The Townhouse Garden

Small Shrubs for Small Spaces

By Susan Stager, Fairfax Master Gardener

Ilex glabra Shamrock

Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’

As we have been spending a lot of time indoors, we at least want to see out our windows! Many shrubs can reach 6 to 8 feet high or more, blocking your windows. Here are native shrubs that stay under 5 feet in height, to fit under your windows.

The ‘Shamrock’ variety of Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra) grows up to 4 feet. Inkberry hollies are a native evergreen replacement for boxwood, and they tolerate wet soil. You will need male and female plants to have berries. They can get leggy, showing their lower stems. These could be your evergreen foundation planting (to hide your home foundation and hang your holiday lights) and then plant perennials in front.

Aronia arbutifolia berries

Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliatissima’ berries

Red Chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliatissima,’ is a native alternative to burning bush , an Asian native which can be invasive here. It reaches 3 to 4 feet and blooms with white flowers in April. You will need full sun to part shade for this deciduous shrub. This variety produces more red in the leaves in fall and more of the bitter red chokeberries. If you have more shade, the berries will be more orange than red. It tends to sucker, meaning it spreads by pushing up new shoots from its roots underground, all around its base. This is a good thing if you are trying to fill in an area; otherwise, you need to prune the suckers off to keep it in check.

Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius

Ninebark – Physocarpus opulifolius

Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, is a deciduous native shrub that tolerates part shade. It flowers white and pink in May and June. In fall, you will have yellow leaves. It produces a peeling bark, revealing red underneath, which provides winter interest. The ‘Nanus’ variety grows 1 to 2 feet tall and can act as an infill plant.

Another shrub with winter bark interest is dwarf red twig dogwood. It is a dogwood that is a shrub, not a tree. Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’ needs sun and could also act as a foundation plant, because those striking red twigs will show up against the side of your home. It is 2 to 3 feet tall, and you will still need to prune it regularly, for good air circulation and shape. It prefers moist soil. In late spring you will get white flowers turning to white berries in the fall.

Clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia

‘Mount Airy’ Fothergilla has honey scented spring blooms and attractive fall color. You will need sun to part shade for this deciduous shrub, where it will grow 4 to 5 feet. It will tolerate shade but the soil needs to be acidic. This is another plant that produces suckers, which helps it spread. Prune these if you want to keep it small.

Clethra alnifolia, Summersweet, produces gold to yellow foliage, even in shade. This native attracts pollinators with very fragrant white flowers in June and July. The ‘Sixteen Candles’ variety stays at 3 to 4 feet. It prefers consistently moist acidic sandy soils.

Dwarf Ninebark, Conservation Garden Park, West Jordan, Utah
Aronias: Native Shrubs for Fall Color, Cathy Caldwell, Piedmont Master Gardeners, Albemarle
   County, VA
Selecting Plants for Virginia Landscapes: Showy Flowering Shrubs, Alex X Niemiera, Virginia
   Cooperative Extension
Problem free shrubs for Virginia landscapes, Mary Ann Hansen, Alex Niemiera and Eric Day, Virginia
   Cooperative Extension
Native Shrubs for the Washington, DC Area, Brenda Skarphol, Green Spring Gardens, Fairfax County, VA
Managing Landscape Pests through Better Plant Selection, Charlotte Glen, North Carolina State