Less is good

October 19, 2013

Dudley Wooten

Outdoors Columnist

We normally are lead to believe that bigger is better, but as we previously stated in a tree article – the dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties fit more spaces, need less pruning, and don’t outgrow their welcome. The same can be said for today’s shrub market.

The horticulture industry has now developed a whole multitude of compact cultivars. While many are smaller versions of old favorites, many are totally new and different. Do you remember when the back seat was big enough for two? Well, that was when azalea, burning bush, lilac, juniper, and yews ruled, because they were big and had their way. Now the norm is that they’re all planted in a dwarf version, making room for others, also. Now you have space for that shrub you always wanted, because it requires much less space. Now you need not dread excessive pruning if it only gets half size. Yes, you can severely cut back the larger varieties to try to make them fit, but isn’t that a lose/lose situation? All that pruning and pick up is time consuming, and do you really like the “Bad Barber” look? Let’s look at some modern wiser choices:


• Dwarf Lilac – This is s huge improvement on the common (12 foot) lilac. It is going to be maxed out at 6 foot, but easily maintained at 3 foot. Now, you can have the lilac color and fragrance close to your entrance, window, or patio, where you can enjoy it. Dwarf lilacs are found in lilac, purple, pink, and white bloom, and in a cut leaf variety.

• False Spirea – It grows in zones 2 -8, and is very hardy here. It has a white flower and stands 2 – 3 feet. The real beauty of the plant is its fernlike foliage that opens up pink to red in spring, turns green in summer, and then displays orange/red in fall.

• Dwarf Roses – The knock out series of roses are a big improvement on the old hybrid tea varieties. They have a fuller shrub shape and bloom, as well as a longer bloom period, but they still get some size, need considerable pruning and don’t fit a lot of places. The Oso Easy series rose is making a lot of noise now in the compact rose world. They are profuse bloomers, bicolor, and Japanese beetles don’t like them. Try “Paprika” or “Cherry Pie.”

• Dwarf Forsythia – It has the gold bloom, is only 2 feet high, but will get 5 feet wide. It’s called “Gold Tide” and is best used on a hillside.

• Dwarf Sweetspire – “Little Henry” is a very interesting little 2 – 3 feet shrub with red fall color and a unique little white “Bottle Brush” bloom.

• Compact Burning Bush – This is a duplicate of the old variety, except 3 feet and very controllable.

• Lo and Behold Butterfly Bush – blue, pink, lilac, purple, OR white blooms on a 2-3 ft. butterfly magnet Less is good and fits more places.

In the evergreen shrub world, the thought is smaller, evergold, everblue, and/or evergreen. It’s certainly easier to maintain a compact or dwarf evergreen with minimal pruning, and they last longer. The names azalea, boxwood, holly, juniper, rhododendron, and yew all come in smaller varieties today.

When we’re talking compact varieties, we’re touching on many things, but it’s really about “space available.” This can be handled on a replacement basis, one shrub at a time, or better yet, the concept for a total make-over. When you stick one dwarf plant in between larger over- grown plants, it’s an obvious mismatch, while if you replace them all, they can mature together. This is a better look and a better plan.

Dudley Wooten can be reached at 740-820-8210 or by visiting wootenslandscaping.com