7 Flowering, tree-forming shrubs ideal for small SA gardens

Written by Life Green Group and Catherine Clulow

Let’s be honest not everyone can fit a baobab in their backyard which is why there are shrubs, beautiful flowering shrubs. Shrubs are usually messy, can appear somewhat overgrown but they are highly adaptable and trainable and they also flower prolifically.

So with the right pruning and correct maintenance they can become a showcase feature in your small garden.

So without further ado here are 7 indigenous shrubs that make for wonderful trees in a small South African garden:

1.The River Indigo (Indigofera jucunda)

When it comes to this shrub it’s controlled chaos –the River indigo is messy if left to its own devises but it can easily be trained into a single stemmed tree. Nurseries often sell it as a tree and most of the pruning work has already been done for you. The river indigo reaches a fair height (up to 4m) in the correct conditions and gets lovely sprays of ballerina pink flowers.

Indigofera KBG MM 3974 (2)
© Monique Mcquillan

2. Pride of the Cape (Bauhinia galpinii)

This coral-coloured beauty can take over a garden, with a bad habit of climbing the Bauhinia galpinii can ramble on forever, but with the correct shear work this shrub can become a wonderful shade giving tree in any small garden.

Bauhinia galpinii- Monique mcquillan
©Monique Mcquillan

3. Tree Hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus)

The tree hibiscus is the only hibiscus plant in the world that is classified as a tree! Durbanites this shrub is for you. It has stunning lemon yellow flowers and it reaches a height of three to six metres. It does not handle frost very well but makes a delightful addition to a tropical backyard.

Hibiscus tiliaceus- Monique Mcquillan (3)
©Monique Mcquillan

4. Dwarf coral tree (Erythrina humeana)

Ever wanted a large lucky bean tree in your garden but couldn’t fit one in… Well, this shrub flowers scarlet blossoms at single story window height and attracts loads of sunbirds. In colder areas it dies in winter and grows back in summer. In warmer areas it may need some pruning. Generally the dwarf coral reaches 1.5 metres in height, take care to plant it away from foundations as its root system is invasive.

Erythrina humeana 163_57 MM (5)
© Monique Mcquillan

5. Cross-berry (Grewia occidentalis)

Like the river indigo, this shrub is naturally a bit chaotic but with yearly pruning it can become a single stemmed tree of about three metres tall, with a wild flowering canopy. The cross-berry produces magnificent mauve flowers so next time you go to the nursery add this small tree to your list. Birds love it and it can be planted close to infrastructure.

Grewia occidentalis 30 Nov 08 ALN 045c
© Alice Notten

6. Yellow Bauhinia (Buahinia Tomentosa)  

Mad about yellow? Well this is one of the larger shrub species and can get to four metres tall. The yellow Bauhinia has lovely lime coloured leaves that go well with its yellow bell-shaped flowers.  It does well in full sun and makes for a great container plant.

Bauhinia tomentosa - J.M.Garg
© J.M.Garg

7. Cork Bush (Mundulea sericea)

No Gauteng garden is complete without a cork bush. Flashy, attractive with a non-invasive root system this small tree is Highveld gold. Naturally, it forms a single stem with a bushy crown and can get seven metres high. It is graceful elegant and much loved by landscapers and wildlife, especially butterflies!  In summer it gets beautiful wisteria-purple flowers.

Mundulea sericea -  Colin Ralston
© Colin Ralston

For more on how to train your shrub click here and to learn more about these indigenous plants, we recommend looking them up on PlantZAfrica.

So there you have it, gorgeous indigenous options for small SA gardens. Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below and please consider following our blog. To find out more about the Botanical Society of South Africa please find us on social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) and visit our website.

Happy gardening!






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The Botanical Society of South Africa (BotSoc) are an NGO conserving and educating about biodiversity for over 100 years.

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