Dwarf shrubs are not defined by their overall height, even though small shrubs fit well in areas with limited space. This type of shrub grows slowly, putting on only a couple of inches per year instead of feet per year. Many dwarf shrubs grow in low-light conditions, requiring little maintenance to keep the shrub the right size.
Small Evergreen Shrubs
Small evergreen shrubs keep their leaf color all through the winter. One low-light shrub is the “Harbour Dwarf” heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica “Harbour Dwarf”), which stays compact, slowly growing to 18 inches tall and spreading 30 inches wide in partial shade in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 11. The green leaves develop a bronze-red in fall and winter, which fades to a pink tint in spring when the white flowers appear. “Jasper” hebe (Hebe “Jasper”) produces glossy evergreen leaves on a low-mounding form reaching 8 inches tall and wide. The tips of the green leaves tint with purplish-red in the fall and winter in USDA zones 7 through 9 in partial shade exposure.
Ornamental Berry Bushes
Dwarf shrubs that produce showy berries tend to attract feeding birds to the yard and give the shrub extra color throughout the winter. One example is the Reeves skimmia (Skimmia reevesiana), which grows evergreen in USDA zones 7 through 9, forming a mound 24 inches tall and 36 inches wide. This slow-growing shrub needs wet soil to produce dark green lance-shaped thick leathery leaves, white spring flowers and crimson berries. Teenie Genie miniature brush cherry (Eugenia myrtifolia “Nanum”) grows best in USDA zones 9 through 11, forming an evergreen mound covered with tiny white flowers followed by ornamental berries. This extremely slow-growing shrub reaches 48 inches tall and wide when fully grown.
Showy Flowering Shrubs
Showy flowers make low-light conditions pop with color while the shrubs bloom. One dwarf shrub that flowers in partially shady locations is the “Kinpai” azalea (Azalea “Kinpai”), which mounds up 36 inches tall and wide in USDA zones 7 through 9. This evergreen bush produces multicolored spring blossoms. The reddish-orange flowers have a white center that glows in the shade. “Minuet” mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia “Minuet”) produces pink buds, which open to form white blossoms with dark red rings around the inside of the petals in the spring. This evergreen reaches 36 inches tall and wide in USDA zones 5 through 9 in part shade.
Variegated Foliage Bushes
Variegated foliage make dwarf shrubs stand out in low-light locations. The lighter contrasting color on the leaves produces a glowing look. Cream De Mint dwarf mock orange (Pittosporum tobira “Shima”) produces glossy mint green leaves with white edges in partial shade in USDA zones 8 through 11. This evergreen bush reaches 30 inches tall and wide with white blossoms appearing in the spring. My Monet weigela (Weigela florida “Verweig”), in USDA zones 4 through 6, grows as a deciduous shrub with green leaves and white edges. The leaves develop a pink tint, and trumpet-shaped pink flowers appear on the 24-inch-tall bush. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the yard.
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