Smaller, Longer-blooming Shrubs Are Becoming More Popular [Opinion]

Robin Siktberg

If I hadn’t noticed before, it would’ve been hard to miss the trend toward dwarf shrubs as submissions came in for our perennial and shrub roundup. I’m glad to see it — while I love forsythia, spiraea and viburnums in all their giant glory, the larger sizes are not always practical. Novice gardeners are intimidated by the need to prune these larger shrubs in order to keep them within the bounds of the landscape bed, especially if they are near the house.

Breeders are working hard to produce newer, smaller versions of old favorites. Many are selected for longer bloom times or reblooming and offer foliage interest, as well.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the genus hydrangea.  
A particular favorite of mine at Spring Trials this year was Hydrangea ‘Bobo,’ by Proven Winners. At just three feet tall, this H. paniculata cultivar still has full-size flowers, giving maximum floral impact on a smaller plant.

A new introduction from Monrovia Nurseries is Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Enchantress,’ which features dark ruby-red stems that add landscape interest all winter. Hydrangea ‘Sweet ‘N Salsa’ (HGTV) not only offers bicolor flowers, but new growth is also bronze red, adding interest before the plant blooms.

Oakleaf hydrangea is an excellent plant with four-season interest, but its 10-foot height can limit its use. The U.S. National Arboretum has addressed this, bringing ‘Ruby Slippers’ (3½ feet) and ‘Munchkin’ (3 feet) to market. Besides the compact size, the white flowers quickly turn pink and hold their color all season.

What’s old is truly new again. Sentimental favorites from Grandma’s garden are reappearing in patio plantings and in containers. From roses to weigela, to spiraea to buddleia, many of these shrubs are small enough to be used like large perennials in the landscape. And in mild climates, they can be promoted as an economic and long-term solution in container plantings because they will survive from year to year.

Consumers can plant the diminutive Forsythia  ‘Show Off Sugar Baby’ (just 18 to 30 inches tall) for early spring yellow flowers instead of daffodils. Or they might choose a dwarf buddleia such as those in the Lo & Behold series (just 26 inches tall) for late-season color instead of, or along with, chrysanthemums.

With the proper positioning and with the housing market coming back, this class of smaller shrubs is poised for growth and is sure to be popular with new homebuyers, whether they have a yard or just a deck. GG

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