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A Collection of Compact Shrubs for Small Gardens

Small lots, big houses—whatever the reason, outdoor space is often at a premium in the typical urban plot. Our appetite for smaller garden plants is not slowing down, but lucky for us, our friends in the nursery trade have responded by introducing a bevy of compact and slow-growing plants.

Here, we've singled out selections that include dwarf varieties of familiar and favorite standbys, those valued for their small footprint and slim profile, or, as in the case of the dwarf conifers, for their slow growth and ability to live comfortably in a constrained spot, or even a container, for a long while.

Make sure you scroll through to the end, where you'll find a selection of planting combinations that are perfectly suited for a pocket-sized garden. All of the plants included in the featured combos are dwarf selections, naturally compact, and/or slow growing. 


Smaller Versions of the Standard Fare


A continuing trend in plant breeding is a focus on developing compact varieties of well-known and commonly-grown shrubs that will be suitable for smaller gardens. New introductions of hydrangeas, weigela, barberry, and blueberries, to name a few, are coming on the market all the time. See below for some varieties that promise to be much smaller than their full-size cousins.

Acer palmatum 'Shaina'

Dwarf Red Japanese Maple

Type: Shrub, Tree
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Concorde'

dwarf purpleleaf Japanese barberry

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Pia'

Pink Elf French Hydrangea

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Hydrangea paniculata 'SMHPLQF' Little Quickfire™

Little Quick Fire® Panicle Hydrangea

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade
Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Munchkin'

dwarf oakleaf hydrangea

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Lonicera nitida 'Twiggy'

Twiggy Box Honeysuckle

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 7, 8, 9

view plant

Pieris japonica 'Little Heath'

Little Heath Lily of the Valley

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Pittosporum tobira 'Shima'

Creme de Mint Dwarf Mock Orange

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade
Zone: 8, 9, 10, 11

view plant

Rhododendron williamsianum

Rhododendron species

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Weigela florida 'Verweig'

My Monet® Weigela

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Weigela florida 'Variegata Nana'

Dwarf Variegated Weigela

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Straight and Narrow


Sometimes compact is code for narrow. And that's a good thing. Smaller gardens often have more room to go UP versus OUT. Plus, screening and creating boundary is a common desire, as more and more tall houses built on small lots are situated closer and closer together. With their small footprint, strongly upright plants efficiently reduce the looming stature of surrounding architecture, introducing a more human scale, connecting sky to terra firma.

Berberis thunbergii 'Orange Rocket'

Orange Rocket Barberry

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata'

Upright Japanese Plum Yew

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Chamaecyparis nootkatensis 'Green Arrow'

Weeping Alaskan Yellow Cedar

Type: Conifer, Tree
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Chamecyparis lawsoniania 'Wissel's Saguro'

Wissel's Saguro Lawson Cypress

Type: Conifer, Tree
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Afternoon Sun, Filtered Sun
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Cupressus macrocarpa 'Wilma Goldcrest'

Wilma Goldcrest Cypress

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade
Zone: 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Cupressus sempervirens 'Monshel'

Tiny Tower Italian Cypress

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Cupressus sempervirens 'Swane's Golden'

Swane's Golden Italian Cypress

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 7, 8, 9

view plant

Cupressus sempervirens 'Totem'

Totem Italian Cypress

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Juniperus scopulorum 'Blue Arrow'

Blue Arrow Juniper

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Taxus x media 'Bean Pole'

Bean Pole Yew

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Thuja occidentalis 'Degroot's Spire'

Compact Columnar Arborvitae

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Slow-Growing Dwarf Conifers


Dwarf conifers deserve their own section because they're so incredibly useful for small gardens. In the ground or in a container, they add wonderful foliage color and texture, as well as providing all-season structure. In conifers, dwarf typically just means slow, so the trick is to look for clues about the rate of growth. The video above shows you how.




CONIFERS THAT CAUGHT MY EYE AT THE GARDEN CENTER


Visiting nurseries throughout the year is a great way to keep up-to-date on plant offerings, conifers and otherwise—and believe it or not, you'll find some of the best varieties and widest selection of conifers at your local garden centers this time of year. Sorry, only some of these are on eGardenGo at this time, though I'll be working on getting them added and included in some plant combinations. Stay tuned and check back.





SOME OF MY FAVORITE DWARF CONIFERS THAT ARE ON THE SITE


Explore some of my favorite dwarf and slow-growing conifers. Don't forget to click through for plant combinations ideas that include them.

Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader'

Golden Spreading Nordman Fir

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Cedrus deodara 'Feelin' Blue'

Feelin' Blue Deodar Cedar

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun
Zone: 7, 8, 9

view plant

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Treasure Island'

Dwarf Port Orford Cedar

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Chamaecyparis pisifera' Snow'

Snow false cypress

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Cryptomeria japonica 'Little Diamond'

Little Diamond Dwarf Japanese Cedar

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Picea pungens 'Ruby Teardrops'

Ruby Teardrops Colorado Spruce

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Picea sitchensis 'Papoose'

Dwarf Sitka Spruce

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 7, 8

view plant

Tsuga canadensis 'MonKinn'

Golden Duchess Eastern Hemlock

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7

view plant




PLANT COMBOS FEATURING DWARF CONIFERS



Plant Combos for Tight Spots


Pulling it all together, the planting combinations below rely exclusively on slow growing, compact plants so these vignettes are perfectly suited for tucking into a small spot in your garden or courtyard.


Published December 30, 2019


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