Just because a shrub is small doesn't mean it can't have a big impact in your garden. Whether through flowers, fruits, foliage or fall color, several varieties of low-growing shrubs -- or shrubs that reach heights of 5 feet or less -- add visual interest to the landscape. As an added benefit, many compact shrubs work well as foundation plants, adding color to small sites around the yard.
For late summer color, Better Homes and Gardens recommends the blue mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis). This deciduous shrub grows to 3 feet tall and wide and blooms with clusters of bright blue blossoms. It's hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 6 to 9 and prefers sunny, well-draining sites. The potentilla (Potentilla fruticosa) is a low-maintenance shrub that brightens the landscape with yellow flowers from summer to fall. A slow-growing, deciduous shrub that reaches 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide, the potentilla tolerates drought and is hardy in USDA zones 2 to 7.
For attractive fruits, The Morton Arboretum recommends the cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus), a 3-foot-tall evergreen with deep green leaves. This drought-tolerant shrub produces prolific amounts of bright red berries in fall. It's hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7 and grows well in a range of site conditions. Birds and Blooms describes the doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum) as the "world's most beautiful flowering shrub." After this deciduous shrub produces its showy spring flowers, it bears scarlet fruits that age to black. The doublefile virburnum is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 7 and requires moist, light soil. Dwarf cultivars include "Newport" and "Leach's Compact," both 4-foot-tall shrubs.
Certain low-growing shrubs have colorful foliage even when it's not fall. These include cultivars such as "Gold Dust" (Aucuba japonica "Gold Dust"), which creates a tropical look with its glossy, yellow and green variegated foliage, says Wilson Bros Nursery. This evergreen grows to 5 feet tall and wide and prefers shaded sites with rich, moist soil. It's hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10. For red-purple color, try "Crimson Pygmy" Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii "Crimson Pygmy"). This 3-foot-tall deciduous shrub has dark red foliage and produces long-lasting red berries. For the best color, plant this shrub in sunny sites. It's hardy in USDA zones 6 to 8.
4. Fall Color
For showy fall foliage, plant a "Sixteen Candles" summersweet (Clethra alnifolia "Sixteen Candles"). Not only does this 3-foot-tall shrub turn golden yellow in autumn, its aromatic, white flowers attract butterflies and bees through the summer. Better Homes and Gardens describes the summersweet as an "ideal shrub." It's hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9 and grows well in moist, rich soil. Fine Gardening includes the "Ogon" spirea (Spiraea thunbergii "Ogon") on its list of the "only shrubs you'll ever need to grow." This deciduous shrub grows to 5 feet tall and has yellow foliage that turns orange in fall with red margins. This spirea is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8 and requires well-draining soil.
- Better Homes and Gardens: The 13 Best Summer Blooming Shrubs
- The Morton Arboretum: Low-Growing Deciduous Shrubs (Under 5 Feet)
- Birds & Blooms: Top 10 Flowering Shrubs
- Fine Gardening: The Only Shrubs You Need to Grow
- Cornell Cooperative Extension Nassau County: List of Dwarf Shrubs and Low-Growing Plants Suitable for Foundation Plantings
- Wilson Bros Nursery: Shrubs with Outstanding Foliage Color
- North Carolina State University: Shrubs
- University of Connecticut: Viburnum Plicatum var. Tomentosum
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