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Six of the West's most-used shrubs ... in compact editions.

Keeping a shrub in bounds takes a lot less work if you start out with a compact variety. Most full-size shrubs demand vigorous and frequent pruning to prevent them from blacking out windows and ambushing walks. But if you choose one of the compacts described here, you can practically retire your pruning shears.

Even compacts keep growing--if not up, then usually out. After five years, they should be near the lower size limit in our descriptions--usually less than 3 feet tall and wide. Given an ideal site, 10 years time, and no trimming, some can reach 5 feet, but you can keep them close to the smaller size with light pinching or clipping a few times a year.

Like their full-size relatives, these shrubs offer good-looking foliage, few pest problems, and--in most cases--seasonal flowers or fruit. Unless noted otherwise, all will grow best in full sun but can take partial shade.

Comparing the compacts

Nandina: the airy grace of bamboo without the aggresiveness. All sizes are easy to control, but four stay low enough not to block the view from even a floor-to-ceiling window. Use them singly or as a ground cover; plant dwarf kinds 1-1/2 to 2 feet apart. In hot climates, give them afternoon shade. If you plant several for cross-pollination, red berries often follow the white spring flowers.

'Harbour Dwarf' has the familiar lacy green leaves tinged orange in spring and fall, but stays under 2 feet tall. New plants pop up from the roots several inches to a foot from the parent plant.

Two quite different plants are sold interchangeably under three names: 'Nana', 'Nana Compacta", and 'Nana Purpurea'. Both stay 1 to 1-1/2 feet tall. One has narrow green leaves that turn red in winter; it spreads fairly quickly, making a good ground cover. The other spreas slowly and is usually used as a single plant; you can regonize it by its cupped, almost blistered-looking leaves, purplish green in summer, reddish purple in winter.

Don't confuse these dwarfs with the similarly named N. 'Compacta'. In the ground, 'Compacta' soon matures to 4 to 5 feet tall; it earns its name only in comparison to the larger leaves and 6- to 8-foot height of standard nandina.

Most compact of all, but seldom sold, 'Pygmaea' has dense, tight growth that typically stays about 10 inches high.

Oleander: an all-summer bloomer that loves the heat. Two dwarf oleanders are widely available: 'Petite Pink' and 'Petite Salmon'. A new dwarf red oleander is just coming onto the market.

The Petite oleanders grow slowly, and are easily held at 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. In time, especially in hot climates, they can reach 5 feet. To keep old plants low, cut a few of the most oversize limbs back to the ground after bloom each fall; young shoots will fill in. Dwarf oleander plants are especially attractive as a low, informal border or unpruned hedge.

Pittosporum tobira: glossy, dark green. The dwarf version of this popular evergreen is 'Wheeler's Dwarf'. With occasional light clipping, you can confine this slow grower to a dense mound 2 to 3 feet tall. Without pruning, it can spread up to 5 feet tall and wide in about 10 years. Unlike its full-size counterpart, dwarf pittosporum rarely blooms.

Pomegranate: arching limbs bear decorative flowers and fruit. Two kinds of flowering pomegranate are easily kept to about 3 feet tall and wide: 'Nana' has orange-red flowers and 1- to 3-inch decorative miniatures of the edible pomegranate fruit. 'Chico' has double red-orange flowers and no fruit. Plants are almost evergreen in mild winters.

To confine plants, clip back oversize limbs before spring growth begins. Without pruning, 'Nana' has been known to reach 8 feet tall, but it took 40 years; 'Chico' stays smaller. Give them bright sun for good bloom.

Pyracantha: multiseason performer. Showy red or orange berries make this evergreen one of the most popular shrubs. But its vigorous growth and sharp spines also make it one of the most distressing when an overly aggressive kind is planted in close quarters beside walks or patios.

'Santa Cruz', the most commonly sold of the low-growing kinds, is also one of the most vigorous and thorny, best used on slopes or large areas where its 4- to 5-foot width can be accomodated easily.

Better choices for confined areas include 'Red Elf' (also sold as 'Leprechaun'), a dense, mounding plant about 3 feet tall and wide; and 'Tiny Tim', a heavily berried, somewhat rangy 3-footer with few or no thorns. To hold these pyracanthas at this height and to show off their berries, once a year cut off leafy growth just above the fruit as it begins to color.

Raphiolepsis: pink flowers in spring. Most raphiolepis are easily controlled, but these four are especially compact, easilya confined to 2 to 4 feet tall and wide: 'Ballerina' (dark pink flowers); 'Coates Crimson' (reddish pink flowers); 'Pink Cloud' (clear pink); 'Rosea Dwarf' (light pink). Bloom is heaviest in spring, with sporadic bloom in fall and winter near the coast.

Flowers in warm climates or sites tend to be lighter than ones in cool places; give them filtered shade in hot inland valleys and the desert. For denser growth, pinch back branch tips once a year soon after flowering.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1985
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