Shrubs and Perennials for Small Spaces

With shrinking suburban and urban properties, it can be hard to find space to garden as well as space for family activities. Many shrubs and perennials quickly outgrow their allotted room, requiring regular pruning to control size.

A traditional forsythia shrub, for example, grows up to ten feet tall and wide with a spreading, arching growth habit that can be hard to keep in check. These popular shrubs may light up the spring garden but trying to fit them in a small backyard leaves little space for anything else.

Plant breeders recognize this challenge and have been working hard to create compact shrubs and perennials for our reduced landscapes. Take ‘Show Off Sugar Baby’ forsythia, for example. It has the same brilliant yellow flowers of larger forsythia, but it grows just two-feet tall and wide. It’s perfect for small space gardens and landscapes.

There are other benefits to choosing small trees and shrubs. The biggest advantage is that most require little to no annual pruning. You may need to clip off a dead or damaged branch from time to time, but you won't need to prune them to keep them small. And, you can fit more types of plants into your garden which boosts biodiversity and supports a greater range of wildlife, beneficial insects, and pollinators.

Here are five compact shrubs and perennials perfect for small space gardens:

‘Lilliput’ Coneflower

Coneflowers are reliable perennials with showy flowers that are adored by pollinators. The plants are also drought, disease, and insect resistant. The purple coneflower is a classic garden perennial but it can grow quite large and take up a lot of garden space. Instead, plant ‘Lilliput’, a recently introduced dwarf cultivar that grows just eighteen inches tall. It produces medium-sized, purple-pink flowers from mid-summer to mid-autumn.

'Little Lime’ Peegee Hydragea

This compact version of the popular ‘Limelight’ peegee hydrangea is perfect for adding late summer and autumn interest to the garden. It grows just four feet tall and like its larger relative produces a heavy flush of huge lime green flowers that mature to a rich pink. The flowers persist on the plant for months, not weeks for an extended period of bloom. It’s hardy to zone 3 and grows best in full sun to part shade.

‘My Monet’ Weigela

Weigelas are beautiful shrubs with pretty tubular flowers adored by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, but like forsythias many cultivars grow quite large. However, even gardeners with very little space can now enjoy this hardy shrub when they plant ‘My Monet’. This ultra compact weigela grows just 12 to 18 inches tall and offers multiple layers of interest including variegated green-cream-pink foliage as well as pretty pink flowers.

‘Little Goblin Red’ Winterberry Holly

Winterberry is a species of deciduous holly native to Canada. In the wild, the plants grow five to fifteen feet tall, depending on the soil and sun conditions. ‘Little Goblin Red’ is a dwarf winterberry that produces masses of large bright red berries in autumn. The berries can be gathered for autumn displays or left in the garden for the birds. Note that winterberry holly plants are male or female. The female plants produce the berries but for that to happen, you also need to plant a male plant.

‘Little Joe’ Joe Pye Weed

A popular native plant, Joe Pye Weed is a late bloomer, providing nectar and pollen to bees and butterflies in the September garden. And while beautiful, it is also extremely tall, growing up to eight feet. For those who garden where space is an issue, ‘Little Joe’ is the plant for you. This compact perennial still produces the large burgundy-pink dome-shaped flowers of taller Joe Pye Weed but on plants that grow just three-feet tall.