Modern Minis: Small Plants for Small Yards
Give your yard a modern miniature makeover. Good things come in small packages with these new varieties of dwarf and small plants.
Living Large With Small Plants
It’s hard to beat the spectacular flower shows of grandma’s forsythia, weigela and other old-fashioned shrubs. Fast-growing, long-living and tough as nails, they’re generally untroubled by insects, disease or even deer. There’s just one problem: They’re too big for today’s gardens! Most reach 8 to 10 feet tall and wide, making them fantastic solo specimens in a landscape or as a hedge but oversized for most small spaces or containers. Not all gardeners have huge expanses of backyard to work with. Thanks to the work of plant breeders, you can enjoy downsized versions—half-size or even smaller. These small plants provide a pint-size punch of color. Whether you want a border with extra oomph or a container with cheerful blossoms, these miniature plants have a big impact.
New varieties also offer longer bloom periods, reblooming or colored foliage that appeals from spring to fall. “A big part of my job is just keeping up on what those plant breeders are up to!” says Georgia Clay, a new plants manager for Monrovia. “We trial and evaluate thousands of varieties from all over the world and bring to market only the very best performers.” “We want to introduce plants that growers and gardeners ask for,” adds Natalie Carmolli, an advertising and public relations specialist for Proven Winners. “We work with independent breeders across the country and abroad, and with our in-house breeders to create plants. From breeding to introduction, the entire process can take up to 10 years.”
While ideal for small yards, these small plants can be useful in any garden. So give a nod to Grandma, thank the behind-the-scenes breeders and try a few new varieties. All of these options thrive in Zones 5 to 8 or 9.
Small Forsythia Plants
The sunny yellow flowers of forsythia light up the spring garden, but many varieties mature into 8-foot giants, making them too big for small yards. Instead, this tiny cultivar matures at 30 inches, with upright branches that flower from base to tip. No pruning is needed for the modern versions of this early spring bloomer. Gold Tide, Goldilocks, Happy Centennial, Show Off Starlet and Minigold (which has variegated leaves, too) are all about 3 feet tall. Show Off Sugar Baby, even smaller, “brings lots of bright spring color to a small space,” Natalie says. Wide-spreading, low Golden Peep can even be used as a ground cover. Be sure to pick one well suited to your region to get the best blooms.
Check out the prettiest yellow flowering shrubs for your yard.
Small Weigela Plants
Smaller sizes, colored foliage and bonus rounds of blooms make modern weigela cultivars winners. Smart gardeners know to select plants that offer multiseason interest. Light up a bed with Golden Jackpot. Add drama with the dark foliage of Spilled Wine or Dark Horse, each topping out at 2 to 3 feet tall. “New varieties like Crimson Kisses rebloom, making them favorite hummingbird stops in the garden,” Georgia says.
Hummingbirds will also love reblooming Pink Poppet or the slightly larger Sonic Bloom. My Monet, at 12 to 18 inches tall, has pink blooms in spring that attract hummingbirds; then, once the flowers fade, the cream, green and pink variegated foliage is showy until autumn.
Why we love it: These small plants needs no pruning to stay compact.
Small Hydrangea Plants
Gardeners want the bright, bold statement of hydrangeas “even if their garden happens to be a container,” Georgia says. At only 3 to 5 feet tall, Little Lime holds its trendy color for months before aging to pink; Fire Light Tidbit and Little Quick Fire offer warm red panicles. For a splash of snowy white, try cascading Fairytrail Bride. Award-winning compact Bobo is small in stature but big on blooms, which begin in midsummer and last up to 12 weeks. The dwarf plants grow to 3 feet and are smothered in large, creamy white flowers that mature to a blush pink. Fabulous new colors have hit the scene, too, including vivid Pink Elf French hydrangea and deep purple Color Fantasy.
Why we love it: Space-challenged gardeners can enjoy the reliable, long-lasting beauty of hydrangeas.
How to care for hydrangeas: 7 things you need to know.
Small Lilac Plants
The ability to rebloom is the big news about this old favorite. Enjoy the first spring bloom from Little Darling, Josee and the Bloomerang series—then watch for an encore in summer or fall, with new flowers until frost. At 4 or 5 feet tall and wide, they’re more compact than traditional lilacs, but the perfume is just as powerful.
We asked the experts: how and when to prune lilacs.
Small Deutzia Plants
Its name isn’t as familiar as forsythia, so “we try to make cultivar names that are easy to recall,” Natalie says. Look for white Chardonnay Pearls, with pearly buds and lemon-lime foliage, and pink Yuki Cherry Blossom, a breakthrough in deutzia color. Both are perfect for perennial beds thanks to their smaller size.
Check out more beautiful white flowering shrubs.
Small Mock Orange Plants
Heavenly scent has always been the reason to grow mock orange. Today’s versions are just as intoxicating in bloom but nearly half the size. Add a fountain of Dwarf Snowflake, Snow Dwarf or double-flowered Illuminati Arch, or try something totally different with narrow, vertical Illuminati Tower.
Don’t miss the top 10 summer flowering shrubs for full sun.
Small Smokebush Plants
Color, color, color—striking foliage is the wow factor in newer smokebush varieties, not necessarily a smaller size. Go dark with Winecraft Black, glow wine-red with Grace, or swing to the sunny side with Golden Spirit or Winecraft Gold. For extra-prolific airy plumes and blue-green foliage, try The Velvet Fog, which is also more compact. All are gorgeous in fall when leaves flame to orange and red.
We found the best fall shrubs to grow.
Small Rose of Sharon Plants
This late-summer bloomer’s show has been lengthened, and on shorter plants. Choose pure white, 9-foot-tall Diana or one of the 6-foot Chateau varieties, whose multiple stems are lined completely with pink, white or rosy purple blossoms from summer to fall.
Want your garden to be pretty in pink? Try these 10 shrubs with pink flowers.
Soft Serve false cypresses are valued for their elegant stature and swirls of soft, touchable foliage. Soft Serve can reach 6 to 10 feet but grows very slowly, which makes it ideal for containers and rock gardens. Other dwarf cultivars are Nana, Leprechaun, Gnome and Hage.
Pixie dwarf Alberta spruce is a favorite among fairy gardeners who want the perfect tree for their Lilliputian landscapes. It has a natural conical shape—no pruning needed—and it grows 1 to 2 inches per year.
Why we love it: These dwarf evergreens provide year-round interest to beds and borders.
At first glance, this variegated cultivar looks like a typical garden hosta, but Mighty Mouse grows to only 7 inches tall and 1 foot wide. It’s a sport (or mutation) of the popular miniature Blue Mouse Ears hosta, and it has blue-green leaves with soft gold edges that age to cream. In early summer, the mound will be topped with tiny lavender blooms that are attractive to hummingbirds and bees.
Why we love it: Miniature hostas are perfect for adding texture and interest to rock gardens, containers and troughs.
Check out the best golden plants to make your garden glow.
Small Butterfly Bush
Bees and butterflies love the long flower panicles of butterfly bush. Lilac Chip is a miniature masterpiece that grows to about 2 feet and forms a fragrant mound of lavender-pink blooms that continue until frost.
Why we love it: Lilac Chip is seedless, so it won’t self-sow and become invasive.
Small Flowering Perennials
Tiny monster is a diminutive perennial geranium that is as cute as a button! It has a low, spreading habit and grows just 8 inches tall. When the bright pink-magenta flowers emerge in late spring, they are held above the tight mass of deep green leaves. It makes an excellent low ground cover in sun or partial shade and can also be used as an edging plant or in containers. Older cultivars had a short bloom season and lots of leaf spot. Tiny monster is the longest-blooming dwarf geranium.
Chiquita dwarf coneflower is sure to turn heads! Growing just 1 foot high, the sturdy, well-branched plant pumps out large, soft yellow flowers from July through September. The 3½-inch blooms are fragrant and attract bees and butterflies. Coneflowers are naturally low-maintenance, drought-resistant perennials.
Next, learn how to attract hummingbirds to your small garden.