5 Great Dwarf Conifers for Your Landscape

6 years ago

Conifers are perfect staples for the landscape. They serve as anchors and/or focal points for various areas in the landscape. They also lend structure plus offer year-round color. You may not, however, want something that grows to be a massive tree or shrub, especially if you have a small yard. You can, though, choose dwarf forms. Many of these so-called dwarf conifers, however, are not strictly speaking dwarves. They are instead slow-growing conifers, which means that it may be thirty years or more before their size becomes an issue.

Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa)

Many members of the genus Chamaecyparis can grow to be quite large — up to 60 feet. Even the Hinoki false cypress can eventually reach 50 feet; however, there are cultivars of this variety that are even slower growing. Look for ‘Minima,’ with its dark green foliage. You might also like ‘Nana Aurea,’ which has outer foliage that is tinged a golden color. ‘Nana Gracilis’ has dark green foliage and a pyramidal shape up to 10 feet. Hinoki false cypress generally offers unique forms and texture to the landscapes in Zones 5-8. Plant in an area where they can get full sun in the morning and have shade in the afternoon. They prefer humus-rich, well-drained soil. This conifer also does well in humid areas.

Mugo pine (Pinus mugo)

Usually this compact pine is cut back hard to make it look more dense. It can actually grow 2-4 inches per year until it is 10-15 feet tall and just as wide. There are actual dwarf varieties, however, which only grow to be 2-6 feet tall. Look for ‘Corley’s Mat,’ ‘Sherwood Compact,’ and ‘Slowmound.’ This is an extremely hardy evergreen in Zones 2-7 and will tolerate most conditions.

Norway spruce (Picea abies)

The Norway spruce, with its dark-green foliage and pyramidal shape, has been a popular choice for large landscapes. In recent years, however, dwarf versions have been introduced and are relatively easy to find at most greenhouses. Look for ‘Clanbrassiliana,’ ‘Echiniformsis,’ ‘Little Gem,’ and ‘Perry’s Gold.” Prefers full sun. Hardy in Zones 3-7.

Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)

This is probably one of the most popular evergreens for a groundcover. Mature plants have feathery-like foliage that grows only 1-2 feet tall but spreads 4-8 feet along the ground. Look for ‘Icee Blue’ that has blue-green foliage and ‘Mother Lode’ that has golden-colored foliage in the summer. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

Sawara cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera)

Usually this particular cypress is not normally grown in smaller landscapes, because it can reach 150 feet in height. There are, however, much smaller cultivars, which are quite popular. One of my favorites is ‘Golden Mop,’ which has bright, golden-yellow foliage throughout the year and which grows slowly into a mound that is only about 3 feet tall. Other people prefer the ‘Filifer’ cultivars, such as ‘Filifera Aurea Nana,’ which is also slow-growing but is a bit taller at 5 feet. Hardy in Zones 4-8.

If you are interested in other ways to add color to your garden, see: Bring Color to the Winter Landscape with 5 Trees with Ornamental Bark.



Blume, James D. New Garden Book. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Corporation, 1990.

Roth, Susan. New Complete Guide to Gardening. Des Moines, IA: Meredith Books, 1997.