Dwarf Plants

By Catherine McNulty

February 18, 2011 5 min read

The air is warmer; the sun is shining longer and longer each day. No doubt about it, spring is here. Time to get out and get dirty! So what if you don't have a manor's grounds to maintain? Even a small piece of land -- or a window box or balcony -- can be turned into a beautiful and beneficial garden.

If space is a concern, consider planting a dwarf specimen of a plant you like. There are several different ways a plant can be "dwarfed." Some dwarf plants have been bred to stay small even when fully grown, such as dwarf snapdragons, which stay between 8 and 12 inches, compared with a regular snapdragon's 2 to 3 feet. Then there are plants that are kept small via pruning and restricted root growth. Perhaps the best-known of this type of dwarf plant is the bonsai.

The dwarf snapdragon and bonsai are just two examples of hundreds of different types of dwarf plants. You can find a dwarfed version of almost any type of tree or shrub. Some of the more popular species include certain conifers, such as the white pine and the weeping Norway spruce, because they are so low-maintenance. But just because a tree has been "dwarfed" doesn't mean it will be tiny. A coast redwood can reach a height of more than 300 feet. The dwarf version grows to be only 3 feet high, according to HGTV. However, it can be 15 feet wide, so make sure you have enough space to accommodate it.

Before you can decide what you want to plant, you have to know what would thrive. First, observe the area in which you want to plant. If it's outside, what are the temperature extremes it would have to endure? How much direct sunlight would it get? What other elements would your plant be exposed to (e.g., an exhaust vent from the laundry)? How much water would the plant need? Those are questions you need to answer before you start digging.

Generally, dwarf trees are hardier and can survive under harsher conditions than their regular counterparts, but certain ones still need adequate sunlight. And certain types do better in pots, whereas others thrive after being planted in the ground. With so many options to choose from, make sure you get one that is appropriate for the area you're planting in and can survive the conditions it will be exposed to. Dwarf trees are ideal for people who don't have a lot of time to give to gardening, as they (especially conifers) suffer from few diseases and parasites.

If you're looking for something more colorful than dwarf trees, there are plenty of dwarf flowers out there. Want to see a bunch of cheerful sunflowers but don't want them towering above you? Not a problem. The dwarf variety only grows to be 12 to 18 inches high. As with the trees, there are dwarf varieties of almost every type of flower.

Dwarf flowers are an excellent choice for containers and window boxes. Make sure your container has drainage holes so that the roots of your plant don't get flooded and rot. Use a good mix of soil, and then start planting! Because it's such a small space, consider the aesthetics of the end result. Get a lot of variety and texture to make something that is visually stunning and has depth.

There are even dwarf varieties of fruit trees, which can be beautiful ornamental houseplants. The dwarf pomegranate tree only grows to be about 2 feet high and has vivid orange and red trumpet-shaped flowers. The fruit it bears is coral red and edible. Please be sure to check whether the fruit of a particular dwarf tree is edible, which is not always the case. Dwarf pomegranate trees are also able to withstand bonsai training and are highly prized by florists in the making of Christmas wreaths, but they cannot survive temperatures lower than 40 F.

The benefits of gardening are many: stress relief, activity, the satisfaction of watching something grow, etc. Having a garden space is also an excellent way to teach kids responsibility. Don't let a perceived lack of space keep you from reaping the benefits. Find some space; find an appropriate plant; and dig in!

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