Small plants give landscapers design options aplenty

Updated May 7, 2024
Ball Ornamentals’ sturdy Hot Pak French Marigold (Tagetes patula) is bred for hot climates. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.Ball Ornamentals’ sturdy Hot Pak French Marigold (Tagetes patula) is bred for hot climates. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.

Sometimes good things do come in small packages – beautiful things, too. Every year, plant breeders develop new varieties with improved pest, disease and drought resistance. Many of these introductions are dwarf, or compact, varieties of their bigger brothers and sisters. The advantage: smaller plants don’t overwhelm a foundation or overshadow other plantings, and they play equally well in landscapes and containers. Even vines can serve the purpose, growing upward to provide texture, color and interest in a tight space.

The trend for gardening in small spaces has remained strong in recent years.

“Dwarf varieties fit into today’s smaller yards and container gardens, which are increasingly popular,” says Nichols Staddon, director of new plant introductions at Monrovia Growers. “In addition, as people downsize or have less time for gardening, they want low-maintenance options. Compact varieties typically don’t require much pruning or deadheading.”

Try a few of these solid performers and distinct varieties when designing small spaces:

ANNUALS

Artist Purple Flossflower (Ageratum hybrid ‘Agmontis’ USPP 15301)

Artist Purple Flossflower. Photo: Proven Winners.Artist Purple Flossflower. Photo: Proven Winners.

Mounded fluffy purple flowers hug the ground all season long. Does not need deadheading like other ageratum varieties. Heat-tolerant. Attracts birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. Grows 8 to 12 inches tall, 6 to 10 inches wide.

Part sun to sun

Hardy to USDA zone 9
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Hot Pak French Marigold (Tagetes patula)

Hot Pak French Marigold. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.Hot Pak French Marigold. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.

The sturdy Hot Pak series keeps blooming even in high temperatures and high humidity. It was bred specifically for hot climates. Bright oranges and yellows offer reliable color until frost. Grows to 6 to 7 inches tall and wide.

Sun

Hardy to USDA zone 9
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Little Lucky Lantana (Lantana camara)

Little Lucky Lantana. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.Little Lucky Lantana. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.

Super hardy with long flowering period. Little Lucky series offer ultra-bright colors that pop in the landscape, including hot pink, lemon yellow, orange, red and peach. Good deer and rabbit resistance. Grows 10 to 13 inches tall and wide.

Sun

Hardy to USDA zone 9
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Serenita Angelonia/Summer snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia)

Serenita Angelonia. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.Serenita Angelonia. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.

The Serenita series has a smaller mounded habit than other summer snapdragons. Offers intense colors such as raspberry, lavender, blue and pink for a long season of color. Grows 12 to 14 inches tall and wide.

Sun

Hardy to USDA zone 9
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Sunbini Creeping Zinnia (Sanvitalia ‘Starbini Superbini’ PP: 17869)

Sunbini Creeping Zinnia. Photo: Proven Winners.Sunbini Creeping Zinnia. Photo: Proven Winners.

Tiny yellow flowers work well in hanging baskets, window boxes or landscapes. No deadheading necessary. Grows 6 to 10 inches tall, trails up to 20 inches.

Sun

Hardy to USDA zone 9

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VINES

Blueberry Ice Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea “Blueberry Ice”)

Blueberry Ice Bougainvillea. Photo: Monrovia.Blueberry Ice Bougainvillea. Photo: Monrovia.

This variety with variegated foliage boasts cascading, arching masses of lavender-blue flowers. Stunning in containers or in landscape beds. Works as an annual in northern climates. Grows 24 to 36 inches tall and 5 to 6 feet wide.

Sun

Hardy to USDA zone 10
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Pink Mink Clematis (Clematis ‘Krakowiak’ USPP 24374)

Pink Mink Clematis. Photo: Proven Winners.Pink Mink Clematis. Photo: Proven Winners.

This eye-catching variety boasts hot pink flowers with a darker pink stripe down each petal. Rebloomer with lots of flowers from early summer to fall.

Part sun to sun

Hardy to USDA zone 4
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Scentsation Honeysuckle (“Scentsation” Lonicera pericylmenum USPPAF)

Scentsation Honeysuckle. Photo: Proven Winners.Scentsation Honeysuckle. Photo: Proven Winners.

Hardy variety with very fragrant flowers. Long bloom time, mid-spring to mid-summer, followed by red berries. Beautiful along a fenceline. Non-invasive.

Full sun

Hardy to USDA zone 4
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Summer Shandy Hops (Humulus x “Sumner” USPP 24913)

Summer Shandy Hops. Photo: Proven Winners.Summer Shandy Hops. Photo: Proven Winners.

This interesting ornamental variety sports bright chartreuse foliage with unique flower buds (hops). Train up a wire or string. Fast-growing.

Part sun to sun

Hardy to USDA zone 5
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EVERGREENS

Brass Buckle Japanese Holly (Ilex crenata “ANNYS1” USPPAF)

Brass Buckle Japanese Holly. Photo: Proven Winners.Brass Buckle Japanese Holly. Photo: Proven Winners.

Features gold finely-textured foliage and mounded shape. Nice along walks or in container in milder temperatures. Grows 12 to 18 inches tall and wide.

Part sun to sun

Hardy to USDA zone 5
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Little Rascal Holly (Ilex x “Mondo” male PP 9999)

Little Rascal Holly. Photo: Doreen Wynja for Monrovia.Little Rascal Holly. Photo: Doreen Wynja for Monrovia.

Compact rounded shape requires almost no maintenance. Dense form. Deep purple winter color. Also performs in pots. Grows 24 inches tall and wide.

Part to full sun

Hardy to USDA zone 5
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Siena Sunset Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis “Anniek” PPAF)

Sienna Sunset Arborvitae. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.Sienna Sunset Arborvitae. Photo: Ball Ornamentals.

Perfectly shaped little sphere. Golden coloring that turns bronze in winter. Grows 12 to 24 inches tall, 24 to 30 inches wide.

Sun

Hardy to USDA zone 3
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Sunny Leaf Boxleaf Euonymus (Euonymus japonicus var. microphyllus “Moncliff”)

Sunny Leaf Boxleaf Euonymus. Photo: Monrovia.Sunny Leaf Boxleaf Euonymus. Photo: Monrovia.

Variegated foliage of dark green leaves with yellow borders offers contrast to other shades of green in the garden. Makes a nice hedge. Grows 24 inches tall and wide.

Part to full sun

Hardy to USDA zone 6
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SHRUBS

Blue Diddley Chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus “SMVACBD” USPPAF)

Blue Diddley Chastetree. Photo: Proven Winners.Blue Diddley Chastetree. Photo: Proven Winners.

This dwarf variety works well in perennial gardens and borders. Acts like a perennial in the north, a shrub in the south. Beautiful blue flowers adorn the plant mid-summer. Grows 36 to 72 inches tall and wide.

Sun

Hardy to USDA zone 5
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Golden Ruby Barberry (Berberis thunbergii “Goruzam” PP 16203)

Golden Ruby Barberry. Photo: Richard Shiell for Monrovia.Golden Ruby Barberry. Photo: Richard Shiell for Monrovia.

Hardy, dense, rounded shape with brilliant bright orange-red color. Looks great along walkways or in containers. Grows 24 inches tall and wide.

Sun

Hardy to USDA zone 4
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Little Quickfire Hardy Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata “SMHPLQF” USPPAF)

Little Quickfire Hardy Hydrangea. Photo: Proven Winners.Little Quickfire Hardy Hydrangea. Photo: Proven Winners.

Little sibling of popular Quick Fire hydrangea, this ultra-hardy early-blooming variety works well in containers, borders, foundation plantings or as a specimen. White flowers transform to pinkish-red through the season. Flower color not affected by soil pH. Grows 36 to 60 inches tall and wide.

Part sun to sun

Hardy to USDA zone 3
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Tiny Tuff Stuff Mountain Hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata “MAKD” USPP 24842)

Tiny Tuff Stuff Mountain Hydrangea. Photo: Proven Winners.Tiny Tuff Stuff Mountain Hydrangea. Photo: Proven Winners.

A hardy reblooming variety with delicate lacecap blue flowers (lavender-pink in more acidic soils). Prefers moist, well-drained soils. Grows 18 to 24 inches tall and wide.

Part sun to sun

Hardy to USDA zone 5
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Yuki Cherry Blossom Deutzia (Deutzia “NCDX2” USPPAF)

Yuki Cherry Blossom Deutzia. Photo: Proven Winners.Yuki Cherry Blossom Deutzia. Photo: Proven Winners.

A mounded, spreading shrub with delicate two-tone pink flowers that flutter in the breeze. Attracts hummingbirds. Attractive in mass plantings. Purple fall color. Grows 12 to 24 inches tall and wide.

Part sun to sun

Hardy to USDA zone 5
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