Slow-growing evergreen shrubs are a good choice for landscaping because of their versatility in form, height, spread and foliage color and texture. Evergreen shrubs are hardy over a wide range of growing conditions and USDA hardiness zones. Some cultivars are available that require little pruning and maintenance, while others are well-suited for shaping and sculpting.
Common boxwood, also known as American boxwood, reaches 10 to 15 feet tall and offers cold tolerance. The foliage of this boxwood is somewhat variegated, transitioning from green to yellowish green.
Japanese boxwood, also known as littleleaf boxwood, is low-growing, only attaining 4 feet in height and spread. This boxwood offers heat tolerance. Littleleaf boxwood is suited to zones 6, 7 and 8.
Boxwoods grow at a rate of approximately 12 inches per year. These shrubs grow in everything from full sun to deep shade.
Hollies perform best in acidic soils with good drainage. The Yaupon holly cultivar ‘Nana’ has a slow-to-medium rate of growth. The plants reach an approximate size of 2 feet by 2 feet and have a mounding form. The cultivar tolerates sunny and shady conditions. The shrubs do not develop berries.
Only some Japanese hollies are slow-growing, including ‘Compacta,’ which reaches 4 to 5 feet in both height and spread. Japanese hollies produce black fruits and small leaves. American holly is suited to zones 5, 6 and 7. Female plants develop red berries.
Chinese hollies don’t require male shrubs for fertilization. They perform well in zones 6, 7 and 8. The cultivar ‘Burford’ has fewer leaf spines, while ‘Dwarf Buford’ is an even slower-growing, hardier version of the standard form.
The globe arborvitae ‘Little Giant’ has an average height of 4 feet and a globe shape. ‘Pygmy Globe’ is smaller, reaching only 2 to 4 feet tall. The cultivar ‘Techny’ is a slow- to medium-growing Eastern arborvitae cultivar with a pyramidal form. Examples of the cultivar reach up to 15 feet tall. Each of these arborvitae may be planted under conditions ranging from full sun to full shade in locations up to and including zone 3.
All yews are considered slow-growing evergreen conifers, but the Japanese yew cultivar ‘Nana’ is particularly slow-growing and offers a spreading form. Spreading yews require a shady location and some shelter. ‘Taunton’ resists winter burn, making it a good match for those in northern states.
Yews are hardy up to zone 4, require well-drained soil and are rarely troubled by pests or disease. The Virginia Cooperative Extension warns against planting yews in areas where children or pets may consume their foliage, bark or seeds, which are toxic.
Resources and References
North Dakota State University, Cass County Extension; Evergreen Shrubs; Todd Weinmann
North Carolina Coop. Ext. Svc.; Shrubs 1-4′ for North Carolina…; M.A. (Kim) Powell; March 1993
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension; Evergreen Shrubs Differ; Don Janssen
University of Minnesota Extension; Choosing Landscape Evergreens; Jeffrey Gillman, et al.; 2009
Texas AgriLife Extension Service: Small Shrubs
Clemson Cooperative Extension; Boxwood; Marjan Kluepfel, et al.; December 1998
Clemson Cooperative Extension; Holly; Marjan Kluepfel, et al.; May 1999
Virginia Cooperative Extension; Yews, Taxus spp.; Alex X. Niemiera
University of Missouri Extension; Selecting Landscape Plants: Broad-Leaved Evergreens; Christopher J. Starbuck; August 2007