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Dwarf Plants for Small Spaces

Dwarf plants are a great solution for problematic small spaces.

Big is not necessarily better for small outdoor spaces. From shrubs to annuals, dwarf plants are becoming more popular, proving that good things do come in small packages. Here are some solutions for the dilemma of size versus practicality.

Dwarf varieties can be fun to grow and experiment with in the garden. Dwarf California coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens 'Adpressa') grows only three feet tall and 15 feet wide, unlike its parent which can reach heights of 300 feet. Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum 'Nana') is another petite selection that produces showy flowers and colorful, inedible fruit. The plant grows just two feet tall and as wide, while its parent typically reaches 15 feet.

Dwarf conifers are a popular choice for their varying colors and textures. They're also very low maintenance, says Chris Aycock, nursery manager and owner of El Dorado Nursery and Garden in Shingle Springs, Calif. "Most of these dwarfs fit small yards much better than their typical full-sized parentage." For example, dwarf white pine reaches four feet tall and six feet wide at maturity, while a regular white pine ultimately grows to 60 feet tall or more.

Weeping Norway spruce has an interesting growth habit that makes it great for planting around waterfalls and especially large boulders. "It grows along the ground," says Aycock. "If you wish to get height out of it, simply tie it up to a stake and it'll weep down."

There are also many varieties of miniature flowers. Zinnias usually reach about two feet, but there are dwarf selections that won't exceed eight inches tall. There are also black-eyed Susans that measure up at half the size of its usual 18- to 30-inch height. Even the towering sunflower has smaller versions.

For backyards with limited space, consider planting containers that feature dwarf plants with interesting colors and textures. Containers are good for small areas where there isn't room to dig in the ground. The advantage here is that many dwarfs can stay in pots indefinitely and grow to just a few feet tall and wide.

First, select a container that has plenty of drainage holes. Fill with a soil mix that retains some moisture but also drains so water doesn't sit at the roots. Then start planting. Your only limit is your imagination. Among the plants Aycock uses in his container are dwarf heather, princess flower, dwarf pittosporum, jasmine, 'Amethyst Mist' coral bells and 'Teddy' arborvitae.

Keep in mind that the term "dwarf" is relative and doesn't necessarily refer to miniature plants. Make sure to check the maximum height and width of dwarf plants before purchasing them so you know exactly what you're committing to.

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