The best small & narrow shrubs

Updated February 21, 2017

Some species of small and narrow shrubs naturally take on an upright, columnar shape. Other hedges and shrubs can be trained into narrow, small-statured specimens with proper pruning techniques. Whichever type of shrub you prefer -- from flowering evergreen to conifer to drought-resistant specimens -- choosing a shrub suitable for your garden's growing conditions will determine how well it thrives.


Columnar yews require little to no pruning. They grow in natural narrow columns. Japanese yews yield red fruits. Horticulturists from Purdue University comment positively about the colourful Taxas cuspidata and its cultivars. Other recommended Japanese yews are the Taxus x media and the Irish yew, Taxus baccata, which is extremely drought resistant. Other yew species require moist soil. The shrubs can grow quite tall - up to 20 feet in some instances. Shorter cultivars such as the "Densa" will grow to 4 feet.

Arbor vitae

American Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis),is also known as Eastern Arborvitae and White Cedar. The cultivar Pyramidal Arborvitae (T. occidentalis 'Fastigiata') takes on a columnar form. These shrubs require moist soils and are incapable of surviving droughts and dry conditions, though they are cold hardy. The shrubs can grow quite high but dwarf varieties are available and often used in home landscaping.

Italian Cypress

The narrow, dark green, drought-tolerant Italian Cypress can reach heights up to 40 feet, though this is generally not typical. Its tall stature makes it impractical for small gardens and most residential landscapes. However, homeowners who wish to plant privacy screens or who own large tracts of land may consider planting these hardy shrubs.

Dwarf Bamboo

Bambusa sasa pygara grows about 1 foot high, making a neat, upright border. Unlike running bamboo, this dwarf bamboo's clumping growth pattern will not overgrow the area. The species is cold hardy, although it should receive protective mulch in fall.

Dwarf False Cypress

False cypress (Chamaecyparis) provides a landscape with textures and colours not seen in other shrubs. Different cultivars such as "Golden Mop" offer yellow foliage, while more traditional cultivars display bluish-green feathery evergreen fronds. Most false cypress reach 40 feet tall and are used in commercial landscapes, golf courses and public parks. They are not typically seen in residential landscapes. Dwarf varieties, however, are available in some nurseries. Choose columnar or pyramidal forms to grow narrow, upright shrubs.

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About the Author

Catherine Duffy's writing can be found on gardening blogs, tech sites and business blogs. Although these topics seem quite different, they have one area in common: systems and design. Duffy makes systems and design (as they pertains to plants, supply chains or software) entertaining and welcoming to general readers.