Compact shrubs and low-growing plants, such as creeping phlox, require little maintenance.

Plants & Shrubs That Stay Small

by Linsay Evans

Shrubs and plants that stay small require little or no pruning, making your gardening workload easier. As an added bonus, small-sized shrubs and plants allow more open play space in the yard for the kids to enjoy. When you're choosing small plants and shrubs for your landscape, select varieties that thrive in your planting spaces' soil type an pH, sunlight exposure and moisture level.

Evergreen Shrubs

Evergreen shrubs keep their foliage, providing color and texture year-round. When choosing small evergreens, look for varieties with names like "compact," "dwarf," "gem" or "nana." Choices include the dwarf European white pine (Pinus strobus "Nana") which grows in a rounded form to 5 feet tall and wide. This coniferous cultivar has soft, blue-silver-green needles and is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 to 9. Another 5-foot-tall evergreen, the bird's nest Norway spruce (Picea abies "Nidiformis") has dense gray-green foliage that forms a compact mound. Hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8, this shrub grows slowly and usually doesn't produce cones.

Deciduous Shrubs

Deciduous shrubs lose their leaves in winter, but many bloom with colorful flowers or have brilliant fall foliage. The blue mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis) grows to 3 feet tall and wide, blooming in late summer with blue blossoms that draw butterflies to your garden. This sun-loving, drought tolerant shrub comes in several low-growing cultivars, such as the yellow-leaved "Worchester Gold" and the "Grand Blue," which produces purple-blue flowers. Blue mist shrubs are hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9. Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) offers fragrant spring flowers and colorful fall foliage. This 5-foot-tall shrub grows in USDA Zones 5 to 8 and tolerates drought.

Ground Covers

Ground covers grow much wider than tall, covering bare spaces and preventing run-off and erosion. Low-maintenance choices that add color, texture and fragrance without requiring a lot of maintenance include bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), an evergreen that forms a dense mat of foliage and blooms with blue purple flowers from spring through early summer. It's hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9 and is a great choice for those shady, moist areas where not much else can thrive. Creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) blooms with spring flowers in a range of colors, from purple to white and pink. This 6-inch-tall plant spreads to 20 inches and thrives in full sun to partial shade.


Perennials come back year after year, adding bright color and foliage to the garden. Varieties that stay small include hostas (Hosta spp.), a versatile group of low-growing perennials with colorful foliage. Hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8, hostas grow in sunny or shaded sites and bloom in summer. Cultivars that reach heights less than 2 feet include "Gold Standard," with gold and dark green leaves; the blue-leafed 20-inch-tall "Halcyon;" and "Francee," a 21-inch-tall hosta with white-margined foliage. For sunny sites, plant the dwarf blue star (Amsonia montana "Short Stack"), a 12-inch-tall perennial that blooms with light blue flowers above deep green foliage in USDA zones 5 to 9.

About the Author

Based in the Southwest, Linsay Evans writes about a range of topics, from parenting to gardening, nutrition to fitness, marketing to travel. Evans holds a Master of Library and Information Science and a Master of Arts in anthropology.

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