Shrubs in small spaces in the Midwest

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Mark Weathington, director of the JC Raulston Botanical Garden at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, discussed several small shrub varieties that are very interested in compact packaging and the benefits of choosing the right size for a specific space:

“Don’t worry, even if space is limited, there are still many compact shrubs that can provide color, fun and excitement. Choosing the right size plants will ensure that you have no extra work to prevent them from overwhelming your neighbors. Treat each plant as a key part of the whole , If it doesn’t work, please move around or remove it completely without hesitation.”

In addition to choosing a shrub that you know will stay small and considering how it will adapt to your neighbors, it is also important to know whether a certain shrub grows well in your area.Find four small but powerful shrubs for the Midwest below, and find more compact shrubs in Mark’s article Compact shrubs that provide color, interest, and excitement.


Midwest factory selection

Other gardening information in the Midwest

Mark Withington article

See the best Compact shrubs in other regions

1.’Bixby’ Azalea

Bixby Azalea

Name: Rhododendron ‘Bixby’

area: 5–8 (flower buds are cold-resistant to –20°F)

size: 2 feet high and 3 feet wide

situation: Full sun to partial shade; rough, acidic, well-drained soil

Native range: Hybrids

If you find that evergreen rhododendrons in the Midwest are usually semi-evergreen, and the flowers bloom very lightly, then please be prepared to be scared by Bixby. In May, this truly hardy evergreen rhododendron is covered with shocking scarlet flowers with fashionable frills; there is no need to crash. The leaves can be retained for two years, and there is an additional benefit, that is, from autumn to winter, the mahogany will turn purple and black. At least 5 hours of direct sunlight and afternoon shade are ideal for this beauty. It has a moderate growth rate and looks great when planted in large quantities.

2.’Barnes’ Oriental Spruce

Barnes Oriental Spruce

Name: Oriental spruce ‘Barnes’

area: 4–7

size: 3 feet high and 3 to 6 feet wide

situation: Full sun to partial shade; performs best in well-drained loams, but can tolerate barren or rocky soils

Native range: Southwest Europe and Asia

‘Barnes’ is a dwarf spruce with short, shiny green needles that cling tightly to the branches and can stay for up to four years, giving it a lovely density. From above, this little stunner is almost always perfectly round because the branches radiate evenly from the center. The growth rate is expected to be very slow, with a flat top instead of the concave center typical of most “bird’s nest” conifers. Although “Barnes” can tolerate drought and dry summer heat, it is wise to place it outside the winter wind tunnel.

3.’Regent’ Saskatoon serviceberry

Regency Saskatoon Serviceberry
Photo: Jennifer Benner

Name: Toon ‘regent’

area: 2–7

size: 4 to 6 feet high and 4 to 7 feet wide

situation: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil; alkali-tolerant

Native range: Western North America

This is a dwarf shrub of edible landscape. ‘Regent’ has ¾ inch white flowers on the upright stems in front of the leaves. The sweet purple-black berries ripen in June, and if you can beat the birds, they will become a treat-yes, it is self-pollinating. It has beautiful jagged, medium-green leaves that glow golden yellow in autumn. With its sucking habits and extreme winter hardiness, this playboy’s container specimen can also be a perfect candidate for native gardens, woodland edges and other natural landscapes.

4.’Blue Shadow’ fothergilla

Blue Shadow Fothergilla
Photo: Steve Aitken

Name: Fothergira X Middle “Blue Shadow”

area: 5–8

size: 4 to 5 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide

situation: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Hybrids

This fascinating selection of partial shades provides colors for three seasons. ‘Blue Shadow’ welcomes spring with a bee-friendly white bottle brushing flowers and smells like honey. As the flowers bloomed, green medium-sized leaves appeared, and the pink-blue rainbow colors appeared later, covering the mature leaves. Then in sunny autumn locations, “Shades of Blue” will reward you with autumn colors of orange, gold, and red. Use it as a specimen in a small space, or plant it in large quantities on a larger bed. It requires minimal trimming (if any), and there are no dead ends.

Tony Fulmer is the chief gardening officer of Chalet, a professional nursery in Wilmette, Illinois.

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