8 Dwarf Shrubs For Small Gardens & Spaces

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by Max - last update on July 27, 2020, 12:26 am
Dwarf Shrubs

Having a small space doesn't mean you have to miss out on some of the best shrubs to grow, as many types of shrubs have dwarf varieties available so that you can enjoy their best qualities without having the worry that they will take over your space.

This list comprises some of the most interesting types of dwarf shrubs that are ideal for filling small gaps in your garden or using as features in a compact yard.

1. Dwarf Fothergilla

Dwarf Fothergilla

Scientific Name: Fothergilla gardenii

Mature Size: Up to 3 feet tall

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-8

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Water: Maintain moist soil

Soil: Well-draining

Cultivars and Varieties: Fothergilla gardenii 'Blue Mist'

This deciduous shrub is native to the southeastern United States and is a brilliant addition to any small garden, adding a long three seasons of interest each year. This is a compact plant that grows in dense mounds measuring between two and three feet in width and height when mature. In early spring, the bare plant produces an array of flowers before the arrival of the foliage. The flowers take the shape of two-inch-long bottle-brushes, with a creamy white coloring. If you want a more colorful display, this plant is also available in other varieties, such as 'Blue Mist,' which produces baby blue blooms. The flowers have a sweet honey-like smell, so plant this shrub along a walkway or close to a bench so that the aroma can be fully enjoyed. The foliage of the plant arrives shortly afterward, in late spring or early summer. Leaves are oval-shaped and have a deep, dark green color, providing a nicely contrasting background for the flowers. In fall, the foliage develops to warm shades including orange, yellow, and red, often with all three colors present on a single leaf.

This shrub is low-maintenance and tends to be naturally resistant to pests and disease. It works well as a single specimen in a flower bed or can be grown in a row as a low hedge. It thrives in well-draining soils that are kept consistently moist. This plant grows well in full sun or partial shade but will produce the greatest number of flowers when in a full sun position.


2. Dwarf Mountain Pine

Dwarf Mountain Pine

Scientific Name: Pinus mugo

Mature Size: Up to 4 feet tall

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7

Light: Full sun

Water: Low moisture needs

Soil: Well-draining

Cultivars and Varieties: Pinus mugo 'Humpy', Pinus mugo 'Carstens', Pinus mugo 'Mops', Pinus mugo 'Ophir'

In its native habitat of Europe, the dwarf mountain pine grows as a small tree of up to 20 feet in height, but there are several dwarf cultivars that reach a mature height of just three or four feet. Examples of these are 'Ophir,' which produces compact pine shrubs between two and three feet tall, and 'Humpy,' which has a similar size expectancy. These make wonderful plants in small spaces because they grow slowly but easily, require little to no maintenance, and are evergreen, offering year-round interest. These pine shrubs have needle-like foliage in various shades of green, and they produce attractive seed cones that add further interest to the plant.

These plants are a great choice if you struggle with poor soil quality, as they will adapt to a wide range of soils, including clay soil and sandy soil. They are also very tolerant of drought, and so do not need to be watered regularly, and in fact, will probably survive with rainfall as their sole method of irrigation, making them exceptionally easy to care for. They also do not require any pruning. These plants thrive in full sun and work particularly well in rock gardens or coastal locations.


3. Glossy Abelia

Glossy Abelia

Scientific Name: Abelia x grandiflora

Mature Size: Up to 3 feet tall

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6-9

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Water: Average moisture needs

Soil: Well-draining, average quality

Cultivars and Varieties: Abelia x grandiflora 'Radiance', Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope', Abelia x grandiflora 'Mardi Gras', Abelia x grandiflora 'Hopleys'

This is a hybrid plant that was first grown in Italy in the late 1800s. It is a semi-evergreen shrub, which means that the plant will typically lose half of its leaves in winter when grown in cooler climates. This plant takes a naturally rounded shape, with gracefully arching branches adorned with small, ovate leaves. The foliage is dark green through spring and summer and develops to a deep red-purple in fall. The plant produces clusters of small flowers that are bell-shaped and are white with a pink flush, resembling the flowers of jasmine.

This is a great choice of shrub if you are fond of flowers, as this plant will remain in bloom from spring right through to fall, and as an added bonus, the flowers have a mild fragrance. This shrub is easy to grow, requiring average soil conditions and a full sun or partially shaded position. It will flower most abundantly when allowed more hours of sun and should be lightly pruned annually.


4. Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple

Scientific Name: Acer palmatum

Mature Size: Up to 6 feet tall

USDA Hardiness Zone:

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Water: Maintain moist soil

Soil: Well-draining, fertile, acidic

Cultivars and Varieties: Acer palmatum' Wilson’s Pink Dwarf’, Acer palmatum ‘Crippsii’, Acer palmatum ‘Beni-Makum’

This plant is native to Japan, China, and Korea, and frequently grows to heights of over 25 feet. However, if you're a fan of this plant but only have a small space to fill, then you're in luck, as there are many varieties of Japanese maple that grow to just four or five feet tall. Some dwarf examples of Japanese maple include 'Wilson's Pink Dwarf' and 'Crippsii.' These cultivars have compact growth habits that are ideal for smaller gardens. They are loved for their striking foliage, with leaves having three or five long lobes, and coming in a wide range of changing colors, including pink, red, green, orange, and yellow. They are deciduous shrubs that perform best in partial shade, though they can tolerate full sun. Their leaves develop to vibrant fall colors before dropping to the ground.

These are low-maintenance plants, but it is a good idea to mulch over their soil as they enjoy cool roots. They thrive in moist, well-draining soils, which are slightly acidic and have a good percentage of organic material.


5. Dwarf Chenille

Dwarf Chenille

Scientific Name: Acalypha reptans

Mature Size: Up to 2 feet tall

USDA Hardiness Zone: 9-11

Light: Full sun and partial shade

Water: Maintain moist soil

Soil: Well-draining, fertile

This is a wonderfully quirky plant that is native to the Caribbean, and Florida in the US. It grows all year round in hot climates where it will remain evergreen, but can also be grown as an annual in cooler climates, or enjoyed as a houseplant. It has a compact, trailing habit, which makes it perfect for growing in hanging baskets or draping over the edge of a planter or down a raised wall. These exotic shrubs produce bright green foliage that provides the perfect background to vivid scarlet flowers that bloom freely throughout the year. These flowers have a fluffy texture and measure up to three inches long, resembling the tails of kittens.

These compact shrubs are accustomed to hot and humid climates, so they will thrive in similar conditions outside of their natural habitats. Grow in a well-draining, fertile soil, and water the soil freely in the summer and reduce watering in the winter. It grows well in both full sun and partial shade.


6. Korean Boxwood

Korean Boxwood

Credit to cultivar413

Scientific Name: Buxus sinica var. insularis

Mature Size: Up to 4 feet tall

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Water: Average moisture needs

Soil: Well-draining

Cultivars and Varieties: Buxus sinica var. Insularis ‘Wintergreen’, Buxus sinica var. Insularis ‘Nana’, Buxus sinica var. Insularis ‘Justin Brouwers’

This plant, also known as littleleaf boxwood, is a dwarf evergreen shrub with a dense and mounding growth habit. These plants are highly branched and packed full with light to medium green, small and lush foliage. These shrubs vary in size depending on the variety, with some having a smaller height expectancy than others, for example, ‘Nana,’ which only grows to a maximum of between one and two feet. These are easy plants to grow, with a slow growth habit ideal for small spaces so that they don’t take over the garden. They can be pruned into a specific shape if desired, or grown in rows to create low hedging. Korean boxwood plants produce small yellow-green flowers in the spring. These are quite fragrant but appear in sparse patterns amongst the leaves and are considered to be insignificant compared with the impact of the foliage.

Korean boxwood grows best in dappled shade, so consider planting it beneath a tree or shrub. If this is not an option, supply it with a mixture of sun and shade, ideally sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. This plant should be grown in a sheltered position away from strong winds, and should not have other plants cultivated too closely because it has shallow roots that can easily struggle if intrusive roots are growing nearby. It thrives in a wide range of soil types so long as they are well-draining. Aim to keep soil evenly moist.


7. Rhododendron

Rhododendron

Scientific Name: Rhododendron

Mature Size: Up to 3 feet tall

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-11

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Water: Maintain moist soil

Soil: Well-draining, fertile, acidic

Cultivars and Varieties: Rhododendron ‘Princess Anne’, Rhododendron ‘Ginny Gee’, Rhododendron ‘Ramapo’, Rhododendron ‘Hino Crimson’, Rhododendron ‘Mary Fleming’

Rhododendrons are popular evergreen shrubs that produce stunning flowers in a wide range of colors. You’ve probably seen impressive rhododendron bushes taking up prominent spaces in gardens, as they often reach heights in excess of six feet, with a similar size spread. However, there are many varieties of rhododendrons that take the shape of dwarf shrubs, which is great news if you love these beautiful flowers and have a small garden. Some examples include ‘Ginny Gee’ that has a maximum height expectancy of between one and two feet and has won the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. This variety produces pure white flowers that margins flushed with bright pink and is suitable from growing in zones 6-8. Another good dwarf rhododendron is ‘Ramapo,’ which grows up to two feet tall, producing vivid lilac blooms. This variety is also an award-winning plant and grows well in zones 4-8.

These plants have drastically varying care requirements and growing conditions, so it's important to choose a variety of rhododendron suitable for your climate and your specific situation. Some varieties are hardy shrubs that can grow well down to USDA hardiness zone 3, whereas others prefer warmer climates and cannot grow outside of zones 9-11. They also differ in their blooming periods, with some rhododendrons having short flowering seasons, and some blooming from spring right through to fall. Whichever variety you are able to grow, these dwarf shrubs make an excellent addition to small gardens, adding bright and glossy evergreen foliage, and luscious, colorful flowers. They generally thrive in full sun or partial shade and well-draining, acidic soil, which is kept moist.


8. Cape Jasmine

Cape Jasmine

Scientific Name: Gardenia jasminoides

Mature Size: Up to 3 feet tall

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6-11

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Water: Maintain moist soil

Soil: Well-draining, acidic, organic

Cultivars and Varieties: Gardenia jasminoides ‘Radicans’, Gardenia jasminoides ‘Golden Magic’, Gardenia jasminoides ‘Buttons’, Gardenia jasminoides ‘Crown Jewel’

These evergreen shrubs are native to Asia and thrive in temperate climates. Outside of suitable growing areas, they can successfully be grown as flowering houseplants. Cape Jasmine plants can grow to be quite large, but there are many dwarf varieties, such as ‘Radicans,’ which grow to just one foot tall. These plants bloom in spring and summer with highly fragrant white flowers. Their foliage is ovate and deep green, with a glossy finish. Grow them in acidic, well-draining soil that is not allowed to dry out.

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