Dwarf Plants Give Giant Impact to Landscaping

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated February 1, 2022
lush backyard with shrubs and mini trees
Photo: Arunee / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Dwarf plants offer a variety of textures and colors to your landscape.

  • These plants often require little care, so you can stop spending hours pruning shrubs.

  • Smaller trees and shrubs can round out your landscape, making it look fuller and more complete.

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Your yard looks a little sparse, but hauling in maple trees or sprawling forsythia shrubs is too much work. You could fill the gardens along the side of the house with flowers, but that will take up hours of your time planting, watering, and weeding. Instead, consider dwarf plants for landscaping. These smaller plants can cover a lot of ground, yet they require minimal maintenance.

What are Dwarf Plants for Landscaping?

Dwarf plants are plants that are abnormally smaller than the typical average size of their species, either by poor growing conditions or by human intervention. For example, humans can create smaller tree varieties by grafting, or plants may have stunted growth due to poor soil, light, or moisture conditions.

You can determine dwarf plants by their growth rate. Dwarf plants may grow to half the average size of their species or less. You can also define dwarf plants as plants that grow less than 6 inches per year or grow only 1 to 6 feet over 10 to 15 years.

Types of Dwarf Shrubs, Trees, and Evergreens

backyard with shrubs and dwarf plants
Photo: Christine Bird / Adobe Stock

Aside from requiring little care, dwarf plants are popular with home gardeners because they come in such a wide variety of styles, colors, and textures. You can find dwarf shrubs to plant around your home, dwarf fruit trees to place near your tomato garden, or dwarf evergreens that bring greenery to your yard year-round. Here are some of the most popular types of dwarf plants.

Dwarf Conifers

These ornamental trees remain green year-round and release their seeds in cones. Most dwarf conifers grow up to 3 feet tall and prefer partial shade to full sun. Most species will work best for hardiness zones 3 through 8. Popular types of dwarf conifers include juniper shrubs, pine trees, cypress trees, spruce trees, arborvitae, and yew.

Dwarf Broadleaf Evergreens

Like many conifers, dwarf broadleaf evergreens provide visual appeal, no matter the time of year, because they hold their leaves even in the colder months. These shrubs fare well in cold climates. Some, like the Gumpo Pink Azalea or Gumpo White Azalea, grow low to the ground and even flower during warmer times of the year, while varieties like the dwarf English laurel can grow several feet tall when left unpruned. Other popular options include the Jensen Boxwood, Green Gem, and the Green Pillow compact.

Dwarf Deciduous Shrubs and Trees

Unlike conifers and broadleaf evergreen shrubs, dwarf deciduous plants shed their leaves in the winter. You can find smaller deciduous trees, shrubs, and even flowering bushes in this category that will light up your yard with color and fragrance in the spring. Purple Gem Rhododendron is a popular choice to add bursts of purple flowers to your landscape, while the Bagatelle Barberry has deep red foliage to stand out alongside other green shrubs. Dwarf Weigelas also offer a lot of visual interest in a compact space.

Dwarf Fruit Trees

There’s not much better than being able to grab a lemon or orange from a tree in the backyard and enjoy it fresh from the source. But fruit trees take up a lot of space, growing upward of 30 feet tall. Dwarf fruit trees are genetically modified to produce the same fruit but grow only 10 to 15 feet tall

They are also easy to care for, as they require less time to prune and harvest than larger fruit trees, and many are self-fertile, meaning they don’t need cross-pollination to bloom. 

No matter what fruits you enjoy most, you’re bound to find a smaller version of the original tree. Popular options include dwarf pomegranate, lemon, orange, peach, and apple trees. Best of all, you can enjoy the literal fruits of your (minimal) labor quickly, as dwarf fruit trees yield fruit one to three years faster than average fruit trees.

Benefits of Dwarf Plants in Landscaping

You can plant a tree or add flowers to a garden bed, but the yard can still feel bare. One major benefit to adding dwarf plants to your landscape is that they can fill out the space, adding more texture, color, and varying heights. Integrating dwarf plants into your landscape will make your yard look magazine-worthy and improve your home’s value.

Dwarf plants are also hardy. Many of these trees and shrubs can survive harsh winters. So long as you plant them in the right hardiness zone and pay attention to their light needs, you won’t spend much time watering or pruning these trees and shrubs.

Like most plants, dwarf trees and shrubs will attract pollinators, which will help boost the health of all the plants and crops in your yard. There’s even the popular Dwarf Butterfly Bush, which will invite butterflies to your yard in the summer.

Care and Maintenance for Dwarf Plants

Dwarf plants grow slowly, so you don’t have to worry about pruning them very often. For average shrubs, you need to prune them about every two months. With dwarf shrubs, you can prune them just before winter and just before spring or twice per year. Some dwarf plants may never require pruning.

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