Shrubs for small spaces

Small Shrubs

Small shrubs you can keep 3 feet or less include dwarf shrub varieties and low growers that keep gardens beautiful and maintenance easy.

Since we have nearly 12 months of growing season here in South Florida, using more slow or moderate growers – whether large or small shrubs or plants – saves time and energy.

A “dwarf” shrub generally means one that will grow slowly or won’t get very big when mature – or both.

Dwarf shrubs are a great choice for those of us who want to keep maintenance to a minimum…especially nice for snowbirds.

Although the plants in this section include many dwarf and slower varieties, we also feature moderate to fast growers you can keep trimmed to 3 feet or less.

The Plant Pages will give the growth rate of each plant, so you can make good choices.

Landscape uses for small shrubs

  • front-of-the-border planting in a garden bed
  • lining a walk or drive
  • along the front of a low porch
  • short hedge or “friendly fence” along the property line
  • in front of or surrounding midsize shrub(s)
  • at the entry
  • under low windows
  • along the edge of a patio, pool cage or lanai to preserve the view
  • grouped in a mass planting in an island bed
  • as foundation plants
  • in front of a green hedge for color (flowers or foliage)
  • beside the mailbox post
  • backdrop for groundcovers, annuals, low perennials
  • wrapping the base of a small palm or flowering standard (a tree-form shrub trained to a single-trunk)

Want constant color?

Use combinations of small shrubs that bloom with those that have colorful leaves.

When small flowering shrubs are growing out of a “haircut” – or they’re between bloom cycles – colorful foliage plants step in and carry the day.

In winter, when most things flower less, this is even more important.

How to keep small shrubs, well, small

Many low growing shrubs can be trimmed with hedge trimmers for a definitive shape such as rounded balls. Slow-growing all-green shrubs work best for you garden sculptors.

Other varieties are prettiest when left alone for a more natural look, cutting a few stems here and there to keep the plant in bounds. Then give it a good pruning once a year.

(See the Plant Trimming page in the Gardening How-To section for more information.)

Some small shrubs grow pretty slowly…obviously, those that grow faster will require more trimming. But the beauty of a fast-growing plant and its intended use can make it well worth it.

Growth direction can make a shrub stay smaller – junipers generally grow outward rather than up.

A Landscape Design Primer for Shrubs

Overcome that newly planted look. Since some shrubs grow slowly it may be a while before things fill in. Don’t be tempted to jam shrubs too close together even though things may look a bit sparse.

The Plant Pages will give you recommended spacing for each plant to give it ideal growing conditions – but meanwhile you might fill in with annuals to get a lush look right away.

Plant in “drifts.” Avoid the temptation to plant one of this, one of that, especially when it comes to small shrubs. They tend to get lost in the landscape simply because they’re little to begin with.

Choose one or two you really like and plant in groups. They’ll make more of an impact – you know, strength in numbers.

Less is more. Repeated use of the same shrub or similar one is a good landscape design rule. A little repetition makes the landscaping more cohesive.

For instance, if you line the walk to your front door with a particular shrub, add some to a bed on the other side near the entry so the shrubs appear to “jump the walk” for a more balanced design.

If you have a favorite color, use lots of it. Draw attention to a focal point with colors that are opposites – like yellow and purple – on the color wheel.

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Small Shrubs

The Small Shrubs category has a plant for just about everybody! Since Nature Hills offers so many sizes. there is certainly a plant that will fit into your landscape. Some plants are flowering, some are evergreen, and some have variegated foliage. There are even some that have foliage colors that are not green, such as the Juniper-Blue Rug. What a variety of color choices these small shrubs provide! The Small Shrubs category is very popular because they are hardy, long-lived, and perennial. Nature Hills offers several small flowering shrubs as well, such as Hydrangeas, Forsythias, Potentillas, and Spireas; the flower color choices are widely varied.

There are small fruit bearing shrubs like the Blueberry (Peach Sorbet) and the Black Chokeberry. Besides producing fruit for human consumption or for wildlife, these shrubs create exceptional fall colors. For an extended bloom time consider the smaller butterfly bushes such as the Lo & Behold series. They are short, and flower consistently for long periods of time. Use these small shrubs as specimens, in short borders, boundary line demarcation, and short screens. For more information click on any picture or call Nature Hills at 888.864.7663.

Shrubs That Stay Small

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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

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.

Evergreen Shrubs

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.

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