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GardenSMART :: Dwarf Conifers Add Big Impact to the Garden

Dwarf Conifers Add Big Impact to the Garden

By Kate Karam for Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

As landscapes are getting smaller and gardeners have less time to care for them, these naturally smaller plants are taking a larger role. They look great year round, come in all kinds of shapes, forms, and colors, many are water-wise once established, and most thrive in extreme climates. However, the real reason we love them is the way they provide strong structure and play well with floriferous bounty during the growing season, becoming stars in their own right during the winter. If you live in zones 4 – 8 you have the largest range of choices, but there’s something amazing for just about every zone!

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Feelin' Sunny® Deodar Cedar infuses the landscape with warm tones. A creeper, 5-12 ft. tall in natural form, spreading 6-8 ft. wide in 10 years, it’s ideal for rock gardens, nestled into landscape boulders, or as a groundcover on banks and slopes. Ideal for softening the hard edges of raised planters and retaining walls.

Dwarf conifers can serve as versatile plants regardless of how much space you have. Selecting and designing with these plants is all about intent. Do you want a “collection” of conifers, each one an architecturally fascinating creature—weepers, twisted growers, bonsai-like specimens—that you site in a place of honor as a statement (or curiosity!), or are you looking to add texture to mixed plantings? Keep in mind how conifers combine with their surroundings, and you’ll be off to a great start.

Five key ways to use them are as anchors of ever-changing planting vignettes, as vertical elements in a design, in large containers, as groundcovers, and in clusters with other dwarf conifers. Here are a few of our favorite dwarf conifers.

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Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce

Prized for its bright-blue foliage that holds its color all winter, this globe-shaped, densely branched beauty is a slow grower eventually reaching up 5 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide. Use it as a striking specimen in the landscape, or prune its lower branches to train as a standard for use in containers. Zone: 2 – 8

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Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper

When you need a water-wise groundcover that does a fantastic job of knitting soil on slopes, adds a rich texture at the front of a shrub border, works in small city gardens, and thrives in climates from coastal to mountain, this one’s the gold-standard. Bonus? Winter color has a purple tint.  Reaches up to 1 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide. Zone: 4 – 9

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Dwarf Serbian Spruce 

Here’s a dwarf conifer to use when you want to add height to a space. Beautiful as a specimen in mixed evergreen and conifer plantings. Plant in mass as an easy-care foundation planting, hedge or border. Can be trained as a patio tree form; the compact globe atop a three-foot trunk makes a handsome focal point among lower growing plantings. Slow, reaches up to 8 ft. tall and wide in 10 years. Zone: 4 – 7

Caring for Conifers

Dwarf conifers come in an amazing array of exciting colors, snazzy shapes and diverse textures. And they’re pretty easy-going, too.

  • Prefer slightly acidic soil. Pays to do a simple soil test, adding amendments such as peat or acid-planting mix as needed.
  • Most are not fussy about soil but generally they do not like wet soil; provide good drainage.
  • Conifers have varying degrees of tolerance for salt and wind; if you need advice, please consult your local garden center for guidance.
  • Fall is the best time to plant; be sure to WATER WELL after planting even in fall, especially where drought is an issue.
  • Not heavy feeders, conifers prefer an annual meal of peat, compost, or well-aged manure.
  • Prune only as needed to remove broken branches or to shape.

Find many more remarkable dwarf conifers for solving problems and creating long-lasting beauty at While you’re there, be sure to sign up for our award-winning monthly newsletter, Plant Savvy.


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Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers

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