15 Compact Evergreen Trees for the Landscape

Dwarf evergreen trees: 15 exceptional choices for the yard and garden

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If you’re looking for evergreen trees that stay naturally short-statured, have no maintenance requirements beyond watering, and stay green all winter long, you’ve come to the right place! While finding all of these traits in a single tree might seem too good to be true, it isn’t. In fact, there are lots of dwarf evergreen trees that offer all of these benefits and more to small-space gardeners. They’re also great choices for anyone who doesn’t want to spend their weekends pruning overgrown plants. Before I introduce you to 15 of my favorite small evergreen trees, let’s take a look at some of the perks these plants provide.

Why plant small evergreen trees?

There are many benefits of planting small evergreen trees in your yard and garden.

  • Their naturally compact form means little, if any, pruning is necessary to maintain their small stature
  • Their evergreen nature means you’ll have color and texture in the garden year-round.
  • Dwarf evergreen trees make great privacy screening without growing too large.
  • The small stature of these plants make them easy to plant; there’s no wrestling with a huge root ball or long branches.
  • Dwarf evergreens provide winter habitat for many different birds, and those that produce cones provide food as well.
  • The compact evergreen trees on this list are low maintenance and tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions. This makes them great choices for folks who don’t have a lot of time to maintain their plantings.
Compact varieties of evergreens

Dwarf evergreen trees, like this compact blue spruce, offer so much to the landscape.

Top 15 dwarf evergreen trees for small gardens

While there are hundreds of compact evergreens for small gardens, these 15 are exceptional varieties I’ve personally worked with. As a horticulturist, I see lots of evergreen trees and shrubs worth growing. But, those on this list are among the finest small-statured varieties available to home gardeners.

1. The Blues Weeping Colorado Spruce (Picea pungens ‘The Blues’): This amazing and extremely hardy variety of weeping blue spruce is a total show-stopper. Though it’s fast growing, it tops out at just 10 feet in height with a width between 5 and 10 feet. The blue-green needles are thickly packed on downward hanging branches. Hardy down to -50 degrees F, ‘The Blues’ is among the most deer resistant of the dwarf evergreen trees. It thrives in full sun conditions but will also tolerate some shade.

'The Blues' weeping spruce is an excellent dwarf evergreen tree for the garden.

The weeping habit of ‘The Blues’ adds an extra layer of interest to the garden.

2. Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa):  A compact, extremely slow-growing, soft-needled evergreen with a somewhat pyramidal form, Hinoki cypress have fan-shaped foliage that’s lush and dark green. It gives the plant an almost feathery texture. Winter hardy down to -30 degrees F, Hinoki cypress are 10 to 12  feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide when twenty years old. This evergreen requires full to partial sun and well-drained soils. If you’d like an even smaller version of this plant that tops out at just 5 feet tall, look for the cultivar ‘Nana Gracilis’

The best compact evergreen trees for the garden.

This Hinoki cypress has been pruned into a three-balled topiary, but its natural form is gorgeous, too.

3. Blue Wonder Blue Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Blue Wonder’):  This sweet little spruce is winter hardy down to -40 degrees F. It has beautiful blue-gray foliage and a lovely compact form. This dwarf evergreen is an excellent alternative to dwarf Alberta spruce and it looks great in winter container plantings, too. Slowly reaching 6 feet in height, ‘Blue Wonder’ is only 3 feet wide at maturity and has a naturally dense conical form.

4. Dwarf Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea ‘Nana’):  A squat, rounded fir with lush needles, this compact plant deserves a place on every list of dwarf evergreen trees. Hardy to -40 degrees F, the slow growth rate of this variety makes it great for folks who don’t have the time or inclination to regularly prune their shrubs. Like other balsam firs, this compact selection has dark green needles and densely packed branches. It reaches 5 to 6 feet wide after many years of growth.

5. Chalet Swiss Stone Pine (Pinus cembra ‘Chalet’):  Swiss Stone pines have long been a favorite of mine, and this dwarf variety is no different. When it comes to dwarf evergreen trees, ‘Chalet’ has so much to offer! Slow growing with a beautiful form, this small evergreen tree is columnar in shape and densely branched. The needles are long and blue-green, lending a soft look to this compact evergreen. With a hardiness down to -40 degrees F, ‘Chalet’ is an exceptional choice that reaches just 8 feet in height with a width of 4 feet.

Pinus cembra 'Chalet'

No matter what their variety, Swiss Stone pines are among the finest dwarf evergreen trees on the market.

6. Tip Top Dwarf Swiss Stone Pine (Pinus cembra ‘Tip Top’):  So, just to prove I wasn’t kidding about loving Swiss Stone pines, here’s another variety of these dwarf evergreen trees worth planting in small gardens. ‘Tip Top’ is extremely hardy (-40 degrees F) and downright adorable. In 10 years it reaches just 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The white undersides of the needles, combined with their long form and soft feel, make this evergreen look like a shaggy green Muppet. Its growth habit is narrow and conical, and like all of the other dwarf evergreen trees on this list, ‘Tip Top’ requires zero pruning to maintain its small stature.

7. Dwarf Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika ‘Nana’):  The dense growth of this compact evergreen tree makes it a super choice for small garden beds and foundation plantings. Like other Serbian spruces, this dwarf form has green needles with white striping on the undersides, giving the tree a soft appearance. Slow-growing and reaching a maximum height of just 3 to 5 feet with an equal width, dwarf Serbian spruce thrives in garden zones with winter temperatures down to -30 degrees F. Loosely pyramidal in form with no pruning required.

Picea omerica 'Nana'

Dwarf Serbian spruce does not grow large, and it’s a great small evergreen for a small yard.

8. Green Spire Euonymus (Euonymus japonicus ‘Green Spire’):  Winter hardy down to -10 degrees, ‘Green Spire’ euonymus is well behaved, giving it a more formal appearance than some other options. The glossy, green foliage is perfect for creating a narrow hedge or screen. Maxing out at 6 to 8 feet in height with a spread of just 1 to 2 feet, this naturally narrow shrub is a fast grower, too.

9. Green Arrow Weeping Alaska Cedar (Chamaecyparis nootakatensis ‘Green Arrow’):  Tall and narrow, ‘Green Arrow’ is one of the finest narrow evergreen trees for small yards and gardens. Of all the weeping Alaska cedars, ‘Green Arrow’ offers the most slender girth. Topping out at 20 feet in height and 1 foot wide, you might not consider it dwarf, but it’s super small footprint makes it great for even the tiniest of backyards. The weeping branches have soft foliage with a fan-like appearance. Winter hardy down to -20 degrees F, ‘Green Arrow’ makes a phenomenal addition to the garden.

15 Dwarf Evergreen Trees for the Yard and Garden

The tall but narrow appearance of ‘Green Arrow’ weeping Alaska cedar is a show stopper, and it’s suited to even the smallest garden.

10. Green Penguin Dwarf Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris ‘Green Penguin):  A chunky, yet tidy dwarf evergreen, once you see ‘Green Penguin’ you’ll realize how it got its name. With new growth that’s feathery and older growth that’s long-needled, this dwarf scotch pine is very unique. It has a thick, pyramidal form that never has you reaching for your pruning shears, and ‘Green Penguin’ is hardy to -40 degrees F. Maximum height is 6 feet with a width equal to half its height.

11. Dwarf Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii ‘Kotobuki’):  Fully winter hardy to -20 degrees F, this needled evergreen reaches just 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The upright candles of new growth in the spring, coupled with its narrow growth habit, make ‘Kotobuki’ an excellent choice for containers and small gardens. Slow growing, with a dense structure, this deer-resistant evergreen has needles that are about half the length of regular Japanese black pines.

The best compact evergreen trees for yards.

Japanese black pines are lovely trees, and the compact variety ‘Kotobuki’ is a prime choice for smaller landscapes.

12. Dwarf Pencil Point Juniper (Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’):  Evergreen and columnar in form, dwarf pencil point juniper is both unique and slow growing. With an average height of 5 feet and a width of just 1 foot, this sun-loving evergreen has blue-green needles. Female plants may produce blue “berries” in the fall as well. Its tapered form means it’s a great “exclamation point” accent plant for smaller landscapes. Winter hardy to -40 degrees F.

13. North Star Dwarf White Spruce (Picea glauca ‘North Star’):  Extremely hardy, this compact evergreen tree is pyramidal in shape and covered with green needles. Deer-resistant and hardy to -50 degrees F, ‘North Star’ tops out at 5 to 10 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It prefers full to partial sun and requires little to no pruning to maintain a neat-and-tidy shape. Easy to grow and tolerant of all but the wettest soils, ‘North Star’ is among the finest dwarf evergreen trees available.

Small-statured evergreen trees: 15 choices

‘North Star’ white spruce is a densely branched, beautiful compact evergreen.

14. Upright Japanese Plum Yew (Cephaloxatus harringtoniia ‘Fastigiata’):  This broad-needled evergreen is hardy to -10 degrees F. Its upright, slender growth habit maxes out at 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Though it’s non-flowering, Japanese plum yews have dark green needles that are densely spaced on bottlebrush-like, upright branches. Each needle is about 2 inches long. It thrives in full to partial sun, but prefers afternoon shade in hot southern regions during the summer months.

Great small trees that are evergreen.

The upright branches of the Japanese plum yew mean it doesn’t take up much room in the garden.

15. Little Gem Dwarf Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’):  Like its full-sized kin, this compact southern magnolia is lush and attractive. The leaves are just as dark green and glossy as traditional southern magnolias, but they’re smaller in size. Large, white, perfumed flowers cover this columnar dwarf evergreen tree in late spring through summer. A second bloom may occur again in the fall in cooler climates. While at a mature height of 20 feet tall, ‘Little Gem’ certainly isn’t as petite as some of the other trees featured here. But, it is significantly smaller than a standard southern magnolia and is one of the finest dwarf evergreen trees available. Winter hardy down to 0 degrees F.

The ease of maintenance, beauty, and diversity of these dwarf evergreen trees is hard to deny. There’s no doubt making a home for one or more of them in your garden pays big dividends all year long.

Gardener's Guide to Compact Plants

For more on using compact plant varieties in your garden, check out the following articles:

What are your favorite compact evergreen trees? We’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.

Dwarf Evergreen Trees: 15 Beautiful Choices

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26 Responses to Dwarf evergreen trees: 15 exceptional choices for the yard and garden

  1. Cookie says:

    Thanks for the pictures and excellent details. I love the look of Colorado Blue Spruce but not the ‘trimming’ part. So it is looking like North Star will go in my garden.

  2. Jessica says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This article was everything I needed to learn after cutting down some terribly placed trees in my yard. I have a literal degree in horticulture and I could count on one hand how many dwarf evergreens we learned about. How many dwarf anything we learned about, really. Not everyone has a giant yard!

  3. Seeley Elaine Stewart says:

    I have always been near excellent sources in the past; unfortunately, my local suppliers are limited in selection. Any suggestions for sources close to zip code 42240 appreciated, or a reliable mail order source. Waiting to begin

    • Many of these plants are available from commercial growers from whom smaller, local nurseries purchase their stock. Check with your local nursery to see if they can order any of the plants from their suppliers. Many times they can.

  4. Salomon Lipiner says:

    What dwarf evergreen is suitable to a cold, high wind city terrace?

    • I would shoot for a needled evergreen, like a conifer of some sort, rather than a broad-leaves evergreen like a boxwood or azalea. Broad-leaved evergreens are more prone to wind dessication.

  5. Carol says:

    Do you know anything about the root systems of these plants? We have limited space to work with due to the location of our septic system. Do you know about the width range of the root system of say, North Star?

    • Typically, for trees, at maturity the root system extends two or three times the width of the plant’s drip line (the outermost tip of the branches). These smaller evergreen trees do have smaller root systems than full-size evergreens, but I wouldn’t plant them too close to a septic system, especially if it’s an older system that may not be fully enclosed (terra cotta pipes, for example).

  6. Beth says:

    Hi Jessica,
    My “go to” plant when I need a narrow evergreen for a foundation has become the Japanese Plum Yew. I have had to work a bit to get clients to accept anything that has “Yew” in it’s name since they were used in every foundation planting in the 60’s and 70’s. This evergreen has solved a number of planting problems for me!

  7. Bev Spreeman says:

    I love the look of the Dwarf Japanese Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii ‘Kotobuki’). I want my home to reflect the natural beauty of a woods but have a very small lot surrounded by garages and power poles in the back yard so need dwarf tree varieties that can help screen the bad views.

  8. Val says:

    Thank you for this very informative article. Do you know which of these varieties would do well in a large pot? I would like one for my covered porch.

    • Any of them would do well in a large pot. However, if you live in an extremely cold climate, I would suggest insulating the pot for the winter to keep the roots shielded. You can bury the pot somewhere in the garden, or if it’s too big to move, wrap the outside of the pot (but not the plant) in a few layers of bubblewrap or surround the pot with a wire cage and fill the gap between the pot and the cage with straw or leaves to add the insulative layer.

  9. Peggy says:

    Can any of these be successfully grown in central Florida?

  10. Rachel says:

    Hi Jessica,
    What do you think of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’)?
    I purchased four, at Christmas, for the north side of my home to place in pots. I transplanted them into larger pots in January and they were doing very well and sprouting beautiful foliage. They don’t get a lot of direct wind on the north side of my home in Arizona but it has been windy and now the warm weather is upon us. One is starting to look “limp” and dry. I deep water them regularly when the soil feels dry.
    Typically not grown in this state, I don’t believe, but I love them. How can I save them? Will they grow indoors :)?

  11. Creig Davis says:

    Can any of these dwarf evergreens stand hot summers and high humidity?

  12. Mary says:

    I lost two large spruce in my yard due to fungus recently. They were over 40 years old. Is North Star susceptible to the same fungus? Should I choose pines instead?

  13. Alice says:

    My home owners assoc. is planning to remove 2 large blue spruce trees from the berm behind my house (common area). These trees are destroying the lawns with huge roots surfacing everywhere.
    Could you suggest a smallish evergreen or maybe a dwarf variety?
    The spot is sunny, raised on the berm, with river rock around the plantings. Some shade would be nice. Our zone is in the 4-5 range.

  14. Krysti says:

    Thanks for such a great list of attractive dwarf evergreens! I definitely want to add some manageable interest to my yard. I live near Salt Lake City, Utah. Do you think all these varieties would work for my climate?

    • Salt Lake City is in USDA hardiness zone 5, though outlying areas may be closer to a zone 4. So, any of these varieties that are hardy to -20 to -30 degrees F will work for you.

  15. Greg Nielsen says:

    Great article! We’re in North Carolina zone 7a. We have a southern exposure want something like the North Star or the Chalet Swiss Stone. And we have deer! Will either of those be a good alternative or do you have any other suggestions. Thank you very much

    • Both of those choices are typically deer resistant but no promises. Every herd eats differently, so I suggest heading to a few local nurseries and asking about their experiences with those two trees and your local deer.

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