A plant doesn’t need to be massive to pack a lot of punch. In fact, some of the smaller varieties of popular landscape picks have become standouts in today’s gardens. Whether they’re intended for use in containers on a patio or sited in a rock or crevice garden, miniature and dwarf conifers lend an architectural sense of permanence, even in the smallest of spaces.
We’ve highlighted here six smaller plants among the many selections of colorful, rugged, small-statured conifers.
JUNIPERUS SQUAMATA ‘BLUE STAR’
This diminutive juniper is as versatile as it is hardy. Growing 1 to 3 feet tall and spreading to nearly 4 feet, it’s a lowgrowing and somewhat mounding shrub that provides pleasing color and interesting texture. Small, sharply pointed needles are silvery blue, and they appear in whorls that are reminiscent of tiny stars. The color is persistent yearround, making this small shrub a four-season highlight in the landscape and a particular standout in winter.
Growth rate is slow; the plant typically reaches only about 12 inches tall in five years.
‘Blue Star’ prefers full sun and medium watering, but requires very little maintenance. It experiences few serious disease and insect problems, but may suffer from root rot if planted in poorly drained soil.
HARDY IN ZONES 4 TO 8
PICEA GLAUCA CONICA ‘MONRON’
Similar to its cousin ‘Jean’s Dilly’, Tiny Tower® dwarf Alberta spruce is slow-growing and reaches only about 4 to 6 feet tall by 2 feet wide. It maintains an excellent pyramidal form and requires little shearing to maintain its habit.
Rich, bright green foliage matures to a more subtle but equally attractive gray-green. The dense branching helps to keep its shape, but it should be located where it can enjoy good air circulation. (It also tolerates pruning, and is suitable for use as a topiary specimen.)
Tiny Tower® can handle partial shade to full sun in a wide range of well-drained soils, and requires regular watering, especially in excessive heat or when it is planted in a container.
HARDY IN ZONES 3 TO 8.
JUNIPERUS HORIZONTALIS ‘WILTONII’
Often called blue rug juniper — the cultivar is synonymous with J. horizontalis ‘Blue Rug’ — this form of creeping juniper grows only to about 4 to 6 inches tall, forming a dense mat of silver-blue foliage. Its prostrate form can spread about 6 to 8 feet, making it an excellent and robust groundcover.
The stiff and sturdy foliage retains its color for three seasons, but in winter takes on pleasing purplish tones, offering a unique cold-season appearance.
‘Wiltonii’ performs best in full sun with medium moisture in a wide range of soils, and is tolerant of hot, dry conditions as well as poor soils. It does not like wet feet, however, and prefers dry and/or sandy soil.
Few disease or insect problems plague J. horizontalis, but may suffer some tip dieback in unusually wet springs.
HARDY IN ZONES 3 TO 9.
ABIES PINSAPO ‘GLAUCA PROSTRATA’
Dwarf blue Spanish fir (A. pinsapo ‘Glauca Prostrata’) offers tightly packed needles on horizontal branches, creating a slow-growing, low, slightly spreading form that reaches only about 3 feet tall and spreads up to 6 to 8 feet in 10 years. New needle grows emerges a soft, nearly chartreuse green but ages to a strong, steely blue.
‘Glauca Prostrata’ performs best in welldrained, rich, acidic soils in full sun, and requires deep watering during establishment. Once it’s mature, however, it can tolerate drier soil, but should be watered regularly.
The species experiences few disease or insect problems.
HARDY IN ZONES 6 TO 8.
Living examples in public gardens
Botanic gardens and arboreta around the country are a phenomenal source of inspiration for home gardeners, but they also serve as learning centers and research institutions for botanists, horticulturists, breeders, propagators, growers, landscape designers — you get the picture. Chances are the facility near you features a display dedicated to miniature or dwarf conifers, some in containers, most in natural settings. We’ve listed here just a few examples. Check out the offerings at the following:
PICEA PUNGENS ‘GLAUCA GLOBOSA’
The breathtaking steel blue of Colorado blue spruce is evident in this dwarf, globe-shaped shrub, and the color persists beautifully throughout the year. Similar in appearance to P. pungens ‘Montgomery’, this smaller, slowgrowing version reaches only about 3 to 5 feet tall with a somewhat flattened top, and spreads to 4 to 6 feet. It’s often produced as a grafted standard for use as a focal point.
Best sited in full sun, ‘Glauca Globosa’ requires medium moisture and is very low maintenance. It suffers few pest and disease problems, but new growth may be affected by spider mites.
HARDY IN ZONES 2 TO 7.
Put them in containers!
Conifers are not just for large scale landscape displays, as we know. Long gone are the days of the single, punctuation-point, dominating conifer standing proudly in the middle of the front yard — and camouflaging the house. The use of conifers has changed with consumer preferences as well as changing property sizes and demands. Add to that the ability to propagate and grow smaller versions of much-beloved behemoths. There’s a growing market out there. And part of that market includes conifers in containers.
Like many public gardens, The Missouri Botanical Garden features a display of smaller conifers, and it provides its visitors with a guide for planting them in containers. It’s a great source of info, but it also could serve your clients and customers, too.
PICEA GLAUCA ‘JEAN’S DILLY’
‘Jean’s Dilly’ white spruce is a slowgrowing version of P. glauca ‘Conica’, a dwarf Alberta spruce better known in landscapes and garden centers. Upright and narrow, it grows only about 2 to 4 inches per year, reaching 2 to 3 feet tall in 10 years, and eventually attaining a maximum height of about 5 feet. Its near-perfect narrow, conical habit needs no shearing to maintain its shape.
Short needles are light green and feature an interesting twist at the end of the shoots, giving this diminutive plant a whimsical appearance.
This white spruce requires full sun and medium moisture, but otherwise needs very little maintenance once it’s established. Because of its dense foliage, however, it should be sited where it can enjoy air circulation. As it is relatively intolerant of high heat and humidity, it should not be planted south of Zone 6.
HARDY IN ZONES 3 TO 6.
Small, and smaller
The American Conifer Society has established standards for conifer sizes, categories that allow for some wiggle room, depending on site conditions and hardiness zones, microclimates and cultural practices. The ACS emphasizes that the categories indicate the approximate size a plant will reach by the 10-year mark, and that does not mean that a plant will simply stop growing once it’s a decade old. That’s why the rate of growth is important to consider, as well. For our purposes, we’ll focus on the designated “dwarf” and “miniature” categories. According to the ACS, the following specifications apply: