Trim to Fit

Trim to Fit in A Garden for All by Kathy Diemer

Various shrubs pruned to fit (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

All of my gardens have a combination of shrubs, evergreens or small trees incorporated with perennials.  Woody plants add structure and multi-season interest, while helping to keep maintenance to a minimum.  Often when I lay out a garden, the shrubs I want to use for a specific area will grow larger than space allows.  This is where choosing a shrub that can easily be kept smaller comes into play.  And the ability to do a little creative pruning to keep things in check over time.

The size of the bed will determine how many shrubs, trees or evergreens you can comfortably use without over-crowding.  (To keep things brief, I’ll address my recommended shrubs in this blog and follow up with my choices of evergreens and trees in upcoming blogs-stay tuned.)

No matter the size of your bed, anchor each end with a shrub of similar size and color.  For example: I use purple smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria (see pix of this in ‘Shrubs’) on the lower end of my garden and a wiegela ‘Wine & Roses’ on the opposite end.  To create balance, use contrasting shrubs in between that fit nicely while allowing room for perennials to mingle in.  If you use dark foliaged shrubs, use dark foliaged perennials to continue the theme.  For contrast, I love hydrangea ‘Limelight’ with its chartreuse blooms glowing against the mahogany leaves of the smoke bush.

Following is a list of more great shrubs that you can prune smaller without sacrificing bloom or foliage. Please note you will need to be diligent for the first few years with Rose of Sharon and dwarf lilacs, but after that occasional snipping will keep them petite.  Dwarf willows are another matter; I usually prune them down aggressively in spring to keep them from going out of bounds. Whatever plants you choose, let your creative juices flow and have fun!

Trim to Fit in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Various shrubs pruned to fit (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

  • Dwarf fothergilla fothergilla gardenii
  • Bayberry Myrica pensylvanica
  • Cotoneaster
  • Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis
  • Sweetshrub Calycanthus floridus
  • Sumac Rhus ‘Gro low’
  • Bush honeysuckle Diervilla
  • Viburnum sp.
  • Rose of Sharon Hybiscus syriacus
  • Dwarf lilacs Syringa ‘Miss Kim’ or ‘Tinkerbelle’
  • Mock orange Philadelphus
  • Dwarf willows Salix
  • Summersweet Clethra
  • Variegated forsythia Forsythia ‘Fiesta’


  1. This site is phenomenal, Kathy = it’s an incredibly beautiful design, your photography is jaw-dropping, the info is very, very helpful = being a faint-hearted pruner outdoors (but not with my houseplants) I learned so much from this post. I thank you for doing this blog! We all thank you for doing this blog!

    • Thank you so much, Tovah. Please know what an inspiration you are to me. I finally took your advice and started writing! I’m glad you found some helpful info. I’ll be posting twice a week, so stay tuned. And please pass on to friends!

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