Compact Plants for Smaller Gardens
National Garden Bureau is often asked to identify trends we see as it relates to the world of gardening and plant breeding. One that has been obvious the past few years is the proliferation of more compact plants that are perfect for today’s smaller gardens.
Compact plants have many benefits for the home gardener, not the least of which is less maintenance. Plant breeders recognize that smaller is often better so in specific classes, they have taken great varieties and are now breeding or selecting for reduced size. Take the Limelight hyrdrangea for example. Limelight is a robust grower that at maturity, is 7-8 feet tall. Little Lime® however, is only 3-5 feet tall but offers the same green to pink flower coloration, perfect in a less spacious garden when the homeowner wants a hydrangea, but not one they have to prune in order to keep it the correct size for the space.
A little trick to easily finding a plant that is more compact is to look for the words little, dwarf, baby, patio, knee-high or tiny in the variety name. Then read the tags or description to get the actual size of the mature plant. Hint: if a plant tag or description says it’s perfect for cut flowers, then expect it to be the opposite of compact because long stems are needs for most cut flowers.
Interested in growing vegetables but have a small space? There are many compact varieties specifically bred for containers or small spaces that are great choices. Topsy Tom tomato produces delicious cherry tomatoes over a long period of time, as does Sweet ‘n Neat and AAS Winner Lizzano. Another AAS Winner, Patio Baby eggplant, is the most compact eggplant you can grow, and puts out a huge number of small fruit, perfect for grilling. Many peppers do well in containers, but one of the most compact and prolific is Sweet Heat, which has just a mildly spicy flavor. If you’re looking for green beans, AAS Winner Mascotte is perfect for containers or in-ground gardens as it produces long, thin tender beans on plants less than 2 feet tall. See additional new varieties from NGB members that tout a compact growth habit at the end of this e-newsletter.
If your small garden has some shade, consider leafy greens (lettuce, kale etc.) that can still do well with partial shade, as can most herbs, many of which are compact growers.
In perennials, some varieties are bred to be shorter so they are “less floppy”. 1989 AAS Winner Coreopsis Early Sunrise is a great example of compactness that has the bonus of being a first-year flowering perennial.
When buying annuals, if there is a need for a low-growing edging plant, consider the compact Ornamental Pepper NuMex Easter, a recent AAS Winner that only reaches a height of about 8-10 inches. Or try the low-growing Snappy snapdragons for a more compact version of a classic garden flower. Angelonia is another plant that typically grows up to 3 feet tall but a new series, Serenita™, is a more compact version growing to only 24″ tall; the pink Serenita™ is a recent AAS Winner.
In a small garden, you do have more options than just going with compact plants; take advantage of plants that go up, or down. Try some climbers like Thunbergia (Black Eyed Susan vine), or the classy Dichondra Silver Falls, which hangs straight down. A compact vine cucumber like Patio Snacker or AAS Regional Winner Pick-A-Bushel will climb up to the top of a modest sized trellis but won’t run rampant through your garden.
As we often do, we’ve created a Pinterest board for compact plants so take a look there to get additional ideas for your small space garden.
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Founded in 1920, the National Garden Bureau is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life through increased use of seeds and plants.
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