Low-growing thorny shrubs

Updated February 21, 2017

Assorted species of shrubs feature thorns and possess a small stature, growing from 6 inches to 3 feet tall. These low growing, thorny shrubs are suitable for such functions as becoming hedges, foundation plants, barriers and to accent the landscape with flowers and foliage. Some come only in species form, but others are available in a wide selection of cultivars.


The Japanese barberry is a low growing shrub with many hybrid forms, such as Rose Glow, Royal Burgandy and Golden Ring. Another small-sized shrub possessing thorns is the flowering quince, a native of Asia that produces edible fruit. The largest array of low growing shrubs with a set of thorns is in the rose family, with species like the shrub rose, hybrid tea rose, miniature rose, floribunda rose and hybrid rugosa rose all matching this description. Raspberry and Japanese quince are two other types of this sort of shrub.


Bagatelle is a form of Japanese barberry that seldom gets taller than 18 inches. The Alpina variety of Japanese quince grows to 12 inches high, while Red Cascade is a climbing miniature rose species with a maximum height of between 9 and 12 inches. Somewhat taller but still considered short are thorny shrubs such as the Sargent crabapple hybrid Tina, which grows only to 4 feet tops. Oso Easy Fragrant Spreader and Oso Easy Paprika are two shrub rose cultivars that mature to just 24 inches high. Aureus is a flowering raspberry shrub with a reputation for growing less than 2 feet tall.


Few of the smallest thorny shrubs are suitable for the cold climates found in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 and 3. Zone 4 and 5 support the growth of a handful of these 6-to 12-inch species, including various rose shrubs, barberry and Japanese quince. Most of the taller barberries, from 2 to 4 feet high, grow from zones 4 through 8, with the majority of the rose shrubs able to meet the growing conditions within zones 5 through 9.


Without a doubt, the largest selection of flower sizes and colours on these small, thorny shrubs comes from the different kinds of roses. Their flowers are shades of white, red, pink and purple, with some, including the Meibrinpay hybrid even blooming in apricot. In some instances, the flowers of this type of shrub produce ornamental berries; scarlet firethorn, with its reddish-orange fruit, is a case in point. The foliage of small shrubs with thorns, such as that found on most of the Japanese barberries, potentially offers splendid fall colour.

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About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.