Small Evergreen Shrubs: a Colorful List

Types of Compact Bushes For When Bigger Isn't Better

When you think of small evergreen shrubs, do you have an image in your mind of short, rather uninteresting lumps of green dotting a landscape? Well, you should not. There are plenty of compact bushes out there that are quite colorful characters. It is just a matter of knowing about them. Thus the purpose of the list that follows: namely, to introduce you to some types of bushes that take up little room but give you ample color.

  • 01 of 08
    Winter heath shrubs (Erica carnea Gracilis) in bloom.
    Erica carnea 'Gracilis' is a type of winter heath. Garden Photo World/Georgianna Lane/Canopy/Getty Images

    Many first-time growers of these small evergreen shrubs become quickly impressed with them, and this article passes along growing information on them under the assumption that you, too will come to enjoy their prodigious blooming period if you decide to grow one. Winter heaths (Erica x darleyensis) live up to their name, putting out flowers in that most unlikely of seasons: wintertime. If the climate and conditions are right for them, they may end up flowering for about half the year for you....MORE Now you know why this plant has been located at the top of this list.

  • 02 of 08
    Minuet laurel (image) has reddish-pink flowers. The blooms are impressive.
    'Minuet' is a mountain laurel cultivar with deep pink, bicolored flowers. David Beaulieu

    Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a broadleaf evergreen with which you may be very familiar if you have been on walks through the woods in New England in June. In fact, it is the state flower of Connecticut.

    The laurel bushes one finds in the forest can become quite large, but the 'Minuet' cultivar, true to its name (think "minute," as in "short") is a dwarf. That is a plus for urban or suburban landscapes where growers may not have much room to spare. This compact...MORE bush offers another advantage over its wild relatives, too: The flowers are more colorful.

  • 03 of 08
    Blue Star juniper (image) is a compact evergreen bush. Growth starts out slow.
    Blue Star juniper stays compact enough that you can plant it and forget it, without worrying about over-growth issues. David Beaulieu

    The first two entries, while they do bear evergreen foliage, are grown mainly because they are standout bloomers. Not so with this third entry on the list. Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star') is strictly a foliage plant. If you like the look of, for example, blue spruce trees but lack the room for something so big, simply scale down and grow a Blue Star juniper. With their short blue needles, they look especially good when planted next to shrubs with golden foliage.

  • 04 of 08
    Emerald 'N' Gold (image) tells you of the shrub's leaf color. My photo shows the two colors.
    Emerald 'N' Gold's name is descriptive of its leaf color. David Beaulieu

    The next three compact bushes on the list are all types of euonymus. The three have something else in common, too: Each of these evergreen bushes exhibits some sort of variegation in its leaves. The name of the first entry describes its bicolored leaves pretty well: They are, indeed, emerald (at the center) and gold (at the margin). 

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08
    Shear Emerald Gaiety euonymus (image) and make a hedge. The shrub is versatile.
    Emerald Gaiety euonymus can be clipped and formed into a neat hedge. David Beaulieu

    Although another bicolored euonymus, 'Emerald Gaiety' offers a different color combination from that of 'Emerald 'N' Gold' (and from that of the euonymus that occupies the next spot on the list): green and white, instead of green and gold. The admixture of white in the leaves gives this small evergreen shrub an overall bright appearance, which may help account for its name (that is, "gaiety" meaning "cheerfulness").

  • 06 of 08
    Image showing what the shrub, Moonshadow euonymus looks like.
    Moonshadow euonymus is a low-growing shrub that spreads out nicely. David Beaulieu

    With 'Moonshadow' euonymus we come back to a green-and-gold pattern of variegation. But if you study the picture carefully, you will see that Moonshadow's colors are reversed (when compared to their placement on 'Emerald 'N' Gold').

    You may also notice that, on some of the leaves, the gold color is replaced by an off-white, instead. This happens as the growing season wears on; the spring foliage displays a shiny gold in the center. Both Moonshadow and 'Emerald...MORE 'N' Gold' are, in fact, at their best in spring.

    Of the three euonymus bushes presented here, the best for a ground cover in a small space is Moonshadow. Its foliage grows densely, it is colorful, and it remains a short, compact bush with just a little pruning. Furthermore, it exhibits very little inclination to revert back to an all-green state (unlike on 'Emerald 'N' Gold').

  • 07 of 08
    Boxwood shrubs
    Abigail Rex / Getty Images

    Dwarf English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa') is not as colorful as the other small evergreen shrubs in this list, but its classic foliage is attractive in its own right and it makes for a good foreground or background for other plants.

    Here is one idea to consider in this context. Set off a border of red salvia, under-planted with white sweet alyssum flowers, with a hedge of dwarf boxwood. The rich green backdrop of the latter will enhance the viewer's appreciation of the...MORE red and white flowers.

  • 08 of 08
    My picture of yucca shows an Adam's needle in bloom. It is related to asparagus.
    A mass of Adam's needle in flower would certainly be hard to miss. David Beaulieu

    Yuccas, when the plants are massed together, form an impressive display during their blooming period. But the types with golden foliage (such as ‘Garland’s Gold’ and 'Golden Sword') are a better choice if you want something colorful, because they provide bright color even when not in bloom. Yucca filamentosa can give your yard a Southwestern feel even if you live in the Northeastern USA.