How to Identify a Small Shrub


Few plants are as versatile and low-maintenance as shrubs. Planted in front of foundations, they hide unsightly cement and provide a focal point for your landscape. Shrubs are used to create privacy and reduce noise pollution. Some shrubs have colorful spring blooms or vivid fall foliage. Fruiting shrubs provide food for birds and wildlife, as well as shelter. Shrubs vary in size from 2 to 15 feet tall. Small varieties work well as group plantings or to fill small areas.

Step 1

Inspect the leaves. Several shrubs, such as Japanese barberry, pygmy peashrub, leadplant, cotoneaster and alpine currant have oval leaves, smaller than 1/2 inch. Look at the color of the leaves. The sand cherry's leaves are a distinct reddish purple. Russian sage leaves are grayish green. Gro-Low sumac has dark green, glossy leaves while hydrangea has large, textured, toothed leaves.

Step 2

Examine the blooms of a flowering shrub. Leadplant, Russian sage and blue mist spirea produce violet spikes of flowers. Cotoneaster produces small pink or white flowers. Rock spirea produces sprays of small white flowers. Hydrangea blooms are densely rounded clusters of white, blue or pink flowers. Potentilla produces single pink, white or yellow blooms and the dwarf Russian almond produces sprays of fragrant pink flowers.

Step 3

Inspect the shrub in late summer for fruits. Cotoneaster produces red and coral-colored berries. St. Johnswort produces orange fruit pods. Lodense privet and sand cherry produce purple or black berries. Gro-Low sumac produce fuzzy, red fruits.

Step 4

Examine the shrub's form. Rock spirea, blue mist spirea, leadplant, sage and mountain mahogany have a stiff, upright form. St. Johnswort, hydrangea, daphne, kelsey dogwood and spirea have a rounded form. Oregon grape holly and pygmy peashrub have an open, sprawling form.

Step 5

Examine the tree's fall and winter habit. Many shrubs have brilliant red and orange fall foliage, including the dwarf European cranberrybush, spirea, dwarf Russian almond, littleleaf mockorange and Kelsey dogwood. Some shrubs such as leadplant, blue mist spirea and hydrangea might die back in the winter.


  • "Rocky Mountain Plant Guide"; Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association; 2005
  • North Carolina State University: Small Shrubs
  • Cornell University Gardening Resources: Woody Plants Database

Who Can Help

  • Cornell University Department of Horticulture: Transplanting Guide
Keywords: identifying small shrubs, growing small shrubs, small shrubs

About this Author

Julie Christensen has been writing for five years. Her work has appeared in "The Friend" and "Western New York Parent" magazines. Her guide for teachers, "Helping Young Children Cope with Grief" will be published this spring. Christensen studied early childhood education at Ricks College and recently returned to school to complete a degree in communications/English.