Flowering shrubs zone 4

Small evergreen shrubs for year-round interest

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Evergreen plants have much to offer. Not only do they provide four seasons of visual interest to the garden, they also serve as windbreaks, increase privacy, and provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. Unfortunately, most home landscapes include the same five or six evergreens, most of which grow way too large for smaller gardens. The constant pruning these plants require makes them high maintenance and labor intensive. Why fuss with full-sized evergreens like yews, arborvitaes, spruces, and rhododendrons that reach all the way up to the eaves of your house when the following small evergreen shrubs provide all the benefits of the “big guys” but in a much more manageable package?

My brand new book, Gardener’s Guide to Compact Plants (Cool Springs Press, 2019), introduces hundreds of dwarf edibles and ornamentals for small gardens. Meet some of the very best compact evergreen shrubs in this excerpt from the book.

Compact Maximum Rhodendron (Rhododendron ‘Maximum Compacta’) – A small evergreen shrub with colorful blooms:

A mini version of a traditional rhododendron, this broad-leaved dwarf evergreen produces large clusters of pinkish lavender flowers in late spring. A low-growing, bushy plant, it makes a great addition to foundation plantings and shrub borders that receive full to partial sun. Reaching just 3 feet tall and wide, bumblebees love the flowers and are often found buzzing around the blooms. With winter hardiness down to –40°F, there’s no pruning necessary to maintain this small shrub’s natural shape and size. Another compact rhododendron worth seeking out is the purple-flowered ‘Ramapo’.

Rhododendron ‘Maximum Compacta’ is a real show-stopper, despite its small stature. Photo credit: MilletteGardenPictures.com

Compact Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra ‘Compacta’) – A low-maintenance evergreen shrub:

Another one of the best small evergreen shrubs, this variety is densely branched with elongated, oval leaves that are a dark, glossy green. This variety is female and will also produce small, dark berries that persist on the plant through winter if a pollinating male variety is nearby. It’s fairly deer resistant, too, making it a good choice for deer-plagued landscapes. Winter hardy down to –30°F, compact inkberry makes an excellent hedge or foundation plant. With a thick, twiggy habit that tops out at 4 to 6 feet in height and spread, it can also be regularly pruned to be kept even smaller.

Dwarf inkberry holly is an easy-care plant with very low maintenance.

Dwarf Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii ‘Kotobuki’) – A compact evergreen that’s deer-resistant:

Fully winter hardy down to –20°F, this needled evergreen reaches just 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The upright candles of new growth in the spring, coupled with its narrow growth habit, make this an excellent choice for containers and small gardens. Slow growing, with a dense structure, this deer-resistant evergreen has needles that are about half the length of regular Japanese black pines.

Dwarf Japanese black pines look terrific in small yards and gardens. Photo credit: Conifer Kingdom/Sam Pratt

Dwarf Pencil Point Juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’) – A small evergreen shrub that’s tall and narrow:

Evergreen and columnar in form, dwarf pencil point juniper is both unique and slow growing. With an average height of 5 feet and a width of just 1 foot, this sun-loving evergreen has blue-green needles. Female plants may produce blue “berries” in the fall, as well. Its tapered form means it’s a great “exclamation point” accent plant for smaller landscapes. Winter hardy down to –40°F. Dwarf pencil point junipers are among the finest small evergreen shrubs for the landscape.

Dwarf ‘Pencil Point’ juniper is compact not in its height, but in its width. Photo credit: Iseli Nursery/Randall C. Smith

Dwarf Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata ‘Dwarf Pagoda’) – A small evergreen shrub with unique leaves:

This is such a great little shrub! Reaching just 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide at maturity, miniature Japanese holly is super slow growing (it grows only about an inch a year!) and winter hardy down to –20°F. Preferring full sun to light shade, the tiny, round, evergreen leaves are glossy and dark green; and they’re stacked against each other in rows along the stems, giving the plant a really interesting appearance. Introduced through Rutgers University, this selection looks like a funky bonsai plant and is excellent for rock gardens and patio beds.

The unique leaf structure of dwarf Japanese holly makes a beautiful addition to small-space gardens.

Upright Japanese Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’) – A compact evergreen shrub that’s slender and upright:

This broad-needled evergreen is winter hardy down to –10°F. Its upright, slender growth habit maxes out at 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Though it’s nonflowering, Japanese plum yews have dark green needles that are densely spaced on bottlebrush-like, upright branches. Each needle is about 2 inches long. It thrives in full to partial sun but prefers afternoon shade in hot southern regions during the summer months.

Japanese plum yews are wonderful, compact evergreens for small spaces. Photo credit: Iseli Nursery/Randall C. Smith

Compact Oregon Holly Grape (Mahonia aquifolium ‘Compacta’) – A dwarf evergreen with berries:

Oregon holly grapes are attention-grabbing plants, and this compact selection is no different. The new growth is bronze colored, and it ages to a deep, glossy green. Then in fall, the foliage turns a rich purple-red. The fragrant yellow flowers in spring are followed by elongated clusters of purple, grape-like fruits in the summer and fall. With a low and spreading growth habit, compact Oregon holly grape adapts well to shadier spots, but be forewarned that the edges of the leaves have sharp spines. This is one of several small evergreen shrubs that’s useful as a low hedge or underplanting. It matures at 2 to 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide, and is winter hardy down to –20°F.

Little Giant Dwarf Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Little Giant’) – A small evergreen shrub with a rounded shape:

Most people think of arborvitae as being tall and cone shaped, but this compact variety is globe shaped, reaching just 4 feet tall and wide. Winter hardy down to –40°F, this slow-growing, rounded shrub produces soft, feathery, fan-shaped foliage. Its tidy shape needs no pruning, making it a terrific choice for foundation plantings, low hedges, or along garden edges.

‘Little Gem’ is an excellent small-space evergreen.

More small evergreen shrubs

This article on small evergreen shrubs is excerpted from my new book, Gardener’s Guide to Compact Plants: Edibles & Ornamentals for Small-Space Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2019). Be sure to grab a copy for more great ways to use compact plants in the landscape, including using them to solve problems like covering slopes, adding color to shady areas, and providing privacy screening. Plus, you’ll find profiles on dozens of dwarf trees, shrubs, perennials, fruits, and vegetables that are perfect for small gardens, including containers and raised beds!

For more great small-space landscape ideas, check out the following articles:

  • Flowering shrubs for shady gardens
  • Narrow, columnar trees for small gardens
  • Dwarf flowering shrubs for sun
  • Compact evergreen trees
  • The best compact vegetables for container gardening

What are your favorite compact evergreen shrubs to use for year-round interest? Share them in the comment section below.

Evergreen Shrubs by Size

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 24, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

A trip home from the local nursery with a pick-up truck load of healthy happy shrubs is exciting–you can see your landscape coming together! Thoughts of lining a walkway with small shrubbery or a drive-way with tall, bushy hedges causes us to overlook the fact that these little one gallon pots of greenery may some day grow to be 10 to 20 feet tall.

Save yourself a lot of work and money by knowing before shopping for that truck load of shrubs what their mature size will be. The shrubs below are listed by size. Large is over 10 feet tall, medium is less than 10 feet tall and small is less than 3 feet tall.

Large (over 10 feet)

Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) grows to 15 to 20 feet tall, and needs 12 to 15 feet to spread. Hardy in USDA zones 6a to 8b. For best results, plant cherry laurel in full sun to partial shade where soil is kept consistently moist. Blooms are white to near white and appear in mid spring. *Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested.

Gibb’s Firethorn (Pyracantha atalantioides) grows to 12 to 15 feet tall and needs 8 to 10 feet to spread. Hardy in USDA zones 7a to 10b. Best results are achieved when grown in well drained, rich garden soil in full sun. Blooms are fragrant, white to near white and appear from late spring through early summer. There is also a dwarf variety of firethorn bush. * Plant has spines or sharp edges.

Hebe buxifolia ‘Nana’ by Dave’s
Garden member, ‘bootandall’

Prunus laurocerasus by Dave’s
Garden member, ‘designart’

Escallonia macrantha by Dave’s
Garden member, ‘htop’

Cestrum elegans by Dave’s
Garden member, ‘mgarr’

Pyracantha atalantioides by
Dave’s Garden member,

Red Cestrum (Cestrum elegans) grows to 8 to 10 feet tall and needs 4 to 6 feet to spread. Hardy in USDA zones 8a to 11. Best results are achieved when grown in average garden soil; do not over water and in full sun to partial shade. Blooms are pink-purple and can be enjoyed throughout the year. *All parts of plant are poisonous if ingested.

Medium (less than 10 feet)

Darwin Barberry (Berberis darwinii) grows to 6 to 8 feet and needs 4 to 6 feet to spread. Hardy in USDA zones 7a to 8b. Best results are achieved when grown in well drained, rich garden soil in full sun. Blooms are yellow-orange and appear from mid spring through early summer. There is also a dwarf variety of firethorn bush. * Plant has spines or sharp edges.

Pink Escallonia (Escallonia macrantha) grows to 8 to 10 feet and needs 6 to 8 feet to spread. Hardy in USDA zones 8a to 9b. Best results are achieved when grown in well drained, rich garden soil (do not overwater) in full sun to light shade. Blooms are rose-mauve and appear from mid spring through early fall.

Possum Haw (Viburnum nudum) ‘Winterthur’ grows to 6 to 10 feet tall and needs 6 to 12 feet to spread. Hardy in USDA zones 5a to 9b. Best results are achieved when given average water and grown in well drained, average garden soil in full sun to partial shade. Blooms are white-near white and appear from late spring through early summer.

Small (less than 3 feet)

Bearberry Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri) ‘Lowfast’ grows to 6 to 18 inches and needs 4 to 8 feet to spread. Hardy in USDA zones 5a to 8b. Best results are achieved when given average water and grown in well drained, average garden soil in full sun to partial shade. Blooms are white-near white and appear from mid spring through early summer. Shrub tends to sprawl and may be used as a groundcover.

Boxleaf Hebe (Hebe buxifolia) ‘Nana’ grows to 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. Hardy in USDA in zones 8a to 10b but this will vary depending on microclimates where shrub is planted. Best results are achieved when given average water and grown in well drained, average garden soil under larger shrubs for protection from wind and cold. Give Hebes full sun to light shade. Blooms are white-near white and appear from mid spring through early summer.

Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) grows to 12 to 18 inches and needs 9 to 12 inches to spread. Hardy in USDA zones 6a to 9b. Best results are achieved when given average water and grown in well drained, average garden soil in full sun. Blooms are bright yellow and appear in mid spring. * Pollen may cause allergic reaction.

Doing some research before heading off to the nursery to buy shrubs will prevent the hassle of reworking the entire area a few years in the future.

Happy Gardening


Plant characteristics and care tips are a condensed version of what is found in Dave’s Garden Plant Files. Please visit plant files for more information and great member photographs.

Photo at top right is of Darwin Barberry (Berberis darwinii) by Dave’s Garden member, ‘Todd_Boland’

All photos are by Dave’s Garden members and are credited above.

Bushes That Grow In Zone 4: Growing Shrubs In Zone 4 Gardens

Image by NevaF

A well-balanced landscape consists of trees, shrubs, perennials and even annuals to provide color and interest throughout the year. Shrubs can provide different colors and textures that last longer than many perennials. Shrubs can be used as privacy hedges, landscape accents or specimen plants. Whether evergreen or deciduous, there are many shrubs for each hardiness zone that can add beauty and continual interest in the landscape. Continue reading to learn about bushes that grow in zone 4.

Growing Shrubs in Zone 4 Gardens

Growing shrubs in zone 4 is not much different than growing shrubs in any zone. Cold hardy shrubs will benefit from an extra heap of mulch around the root zone in late fall for insulation in winter.

Most shrubs can be pruned back when they go dormant in late autumn, except for evergreens, lilacs and weigela. Spirea, potentilla and ninebark should be cut back hard every couple years to keep them full and healthy.

All evergreens should be watered well each fall to prevent winter burn.

Bushes That Grow in Zone 4

The following shrubs/small trees are suitable for growing in zone 4 climates.

Spring Flowering Shrubs

  • Flowering Almond (Prunus glandulosa) – Hardy in zones 4-8. It prefers full sun and is adaptable to most soils. The bush grows between 4 and 6 feet tall, and nearly as wide. Small, double pink flowers cover the plant in spring.
  • Daphne (Daphne burkwoodi) – The cultivar ‘Carol Mackie’ is hardy in zones 4-8. Provide full sun to part shade and well-draining soil. Expect fragrant, white-pink flower clusters with growth of 3 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.
  • Forsythia (Forsythia sp.) – While most are fairly tolerant in zones 4-8, you’ll find ‘Northern Gold’ to be one of the hardiest of these commonly planted shrubs. These yellow-blooming shrubs enjoy plenty of sun and without pruning can reach 6-8 feet tall with a similar spread.
  • Lilac (Syringa sp.) – Hardy in zones 3-7, there are hundreds of varieties of lilac well suited to zone 4. Size of plant and color of highly fragrant flowers differs by variety.
  • Mock orange (Philadelphia virginalis) – Hardy in zones 4-8, this shrub is highly fragrant with white flowers.

href=”https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/sand-cherry/purple-leaf-sandcherry-info.htm”>Purpleleaf sandcherry (Prunus cisterns) – Though its purple foliage provides interest from spring through summer, this shrub is most impressive in spring when the light pink flowers beautifully contrast the dark foliage. Hardy in zones 3-8, but can be short lived.

  • Quince (Chaenomeles japonica) – This zone 4 hardy plant provides vivid shades of red, orange or pink flowers just before foliage growth begins in spring.
  • Weigela (Weigela sp.) – There are many varieties of weigela hardy in zone 4. Foliage color, flower color and size depend on variety and some are even repeat bloomers. All types have trumpet-shaped flowers that attract pollinating insects and hummingbirds.
  • Summer Flowering Shrubs

    • Dogwood (Cornus sp.) – Size and foliage color depend on variety, with many types hardy in zones 2-7. While most provide white flower (or pink) clusters in early spring, many also put on an early summer show. Many dogwoods can also add winter interest with bright red or yellow stems.
    • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) – The Black Lace variety is hardy in zones 4-7, providing pink clusters of flowers in early summer, followed by edible black-red fruit. Dark, lacy black-purple foliage is attractive in spring, summer and fall. Makes an excellent low maintenance alternative to fussy Japanese maples.
    • Hydrangea (Hydrangea sp.) – Like dogwoods, the size and flower color depend on variety. An old fashioned favorite, hydrangeas have large flower clusters from mid-summer to frost and many types are now suitable for zone 4 regions.
    • Ninebark (Physocarpus sp.) – Mostly planted for foliage color but also provide attractive white-pink flower clusters in mid-summer.
    • Potentilla (Potentilla fruticosa) – Potentilla blooms from early summer through fall. Size and flower color depend on variety.
    • Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) – Hardy in zones 4-8, give this one full sun for purple foliage varieties and part shade for golden types. This large shrub to small tree (8-15 feet tall) produces large wispy flower plumes that look somewhat like smoke in mid- to late summer with the foliage attractive all season long.
    • Spirea (Spirea sp.)- Hardy in zones 3-8. Full Sun – Part Shade. There are hundreds of varieties of Spirea that can be grown in zone 4. Most bloom in spring- midsummer and have colorful foliage that is attractive in spring, summer and fall. Low maintenance shrub.
    • St. John’s wort ‘Ames Kalm’ (Hypericum kalmianum) – This variety is hardy in zones 4-7, reaches about 2-3 feet tall and wide, and produces masses of bright yellow flowers in midsummer.
    • Sumac (Rhus typhina) – Primarily grown for its green, yellow, orange and red lacy foliage, Staghorn sumac is often used as a specimen plant.
    • Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) – Hardy in zones 4-9, you’ll enjoy this shrub’s highly fragrant flower spikes in midsummer, which also attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
    • Viburnum (Viburnum sp.) – Size depends on variety with many having white clusters of flowers in early summer, followed by fruit that attracts birds. Many varieties are hardy in zone 4 and also have orange and red fall color.
    • Dappled willow (Salix integra) – Hardy in zones 4-8 this very fast growing shrub is primarily grown for its pink and white foliage. Trim frequently to promote this colorful new growth.

    Shrubs for Fall Color

    • Barberry (Berberis sp.) – Hardy in zones 4-8. Full Sun- Part Shade. Has thorns. Size depends on variety. Foliage is red, purple or gold depending on variety, throughout spring, summer and fall.
    • Burning bush (Euonymus alata) – Hardy in zones 4-8. Full Sun. 5-12’ tall and wide depending on variety. Grown primarily for its bright red fall color.

    Evergreen Shrubs in Zone 4

    • Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) – Found in tall columnar, conical or small rounded varieties, the large shrubs to small trees provide green or gold evergreen foliage year round.
    • Boxwood (Buxus sp.) – Hardy in zones 4-8, this popular broadleaf evergreen makes a great additions to gardens. Size depends on variety.
    • False cypress ‘Mops’ (Chamaecyparis pisifera) – The shaggy, thread-like gold foliage gives it this interesting shrub its common name and is a good choice for zone 4 gardens.
    • Juniper (Juniperus sp.) – Size and color depends on variety, with many hardy from zone 3-9. Can be low and sprawling, medium and upright, or tall and columnar depending on which types you choose. Different varieties come in blue, green or gold.
    • Mugo pine (Pinus mugo) – Hardy in zones 3-7, this somewhat small evergreen conifer tops out anywhere from 4-6 feet tall, with dwarf varieties also available for smaller areas.

    Shrubs For Zone 4

    My Garden Zone Is

    Narrow Selection

    Shrubs for Zone 4 have many advantages

    Shrubs are usually described as plants with many stems that do not generally grow above fifteen feet; some bushes can grow to larger sizes, such as the forsythia that can rarely reach 18 to 20 feet. A bush differs from trees in most trees grow from a single thick trunk and have an extensive root system of up to three times their large canopy. The thick, woody roots of the shrub can have an advantage over other types of plants in the long term as they compact soil and increase the number of nutrients within the earth.

    Shrubs for Zone 4 helps stabilize the ground when planted on a slope

    When planted on a slope a shrub, such as the burning bush can have a positive effect on the soil by compacting it and helping stabilize the ground and stop it sliding off the surface and down the slope. The burning bush is a native of the US and Canada and provides interest in a yard because of the purplish-brown twigs and stems. Larger shrubs are also used to screen and hide areas of unfinished or unattractive areas of a yard or recreation area from view. Many of the world’s population of the shrub are deciduous, meaning they protect areas of a home or building from the Sun in the Summer months and allow sunlight through to heat areas when the Winter arrives, and the leaves have been shed.

    Shrubs For Zone 4 can add elegance to any landscape

    When an area of ground has been damaged, or its nutrients have been used up, and it is a problematic growing area the plating of a shrub can help bring the city back to life as a growing region of a yard. Not only can a bush increase the nutrients in the soil, but it can also reduce the number of chemicals harmful to other pants. In parts of British Columbia, a native shrub can draw nitrogen into it and reduce the amount found in the environment. One of the primary reasons for planting plants of any variety in a bare area of yard is that soil not used for plants, grasses or trees can become compacted and lose its fertile nature; a shrub, like blue hydrangeas planted in a yard, can fill a barren area quickly with large blue flowers known in some regions as mopheads. Blue hydrangeas can grow to enormous sizes and cover the ground of a tract of land with the most attractive flowers that have made the shrub one of the most popular plants in the world.

    Many people plant a tree or shrub in their yard to encourage wildlife to visit, feed and breed in their gardens. Planting a forsythia, which generally grows to around nine feet and is a member of the olive family can provide food and a place to shelter for wildlife including squirrels and birds who visit most yards.

    Shrubs For Zone 4

    Gardeners, homeowners and landscapers are always looking for just the right plant for every spot. Shrubs that fit in smaller spots are always sought out. Shorter shrubs are great for landscaping under windows, along a path or sidewalk and next to front entrance steps. Some short shrubs are also useful for mass plantings and erosion control. They can be worked into a perennial flower bed to add another layer of interest.

    Some of the most common short shrubs are barberry, potentilla and spirea. These can be found in many foundation plantings and basic landscaping plans. Each of these have nice attributes for the landscape and shouldn’t be overlooked. However, there are many other fun shrubs that can add something to the design.

    Here are just a few suggestions of deciduous shrubs to help you find one that fits your small space.

    Autumn Magic Black Chokeberry

    3-5’ Tall by 2-4’ Wide, Zone 3, Sun to Part Shade

    Dark glossy green foliage turns a stunning red and purple in fall. Fragrant white blooms in spring produce clusters of large, edible, dark purple berries that persist into winter.

    Little Devil Ninebark

    3-4’ Tall by 3-4’ Wide, Zone 3, Full to Part Sun

    An easy to grow, mostly upright dwarf ninebark variety with beautiful red-purple foliage. White-pink flowers cover the plant in June. A very easy to grow and maintain shrub with no problems.

    Forsythia Gold Tide

    2-3.5’ Tall by 3-4’ Wide, Zone 4, Full Sun to Light Shade

    A compact, ground hugging habit that makes this forsythia excellent for mass plantings. Lemon-yellow flowers bloom in early spring just as the snow melts. Tolerates full sun to light shade and moist, well-drained soils.

    Hypericum St. John’s Wort ‘Ames’

    2-3’ Tall by 2-3’ Wide, Zone 4, Full to Part Sun

    A perfectly rounded shrub with long, narrow blue-green leaves. Masses of beautiful 1” golden-yellow flowers cover the plant in mid-summer. Also adds nice texture to the landscaping.

    Summersweet Clethra – Hummingbird or Ruby Spice

    3-5’ Tall by 3-4’ Wide, Zone 4, Sun to Shade

    Underused shrub with long flower spikes in summer. Hummingbird blooms white and slightly fragrant, Ruby Spice has pink flowers. Yellow to golden brown fall color. Clethra is tolerant of shade and moist soils but does well in full sun as well.


    ‘Blizzard’ – 4-5’ Tall by 3’ Wide, Zone 3, Full Sun

    Single, fragrant white flowers blooms in profuse clusters in June and last for up to 4 weeks. Nice upright shape and very hardy.

    ‘Miniature Snowflake’ – 2-3’ Tall by 1-2’ Wide, Zone 4, Full Sun

    Double white flowers are extremely fragrant and totally cover the plant in late spring/early summer.

    Weigela ‘Dance Series’

    ‘Tango’ – 24-30” Tall by 30-36” Wide, Zone 4, Full Sun
    Purple foliage with clusters of red, trumpet shaped flowers

    ‘Minuet’ – 24-30” Tall by 2-3’ Wide, Zone 4, Full Sun

    Ruby red to lilac, slightly fragrant trumpet shaped flowers against green foliage with a purple tint.

    ‘Polka’ – 3-4’ Tall by 4-5’ Wide, Zone 4, Full Sun

    Dark green foliage contrasts the pink, trumpet shaped flowers.

    ‘Rumba’ – 3’ Tall by 3’ Wide, Zone 4, Full Sun

    Bronze-purple tinged leaved and dark red, long lasting flowers.

    Bobo Hydrangea

    2.5-3’ Tall by 3-4’ Wide, Zone 4, Full sun to Part Shade

    Large, white flower clusters in summer on sturdy stems. A stunning dwarf hydrangea.

    All images courtesy of Bailey Nurseries unless otherwise notes.

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