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Jessica Walliser

These small-statured plants still pack a punch

Jessica Walliser
| Thursday, April 12, 2018, 8:55 p.m.
The blooms on a Little Henry sweetspire.
Jessica Walliser
The blooms on a Little Henry sweetspire.

Question: We have a narrow area between our home and the neighbor's driveway. We'd like to fill the area with some shrubs that will stay small without us having to prune them all the time. We'd like a mixture of evergreens and flowering shrubs, maybe four or five different ones. What are our options? The area receives a good amount of sun, especially toward the front of the house. Right now there are some ground covers there that we plan to dig out to plant the shrubs. The area would then be mulched.

Answer: Small landscape areas like the one you describe were once a challenge to landscape. There were few options beyond flowers, groundcovers, and a select few shrubs that could be maintained at a small stature.

Thankfully, times have changed, and plant breeders have recognized the need for small-statured plants. Homeowners now have dozens of beautiful choices of both flowering and evergreen shrubs that stay small, even when they're fully mature. And more of these plants are coming onto the market each and every season. It's exciting to see how many different options are now available.

That being said, you'll still have to shop for these plants very carefully. It's important to visit a good local nursery, as they can help you determine if you're buying the right plant. The plants I'm about to share with you are dwarf varieties of common garden shrubs that grow quite large. If you don't pay enough attention to the exact variety you're planting, you could end up with either the wrong selection or the straight species, which would grow much larger than you want. Be sure the name on the plant tag is an exact match.

While there's no way for me to know which local nurseries will be carrying each of these plants this spring, I suggest you call a few of your favorites to see if they'll have them in stock. Another option is to visit the websites of the breeders or distributors I mention with each plant and use the search feature on their website to find a local retailer here in the Pittsburgh region.

Here are some of my favorite small-statured shrubs for the landscape.

Evergreen

Soft Touch compact holly (Ilex crenata “Soft Touch”): This plant is sold under the Monrovia brand and is a fully hardy, mounded shrub that maxes out at just 2 to 3 feet wide and tall. The foliage is dark green, and the small leaves make a lovely addition to the garden year-round.

Inkberry holly compact (Ilex glabra “Compacta”): Another dwarf evergreen sold under the Monrovia brand, this shrub is densely branched and bears small, dark berries, hence the common name of inkberry holly. It's fairly deer resistant, too.

Sherwood Compact mugo pine (Pinus mugo “Sherwood Compact”): This very hardy pine is a true dwarf that has a mounded shape. Its branches are covered with long needles, and its slow growth rate means no pruning is necessary to maintain its size. It reaches just 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Available under the Monrovia brand.

Plumosa Compacta juniper (Juniperus horizontalis “Plumosa Compacta”): Yet another excellent small evergreen sold by Monrovia, this feathery, blue-green shrub has a typical juniper look but reaches only 2 feet in height with double the spread. It makes a great evergreen groundcover and looks lovely all winter long.

Deciduous/flowering

PopRocks Rainbow Fizz spirea (Spirea japonica “Matgold”): This super-fun flowering shrub is from a brand called Bloomin' Easy Plants. Its compact foliage is copper-colored in the spring and then matures to a yellow-green with red tips as the season progresses. The blooms are pink and fuzzy in appearance.

Little Henry Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica “Little Henry”): A longtime favorite of mine, this Virginia sweetspire is covered with pendulous clusters of white flowers in the spring. In the fall, the foliage turns a brilliant red. It's a North American native that the pollinators love. It maxes out at about 2 to 3 feet tall. Sold under the Proven Winners brand.

Lil' Ditty viburnum (Viburnum cassinoides “Lil' Ditty”): Another small shrub carried by the Proven Winners brand, this pretty plant produces round clusters of fuzzy white, flat-topped blooms every spring. Its maximum height is just 1 to 2 feet, and it's a cultivar of a North American native plant.

Magical Snow Drops Pearl bush (Exochorda “Magical Snow Drops”): Carried by the Plants Nouveau brand, this beautiful little shrub hits just 3 to 4 feet tall and equally as wide. Its compact form makes it perfect for small garden areas. Clusters of delicate white flowers emerge late in the spring, followed by yellow autumn color late in the season.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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