5 Outstanding Shrubs for Small Spaces


Planning A Small Garden: Shrubs You Will Love

What makes a shrub qualify as “best small shrub” for your garden? Compact dimensions, for sure, but to add that “certain something”, exciting bloom or all season interest certainly factors into the equation. For those who like to shape their shrubs, look for those which respond well to hedging or pruning. Bushes which provide features such as berries or make good barriers may be desired. Decide on these features as well as taking noter of growing conditions ( sun, moisture, drainage, etc) to help pick the perfect plant for the spot.

The following five types of bushes are woody plants that I would choose  for a small garden.


Mugo pines

‘Slowmound’ Mugo

I have grown Mugo pines in my foundation plantings at two homes over a course of several decades. In that time, noted their use in plantings over the years, and one obvious characteristic is the wide range of sizes that a mature Mugo can manifest. Planting a named cultivar is one of the best ways to ensure the proper ultimate size for your shrub.

‘Slowmound’ is quite slow growing and will reach 3 feet tall at maturity.

Dwarf pines will spread out and it is imperative to prune by snipping the “candles”, (do not cut back older growth), to maintain shape.


Grows well in part sun to full sun, with loamy ,well drained soil. Average water needs, with occasional evergreen fertilizer feeding.

Dwarf Mugo Pine



Dwarf Pyracantha
Pyracanthas are showy plants in all seasons, if you don’t mind their spiny nature. Bright orange or red berries in fall and winter, creamy white bloom in spring, and lustrous deep green foliage during the summer season.

The plants grow quite large unless you choose one of the dwarf cultivars that are more restrained in size. Try the two suggested here.

‘Red Elf’

Quickly grow to just 2 ft. tall and wide. Likes full sun, average soil fertility and good drainage. Has average moisture needs, but more in times of drought. Less hardy: USDA Hardiness Zone: 7 – 9.

Glossy leaves of a rich green with bright red hued berries. Good as a small hedge or planted in containers.



Larger plant, 2 to 3  feet tall and about 10 feet wide at maturity. This variety has orange berries and makes a useful groundcover. Growing conditions are similar to other pyracanthas, with a hardiness zone of  6 – 9.

Red Cushion Firethorn

peegee hydrangea



Flowering Hydrangeas are one of my favorites in the garden because they are easy to care for and their flowers are outrageously showy. Like most shrubs they can get larger than anticipated. But there are smaller choices available, which should be considered.


This is a “peegee hydrangea” which is covered in off white flowers. It grows to just 3 feet tall and is exceptionally hardy: zones 3-9. Besides growing it in a small garden, consider this for containers for an outstanding display.

‘Tiny Tuff Stuff’

Another fine hydrangea, this time of the Hydrangea serrata type. Hardy from zones 5-9, it requires plenty of water, but will grow in partial shade as well as more sunny spots.

I find the flower type to be extremely attractive, in the lacecap form. They are lavender pink to blue, depending on the acidity of the soil. The height? A mere 18 – 24 Inches, and as wide.Works as a focal point in containers.

Cityline Paris Hydrangea

Small and compact Cityline Hydrangeas grow well in containers and landscapes

Hydrangea Pia Mina
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc. is another possibility with pink flowers. Dwarf moptop (macrophylla) type.



Cotoneasters are welcome plants in the garden for many reasons. They have flowers in the spring, good looking foliage, and provide nutrition for birdlife. Their structure is also attractive sometimes providing ground cover, sometimes as graceful mounds. I don’t think they’re used nearly enough in landscapes.

‘Tom Thumb’ Cotoneaster

Cotoneaster apiculatus ‘Tom Thumb’ is one of my all time favorite shrubs. It has diminutive foliage and little red berries, and stays low with graceful, tightly branched, arching form. It is hardy, but its one drawback is that it may suffer a little dieback in extremely cold winters.

I simply prune out those branches and the plant bounces back that season.
USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 – 7, it is likes full sun. Moderate moisture in a well drained soil, it grows to 1 to 2 feet tall, spreading 5 ft. wide. Mine is more compact than that, with a slow spread to about three feet. It grows to size slowly after taking a year or so to settle in.

All my cotoneasters will root by layering, so I think that it is easy to propagate.

This is a very worthwhile addition to any garden.


Spireas are old fashioned shrubs that were beloved for their attractive spring flowers and, given my experience- their tough, low maintenance character. They can be trimmed, take less than ideal conditions, and they are hardy.

Goldflame Spirea

Spiraea x bumalda is hardy in Zones 4 to 8. It has golden foliage that is bright yellow gold tinged with red in early spring, and more of a greeny-yellow during summer. Good fall color makes it a three season performer. The overall look is light and delicate.
Full sun situation is best, but I grow it in part sun. If you want something more compact: try ‘Magic Carpet’, Spiraea japonica ‘Walbuma’ .

Little Princess Spirea

Its color is decidedly muted, so you might overlook it at first, but ‘Little Princess’ stays very compact, is tolerant of neglect and poor conditions, and you can start new plants in your garden through layering or softwood cuttings.
‘Little Princess’ Spirea japonica is hardy and I find it very useful beside the walk. I prune it to make it thriftier, and to trim away spent flowers, but it doesn’t need it for size.

Did you enjoy learning about these dwarf size bushes for your smaller garden? They are useful for spaces where you need to confine the growth, like beside paths or near doorways. I like to visit an arboretum to see the way a mature plant will look in the landscape, so if you are in the planning stages, or simply would like to view shrubs growing in real life situations (photos can only give an idea -often distorted by idealistic presentation).

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author


I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.