Evergreen Gardens
Dwarf conifers, Arborvitae, and Flowering Evergreens

Evergreens are excellent, non-fussy plants that provide your gardens with year-round color, and give food and shelter to birds and wildlife. 

There are thousands of types of evergreen shrubs, trees and ornamentals, in every size and shape. Some varieties tolerate extreme heat and cold, so be sure to read the plant labels at your nursery to find one that's suited to your USDA hardiness zone. I recommend dwarfs in the small-space, urban or specialty-theme gardens. There are several evergreen ornamental grasses and flowering plants that can be grown together for a beautiful effect. Dwarfs have a "personality". Much less boring than that of their bigger relatives. 

I do not like a lot of plain green in my garden, so i shy away from many evergreens. I would never plant a privet or boxwood hedge. No sir. But if the plants have a nice shape and variegations, and stay that way all winter, I'll give them space in my gardens. The right combinations, along with flowering ornamental evergreens, is stunning.

Use dwarf conifers to dress up an existing planting of evergreens. Dwarf and intermediate conifers can add color, form, and texture to an otherwise monotonous row of tall conifers. Lovely when combined with flowering plants.

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. But the real reason to like them is the way they provide strong structure and play well with flowering plants during the growing season, and a garden focus during the winter. Conifers provide important shelter and food for birds and many small animals who live within them during the coldest months.

The types.....

Arborvitae - Members of The Cypress Family of Conifers

American arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) is a hardy, native evergreen with a narrow pyramid shape. Dwarfs and miniatures make great accent plants or foundation plantings. They go great with blooming evergreen shrubs. The height and slim shapes look stunning in an evergreen garden design, and as centerpieces or focal points in any theme garden design. Awesome in pots, too. The tree is dense, with a pyramid shape, and clusters of little cones. Dwarfs include Golden Globe, Hetz Midget and Tiny Tim.

Other names for arborvitae include northern white-cedar, eastern white-cedar, and swamp-cedar. Native Americans made baskets from the roots, and used the leaves in tea. The wood is used for log cabins, fenceposts, shingles, paneling, canoes, and wood crafting.


How to Plant Arborvitae

Plant in early spring when the soil can be worked, or in the fall before the ground freezes.
Choose a location in full sun or partial shade.
Amend the soil by digging in about 2 inches of compost or aged manure.

Dig the planting hole 2 to 3 times as wide and as deep as the root ball.

Loosen some of the roots in the root ball.

Plant the arborvitae in the hole so that the top edge of the root ball is level with the top of the hole.

Back-fill with soil around the root ball, tamping down with your hands. 

Soak the soil in the hole when you have filled it ½ full. 

Finish filling to the top edge of the root ball.

Water deeply.

Add a 2-inch layer of  mulch to conserve moisture.

How to Grow Arborvitae

Keep the soil consistently moist the first growing season. Don’t let the soil dry out but be careful not to over-water. 

Established arborvitae will require extra water only during prolonged periods of drought. 

Use stakes for support as newly planted arborvitaes are vulnerable to wind.

Fertilize the arborvitae in the spring with a slow-release high-nitrogen shrub/tree fertilizer.

How to Prune

Plants that are used in formal hedges and foundation plantings can be trimmed with hedge shears to shape and to spur new growth. 

Prune in early spring before new growth emerges. Trim from the bottom up. 

Shorten branches that are expanding beyond the desired length. Prune damaged branches anytime.

Recommended Dwarf Arborvitae

‘Hetz Midget’ is a hardy dwarf that reaches 3 to 4 feet tall. Its naturally round form makes it ideal for foundation plantings.

‘Tom Thumb’ is a miniature and grows only 12 to 15 inches tall. It is a dense multi-stemmed shrub with a rounded form, perfect for containers or rock gardens.

Conifer is an evergreen tree or shrub that bears cones and needle-like leaves. 
The arborvitae explained above, is a genus of conifer, nicknamed "tree of life"

Most dwarf conifers like sunny, well-drained sites with slightly acidic soil. If your site does not match these characteristics, there are dwarf conifers for other conditions as well. 

When you're planning your garden, don't forget to pay attention to how tall and wide the plant gets at maturity, especially if you're considering a fast-growing shrub. That cute little shrub won't stay tiny forever, and you don't want to prune it several times a year. Many new varieties of shrubs have been developed in recent years to stay nice and compact, so that they can fit up against your house as a foundation planting, or in pots on either side of your front door, or on deck or patio steps.

Dwarf conifers usually don’t get taller than 1 to 6 feet in 10 years. Fortunately, the small size and slow-growth habit of dwarf conifers make them easier to transplant than some other woody plants.  

Miniature conifers (which are tiny dwarfs) grow no more than 12 to 15 inches high and are perfect for containers, rock gardens and as perennial bed accents. Drought tolerant cultivars do best in containers and rock garden, because they can go long periods without water. erfect in a xeriscape. Miniatures in containers can remain outside during winter, even in the north.

According to the American Conifer Society, a dwarf conifer will grow between 1 inch to 6 inches per year while a miniature will grow less than 1 inch per year. Feeding is discouraged. Less nutrients keep dwarfs small. Their roots will search the soil for enough nitrogen and other elements to keep the trees healthy.  

Dwarf conifers can be used to control erosion and eliminate the need to mow on a steep slope. Combined with a few weed-suppressing ground covers, a planting of several dwarf conifers is an attractive and low-maintenance design solution. You can stick them in just about anywhere.

A dwarf conifer with either a vertical, narrow habit, or a pyramidal form, can add height to a combination, serve as a focal point, or add a sense of depth to a small or narrow bed. Good candidates for this type of design include upright and narrow arborvitae, false cypresses, and junipers. Pyramidal candidates include dwarf Alberta spruce and ‘Technito’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Technito’, Zones 3–7), a recently introduced smaller version of ‘Techny’ arborvitae.

Care of Dwarfs is the same as care for any conifer.

  • Water them when dry during the first year. In following years, they should be fine without supplemental water.
  • Fertilizer is not needed.
  • Spruces and firs may be attacked by mites. Bagworms target false cypresses. Fungal diseases might affect pines. 

Once planted in your garden, some dwarf conifers may mutate or revert to the original, fast-growing species. Watch for shoots differing from the rest of the plant—faster growing or a different color or texture—and remove them as soon as you see them.


Tough and unbothered by moderate foot traffic, spreading varieties of dwarf conifers are excellent groundcovers.  Allowed to  spread, and scramble, they’ll be some of easiest options for softening spaces.


One of the easiest ways to use dwarf conifers is in containers. Conifers aren’t picky, but they like well-drained soil.


Picks For Small Spaces and Urban Gardens

Sawara cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera, Zones 4 to 8)

Good  for a small landscape include Filifera Aurea, with golden-yellow foliage and Golden Mop, a low and mounding variety with threadlike foliage. You can find dwarf varieties in all kinds of shapes and sizes, including shades of green, blue, yellow, white and variegated.

Hiba arborvitae

(Thujopsis dolobrata species and cultivars, Zones 5 to 7)

A native of Japan, this conifer has large, broad branches with glossy leaves. It’s often used for hedging and is a versatile backyard plant. It’s not as common as other conifers. The compact form is "Nana. It tolerates a wide range of soils and does best in partial shade.

Dwarf Colorado blue spruce
(Zones 3 to 7)

Prefers rich, moist soils and full sun, though it is more drought-tolerant and adaptable than other spruces. "Montgomery" is a compact dwarf blue conifer.

Oriental spruce
(Picea orientalis  species, Zones 4 to 7)

The needles are glossy green and soft to the touch. For smaller gardens, look for slow-growing cultivars like Nana (usually stays under 3 feet high), or Tom Thumb, with golden foliage. It will tolerate some shade, drought and wind.

Creeping juniper
(Juniperus horizontalis species, Zones 4 to 9)

American native grows well in just about any soil, and is a popular choice for mountain slopes and seashores. Like other junipers, it prefers full sun and good drainage. 

Japanese Holly

With small, rounded leaves and many interesting forms, Japanese holly boasts a strong architectural form. Interesting needles and showy cones.

Mugo Pine

This hardy pine works beautifully in rock gardens, mass plantings, and mixed with other broadleaf plants. Colors range from deep green to gold.


This low-care shrub has bright flowers that appear in late winter to early spring and become blue to black berries by late summer to fall. It’s perfect in mass plantings.


Blues and Silvers

 Silvery-blue conifers are beautiful when planted in bold masses or in drifts.

Dwarf Scotch Pine

Useful form with rich blue-green needles on dense, horizontal branches. Takes well to pruning and shaping. Slow, up to 6 ft. tall and wide. Zone: 2 – 7

Low-growing Colorado spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca Pendula’, (Hardiness Zones 3­-8) grows 3 or 4 inches a year, eventually spreading to about 8 feet wide and 4 feet tall, with silvery needles

Dwarf Korean fir (Abies koreana ‘Silberlocke’, Zones 5­-6) slowly becomes a small tree and has strongly curved needles that turn the entire plant silver. Grows 2 to 4 inches per year and get 4 to 5 feet tall and around 3 feet wide.

Montgomery spruce (Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’, Zones 3­-8) is a short, squat spruce that grows 3 to 4 inches a year and can eventually reach 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide.

Thujopsis dolabrata (Zones 5­-7)  Its green foliage has bright silvery bands underneath. This one does best in light shade.  It has a Christmas-tree shape and grows 4 to 8 inches a year. It probably won’t get any taller than 10 feet, and 5 ft. wide.

Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce

Prized for it’s bright-blue foliage that holds its color all winter. Globe-shaped and densely branched. Slow, eventually reaching up 5 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide. Zone: 2 – 8

Dwarf Blue Rocky Mountain Fir

Striking blue, soft needles; grows into a dense, pyramidal form. Slow, up to 4 ft. tall in 10 years; eventually up to 8 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide. Zone: 3 – 7

Blue Angel White Pine

Uniform and densely-branched upright form with brighter, silvery blue-green needles. Slow, uniform shrub or small tree 7 to 8 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide. Zone: 4 – 9

Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar


Dramatic, weeping habit with a sprawling horizontal form; often trained into upright, serpentine form. Slow, spreading up to 20 ft. wide. Zone: 6 – 9. I had one of these in a southern garden, and it was a beautiful focal point. and the star of my xeriscape. It would be excellent in a zen or Japanese theme garden. When I say it grows slow, i mean it. I noticed barely any height growth per year, but i did notice lots of new green needles that mature to the blue-green color. Stunning in an Asian-style planter or container as a focal point..


These evergreens have a striking form and elegant blue-green foliage. Some grow quite tall, so read the plant description before buying.

Mellow Yellows

Most yellow conifers will turn green in the shade, so place them where they will receive full sunlight. Some may burn in hot, dry locations, so they prefer light shade in those conditions.

Standish yew is a dwarf (Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’, Zones 7­-8), a slow-growing column (1 to 3 inches per year) that never becomes much larger than 4 feet tall and 18 inches wide. Serves as an evergreen accent in a perennial border. It has normal yew foliage with yellow highlights on the tips. The more sun you give it, the yellower it gets.

Golden Mounded Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Aurea’ and ‘Nana Lutea’, (Zones 5-8) have tight, cupped foliage in addition to their golden color. Both grow less than 2 inches a year ,and will eventually become 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

Fire Chief™ Globe Arborvitae

Globe-shaped with golden, spring foliage and deep-red fall color. Slow, reaches up to 2 ft. tall and wide in 10 years; 4 ft. at maturity. Zone: 5 – 8

Greens are not just green....

Dark-green and densely branched dwarf Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Gracilis’, Zones 4-­8) grows equally well in sun or shade (2 or 3 inches per year).

In sun or shade, and being ignored by deer, prostrate plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Prostrata’, Zones 6­-9). This dark-green shrub acts like a ground cover. 

Chartreuse new growth in the spring, which contrasts with the dark green of the older leaves. ‘Duke Gardens’  holds its shoots more upright. With a growth rate of 3 to 6 inches per year, it will spread to a width of 5 feet and a height of 2 feet. It will grow under deep-rooted trees.

Slowmound Mugo Pine

Rugged, water-wise, with finely textured, deep green foliage; seldom needs pruning. Slow, reaches up to 2 ft. tall and wide in 10 year; to 3 ft. at maturity. Zone: 2 – 8

Tiny Tower® Dwarf Alberta Spruce

Pyramidal form, perfect for smaller gardens. Foliage matures to an attractive gray-green. Slow, reaches up to 6 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide. Zone: 3 – 8

Miniature Moss False Cypress

Dwarf evergreen globe-shaped form and bright-green foliage. Slow reaches up to 30 in. tall and wide. Zone: 4 – 8

Danica Arborvitae

Versatile, dwarf, globe-shaped with bright emerald green foliage that turns bluish- green in winter. Moderate reaches up to 2 ft. tall and wide. Zone: 4 – 8

Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper

Prime specimen of dense, water-wise groundcover. Winter color has a purple tint.  Reaches up to 1 ft. tall, 6 ft. wide. Zone: 4 –9. I grow these as an accent ground cover in raised bed plantings in my Zen Garden. Takes well to shearing.


Dense branching and finely textured foliage make this shrub a winner as a specimen or planted in a mass to create an interesting screen. Most tolerate some shade. Graceful with cute little cones.

Inkberry Holly

Upright branches and a mostly round shape

Arborvitae, Pyramidal Form

These pyramidal forms come in many different heights, ranging from a few feet to 30 feet tall or more. Holds its shape without shearing. Hardy and fast-growing. Very pretty focal points, adding height and shape in flower beds.

Arborvitae, Round Form - Dwarf

Adorable and stay in the 12 to 24-inch-tall range, so you can tuck them just about anywhere in the landscape. And they’re super tough in cold climates.

Caring for Conifers

-Prefer slightly acidic soil. 

-Most are not fussy about type of soil, but they do not like sitting in wet soils.

-Fall is the best time to plant. But I have planted them from spring til fall with no problems.

-Prune as needed.

Evergreen Ornamental Grasses and Flowering Plants


These shrubs with glossy green leaves put on a show in early spring. Be sure to purchase an evergreen (not a deciduous) variety if you want it to to be evergreen and not lose its leaves in winter. Likes the shade.


Grow it in full sun to partial shade zones 5-8

"Elijah Blue" Fescue (festuca) - Evergreen Ornamental Grass

Adorable, neat, rounded blue-green mounds, zero maintenance. Grow to about 1 ft. tall. Looks beautiful in the snow and as part of an evergreen garden theme. Totally evergreen and the color stays beautiful. It likes water in hot, dry spells, but otherwise, it can take anything. No pests or disease. I highly recommend them for the front of flower beds, sidewalk edgings, foundations, on slopes, and in pots. Keeps weeds out. Weeds don't grow under them. Wheat-type stems pop up in summer. They can be left on or cut off. I do both, depending upon the design of
the area they're in. I trim them off along my frontyard path, because they like to hang over. In the photo, they seem to have a glow. They really do shimmer with a silver shade in the bright sunshine.

Evergreen gardens are beautiful and low-maintenance. Worth a spot in your gardens.


Old Farmer's Almanac
Birds and Blooms, Monrovia
Fine Gardening
Better Homes and Gardens
Country Living
New York Times

Recommended Reading and Dwarf Conifer Nursery Stock

Lots of what I grow and how i grow them are available from nurseries and landscape suppliers 
on Amazon. My supplies are quite heavy, so the free shipping makes me smile. Not to mention 
not having to go out and get the stuff, then drag it home. I am the World's Laziest Gardener.



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