When it comes to shrubs, gardeners today have so many great choices with new shrubs appearing every year, thanks to plant breeders and purveyors.
What I like along with the diversity of choices is that so many new shrub cultivars (cultivated varieties) are smaller or more compact, making them easier to fit into today's smaller yards and landscapes. Here are just of a few of the new smaller shrubs already here or coming to us soon. Ask about them at your local nursery.
One new little cutie is Mr. Bowling Ball (Thuja occidentalis 'Bobazam'), a globe arborvitae that doesn't look like an arborvitae. It grows into a nice little ball of a shrub that reaches 2.5 feet tall and wide. The foliage looks more like a fine-needled juniper in appearance and texture. Like a juniper, it's sage green in color and doesn't need any pruning to keep it in round and small, plus it's winter hardy.
Anyone who has an original cultivar of dwarf Alberta spruce probably wonders why it's called a dwarf. It's a slow grower, but it eventually will reach a height 6 to 8 feet and a width of 4 to 5 feet. However, the regular Alberta spruce can reach a height of 40 to 60 feet, definitely qualifying the regular dwarf Alberta as a dwarf. New to the market is a more diminutive dwarf Alberta called Tiny Tower (Picea glauca conica 'MonRon'), which reaches a height of only 4 to 6 feet. Like its relatives, it's very hardy and has needles that emerge a bright green and turn gray green as they mature.
Forsythia is one of the wonderful harbingers of spring. Its cheery bright yellow flowers shout that spring is on its way, but not everyone likes to include them in their landscape. That's because they have a tendency to become rangy and unkempt. The perfect solution is Show Off Sugar Baby (Forsythia x intermedia 'Nimbus'), a very small forsythia that reaches a height of only 30 inches and a width of 36 inches. This cultivar produces oodles of flowers and stays small without pruning.
Lo & Behold Lilac Chip (Buddleia x 'Lilac Chip') is a dwarf buddleia (butterfly bush) that stays small, growing only 18 to 24 inches tall and 24 to 30 inches wide. At this small size, they easily fit in the perennial garden or a landscape bed. The soft lavender pink flowers are produced all summer up to frost with no need to deadhead to keep the flowers coming. There is no worry that Lilac Chip will become invasive like most of the old types of cultivated butterfly bush (on the noxious weed lists in many states) because it's sterile and can't reproduce from seed.
One of my favorite flowering shrubs is Caryopteris, also known as bluebeard. They produce true blue flowers in late summer that are magnets for honeybees. One of the newest Caryopteris is Lil Miss Sunshine (Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Janice'). This new Caryopteris has yellow leaves from spring through fall and deep amethyst blue flowers in late summer. What a contrast! It grows to a height and width of 30 to 36 inches, making it a great fit for smaller landscapes and garden beds.
-- Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.