The Q&A Archives: Smaller Foundation Shrubs

Question: For over ten years I have had two Dwarf Alberta Spruces and two Spreader Firs right against the front of my house. Three years ago I added another very small Dwarf Alberta Spruce to even out the arrangement. I planted impatiens around the bottom of these every spring, and it was quite a pretty arrangement. About 2 1/2 years ago my two larger Dwarf Alberta Spruces, which were by then 3 1/2 feet tall and quite round, began losing needles and turning brown. I went to a local nursery to see what the problem might be, and it was severe spider mites. At that time I thoroughly sprayed these two shrubs with Isotox, a plant chemcial that is almost unbearable to smell, but which I was advised would kill the spider mites. It didn't. The spruces have continued to die. The front still has a little green but most of the tree is brown, and has been for over a year. Since it took so long to get these to a good size and they were quite pretty, but were killed so quickly, I would like to plant something a little more hearty but also of the dwarf size. Something, too, that would compliment the two small spreader firs. I can move the third Dwwrf Alberta Spruce, since it is so small. I need a similar shrub that would not grow taller than about 3 1/2 to 4 feet because I have a very large window behind this landscaped area. Please give me some recommendations. Thank you very much. I am a very avid gardener and can work with all types of flowers, shrubs, and trees.

Answer: Spruce do tend to suffer terribly from spider mites; do keep a very close eye on the remaining plant as it may also be infested. In some cases the damage is in fact done during the cooler months and is not apparent until the weather warms up. However, properly timed applications of dormant oil may be effective. Your County Extension (458-5612) might be able to help you with that problem and suggest controls.

Some possible replacements might include other dwarf conifers which appeal to you, since although their ultimate size will probably be too large they do grow slowly. Another option would be a low to medium height juniper assuming there is room for the shrubs to spread outward, or perhaps a denser and smaller form of the mugo pine. You might also consider some of the new varieties of very small spring and summer flowering shrubs such as the pink-flowered spireas, the white or pastel or golden flowering potentillas or the "Miniature Snowflake" mock orange.

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