Shrubs with leaves that grow no larger then 3 inches are especially well-adapted to sunny, hot and dry environments. Leaves take in sunlight and heat during the photosynthesis process. Absorbing less light, smaller leaf surfaces provide shrubs with heat protection. Smaller leaves also release water through surface pores on leaves known as stomatae, allowing these shrubs to retain more moisture. Choose non-toxic, small-leaved shrubs for areas where your kids play.
Low-growing small-leaf shrubs, less than 3 feet tall, can be used as foundation plantings or to edge borders and don't intrude on the kids' play space. The compact white fir (Abies concolor "Compacta") has dense blue-gray foliage ranging from 1 to 1.7 inches. This coniferous shrub reaches heights of 2.5 feet and tolerates drought and heat growing in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 to 9. For aroma and butterfly-attracting flowers, plant lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). This evergreen grows to 2 feet tall and thrives in sunny, dry sites. Its 1- to 1.7-inch-long gray-green leaves are topped by spikes of purple blossoms in summer. Lavender is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8.
Small shrubs work well in borders and as accent plants. The glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) has shiny .75- to 1-inch-long leaves that turn copper-red in fall. A semi-evergreen, this shrub grows from 3 to 6 feet tall and blooms with white-pink flowers from summer through fall. The glossy abelia is hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9 and tolerates drought. Leadplant amoropha (Amorpha canescens) grows to 4 feet tall and has gray-green .3- to 1-inch-long leaflets. Hardy in USDA zones 2 to 6, this adaptable deciduous shrub grows well in full sun and a range of soils. It blooms with spikes of blue-purple flowers in late spring.
Medium-height small-leaf shrubs form hedges and define spaces within your yard. Chinese peashrub (Caragana sinica) has lustrous dark leaves from .2 to .7 inches long. This deciduous shrub grows to 8 feet tall and has aromatic bark. It's hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9 and tolerates drought and poor soil. The fast-growing lemoine deutzia (Deutzia x lemoinei) reaches 7 feet tall, with deciduous leaves from 1 to 2.5 inches long. Hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8, this shrub thrives in sunny, well-draining sites, lighting up the spring garden with clusters of white flowers.
Tall small-leaf shrubs add privacy to your landscape. The Siberean peashrub (Caragana arborescens) has 3-inch-long bright green leaves comprised of tiny .5 to 1-inch-long leaflets. This shrub reaches 20 feet tall and is hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8, where it grows well in sunny sites with dry soil. Another heat- and drought-tolerant shrub, the pearlbush (Exochorda racemosa) has serrated 1- to 3-inch-long leaves. This deciduous shrub grows to 15 feet tall and blooms in spring with white flowers. The pearlbush is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8.