialising in gardening