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Plant Tip: Dwarf Doesn’t Always Mean Tiny

The age-old mantra of the landscape designer: right plant, right place. If you carefully select for mature size that suits the space, you’ll avoid heartbreak and excessive work. Sometimes that means selecting a dwarf cultivar of a particular specimen. There’s a misconception out there that I want to correct about dwarf specimens. “Dwarf” is a relative term, not an absolute. I’ve met with people who were beyond frustrated that their dwarf whatsamawhosit outgrew the space they allotted for it. Dwarf generally means something that grows slowly and has an eventual size smaller than its relative. Read the tag, look it up, or ask the person working at the local independent garden center.

The photo above is a good example of a good-sized dwarf. This is a cluster of three “PeeWee” Oakleaf Hydrangeas in front of my porch. I have only ever used the pruners on them once since I planted them in 2006, and that was just to nip off some damage caused by Snowpocalypse. As a result you can see their natural form. 3-4 feet tall is the commonly accepted maximum height for these, and I’m right there. They do a great job of providing attractive massing in front of my porch and I could pretty easily keep them a little smaller if I wished. Had I expected that “dwarf” meant they would stay the size of the beachball-sized plants I purchased, however – I would be disappointed. Compared to a traditional oakleaf hydrangea (that can reach 7 ft x 7 ft), however, this is a dwarf.

Unsure what plant is the best choice for your northern Virginia landscape design? Give me a call and I’ll be happy to talk to you about a design proposal!

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