Small shrubs work well in the landscape as specimens, borders or foundation plantings. They add variety, depth and interest without overwhelming small areas. Flowering shrubs provide visual appeal with their colorful blooms, while evergreens brighten the landscape year-round. Carefully chosen small shrubs even thrive in less-than-ideal environments.
Flowering shrubs, like the spring-blooming European cranberry viburnum cv. Compactum, provide additional color throughout the year. The muted green leaves of the Blue Mist spirea create the perfect backdrop for its blue summer blooms. Gardeners in warmer climates enjoy flowers year-round by planting shrubs that flower in the fall or spring, such as the dwarf sasanqua. Two more choices in the flowering shrub category include the flowering quince and pink dwarf flowering almond, both of which reach 6 feet or less at maturity.
Many evergreen shrubs reach large sizes at maturity, such as towering pines or upright junipers. However, gardeners often use large evergreens in smaller spaces by keeping them down to size with annual pruning. Yews are an example of evergreens that tolerate such severe pruning well. For naturally smaller evergreens, consider Skandia junipers or dwarf white pine. The dwarf Oregon grape holly is a broadleaf evergreen reaching just 4 feet in height. It provides yellow spring flowers along with blue berries later in the season.
Poor Growing Conditions
Every small shrub has its strengths and weaknesses, but some tolerate difficult growing conditions better than others. An example is the Anthony Waterer spirea, a small deciduous shrub with red flowers. Although it performs well in multiple soil types, it must have full sun to remain healthy. Slow-growing boxwoods do well in both sun and shade, while holly fern requires shade for best results. The P.J.M. Hybrid rhododendron tolerates alkaline soil, producing light purple flowers. Try dwarf azaleas for acidic soil. Barberry shrubs reach 6 feet or less when fully grown and offer a drought-tolerant option in dry landscapes. The dwarf Siberian pea shrub also resists drought stress and reaches only 4 to 5 feet at maturity.
Take the mature size of your shrubs into consideration when planting. Even small shrubs need adequate room to spread and grow. A close proximity to one another or other plants increases the risk of poor growth, disease or insect infestation. Plant dwarf shrubs in especially tight spaces for best results. Examples include dwarf Chinese holly, red yucca or spreading varieties of junipers such as the Arcadia. These extremely small shrubs reach mature heights of just 1 to 3 feet, allowing gardeners to enjoy shrubs in some of the smallest parts of the landscape.
- Colorado State University Cooperative Extension; Small Shrubs for Small Spaces; Mary Frei
- University of Illinois Extension; Some Small Shrubs for Landscape Use; Bruce Spangenberg; February 12, 1998
- Texas A&M University: Small Shrubs
- Texas A&M University: Outstanding Shrubs for Texas
- University of Minnesota Extension; Choosing Landscape Evergreens; Jeffrey Gillman, Jane P. McKinnon, et al.
- Virginia Cooperative Extension; Selecting Landscape Plants: Conifers; Diane Relf and Bonnie Appleton