KENNEWICK, Wash. -- I like to keep track of what's popular and unpopular when it comes to garden trends.
Each year, garden style setters and marketers reveal the newest garden trends. One of the 2012 trends noted by Better Homes and Garden is the use of dwarf shrubs in today's smaller gardens and landscapes.
This has been made possible by plant breeders who have selected and bred more diminutive versions of yesteryear's large shrubs.
The passe shrubs were too big for today's smaller homes and yards. The new "mini-me" shrubs are much smaller and typically have a lot more to offer, such as longer bloom, prettier flowers, interesting leaf color or texture, compact growth, fall color or fruit. The following are just a few that I find exciting:
Thirty years ago, many area landscapes were planted with "dwarf" mugo pines. Unfortunately, dwarf is a relative term. If a plant species grows to a height of 15 to 20 feet in height like a mugo pine (Pinus mugo), a dwarf mugo pine (Pinus mugo var mugo) that grows 7 to 8 feet tall qualifies as a dwarf. However, most gardeners were probably thinking a "dwarf" would be much smaller.
Today, there are select cultivars of mugo pine that better fit a gardener's idea of dwarf. The Mops mugo pine grows to a height of 3 feet tall and wide and even smaller are Slowmound and Teeny that both reach a height and width of only 1 to 2 feet.
Forsythia is one of those shrubs that never went out of style because of its bright yellow early spring flowers, but it really was too big for most landscapes, making it a candidate for ugly hedge-type pruning. Today, smaller forsythia are much easier to use in landscapes and don't require much pruning. In my front landscape I have Gold Tide, a smaller forsythia that reaches a height of 3 feet and a width of 4 feet. Last month it was covered with cheery yellow flowers. What a treat! Even smaller is Show Off Sugar Baby, a petite forsythia that reaches a height of only 18 to 30 inches and is covered with flowers in the spring.
The flowering quince is another shrub that joyfully announces spring's arrival. Most older cultivars are on the large side, reaching heights of 4 to 6 feet, plus they have nasty thorns. I dislike thorny plants and refuse to plant them in my landscape. Proven Winners recently released three flowering quince as part of their Double Take Storm series. These twiggy quince grow to three to four feet tall and wide and are both thornless and fruitless. I have one of all three, Orange, Scarlet and Pink Storm. Their gorgeous intensely colored double flowers resemble a camellia.
One little new shrub I hope to add to my landscape this year is a sweet mockorange called Miniature Snowflake. Mockorange is a very old-fashioned shrub not found in most landscapes today because the older forms are large (12 inches by 12 inches) with leggy, unkempt growth. Their redeeming feature is the delightfully fragrant white flowers produced in early summer.
Miniature Snowflake mockorange is a compact, somewhat rounded shrub that grows 2-3 feet tall and wide. While not remarkable the rest of the season, it produces sweetly scented pretty double white flowers in early summer. I plan to place it near my patio so I can enjoy its fragrance whenever I walk out the door.
Visit your favorite local nurseries to find these and other smaller shrubs that you can easily tuck into your landscape.
* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.