10 dwarf evergreen shrubs for full sun

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If you want to “spruce up” a landscape that gets lots of sunlight, dwarf evergreen shrubs for full sun are an excellent choice. They make great foundation plants for varied flower beds and are also outstanding for hardy, low-maintenance ground cover or low hedges.

Though many evergreens make excellent garden plants, the following list showcases some of the best smaller evergreen shrubs that grow well in direct sunlight. They require little attention, resist pests, tolerate all kinds of soil, and thrive in most climates.

Picea abies 'little gem'

1. Little Gem Norway spruce

Little Gem Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Little Gem’) is a tidy, low-growing evergreen shrub. This needled evergreen grows to a mature size of only 1-2 feet tall and about 3 feet wide.

‘Little Gem’ is frequently used as a foundation plant in front of smaller buildings and as a specimen plant in featured garden beds. They grow quite slowly and won’t outgrow their space, requiring minimal maintenance.

Little Gem Norway spruce grows best in full sun. These shrubs are particularly cold-hardy and can be grown in Zones 2-8.

Blue star juniper (juniperus squamata 'blue star')

2. Blue Star juniper

Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’) is another go-to small evergreen. No list of surprisingly tough and easy-to-grow small evergreen shrubs for sun is complete without a juniper – and this one works well as either a foundation plant or a groundcover.

Blue Star juniper is among the many dwarf evergreen shrubs for full sun that also do well in partial shade, making it perfect for ground cover under deciduous trees. Sometimes also called singleseed juniper, it has striking silver-blue needles that look almost streaked or frosted.

Blue Star juniper shrubs grow from 2-3 feet tall and about 3-4 feet wide, and they do well in full sun from zones 4 to 8. They grow naturally into low, graceful mounds that require little water and practically no pruning.

Juniperus virginiana

3. Grey Owl juniper

Grey Owl juniper (Juniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’) is a dwarf evergreen cultivar. This juniper is known for its low-growing habit and silvery darker green foliage. The branches have a gently arching habit and are often covered in matte blue berry-like cones.

Mature plants are about twice as wide as they are tall, and grow to a size of 2-3 feet tall and 5-6 feet wide. Grey Owl Juniper grows best in full sun. This plant thrives in Zones 4-9.

Bird's nest spruce (picea abies 'nidiformis')

4. Bird’s Nest spruce

Bird’s Nest spruce (Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’) is a ground-hugging variety of the Norway spruce known for its densely needled branches that curve naturally outward to form bushy, vibrant mounds. It’s tidy shape makes it one of the most popular hardy dwarf conifer options available. Though not as cold-loving as some of the other full-sun small evergreen shrubs presented here, it will thrive in zones 3 through 7.

It can reach heights of 3-5 feet tall with a spread of 4-6 feet wide, but is slow growing and you can keep it happily at a quarter of that size. New growth is a vibrant chartreuse that mellows with age to a lustrous grayish-green. It requires little maintenance, only annual trimming, and is highly-resistant to nibbling visitors like deer or rabbits.

Dwarf mugo pine (pinus mugo var. Pumilio) (1)

5. Dwarf Mugo pine

Dwarf Mugo pine (Pinus mugo var. pumilio), also called mountain pine or creeping pine, can grow as tall as five feet with a spread of up to ten feet, though it is slow-growing and easily kept at a manageable size. It has dense branches of stiff, dark green needles that bring the perfect amount of texture to anything from a zen rock garden to a larger group planting of various full sun small evergreens shrubs.

This hardy, easy-to-grow dwarf conifer isn’t afraid of a little chill, does well from zones 8 through 2, and retains its beautiful green needles even in the harshest winter. Mugo pine is drought-resistant and tolerant of nearly all soil conditions.

Dwarf alberta spruce (picea glauca ‘conica')

6. Dwarf Alberta spruce

Dwarf Alberta spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’) looks almost fuzzy and naturally grows in an adorable tiny Christmas tree shape. Its soft, vibrant green needles grow densely on compact branches and have a characteristic earthy smell reminiscent of the scent of rain after a period of warm, dry weather.

At maturity, these spruces can reach ten to thirteen feet in height, with a spread that nearly matches, but this slow grower (only two to four inches per year) is easy to maintain. It does best in cooler climates, throughout the range of zones from 2 to 8.


7. Boxwood

Boxwood (Buxus spp.) is one of the most popular small landscaping bushes for a full sun planting location. There are about 70 species in the boxwood genus, but most of the garden varietals are a type of either common boxwood or Japanese boxwood. Some varieties are quite large, but dwarf cultivars like ‘Green Gem’ and ‘Baby Gem’ are perfect for low-growing applications.

These familiar full-sun small evergreen shrubs have dense branches of small, broad, rounded leaves that feel waxy or leathery to the touch. You may associate them with elaborate mazes or carefully clipped topiary in formal French gardens, but these versatile full sun small evergreen shrubs also look fantastic when left a little wilder. They’ll do well in zones from 4 to 10, thrive in full sun or shade, and are deer, drought, and pest-resistant.

Before you buy, note that they’re toxic to pets and some types can grow as tall as 12 feet, so talk to your nursery about specific varieties to fit your needs. The dwarves B. sempervirens “Suffruticosa” or Korean boxwood B. sinica var. insularis are both great small evergreen shrubs for sun.

Even the tallest varieties are slow growing, so they will only need a trim once a year and require nothing more than adequate watering and about three to three-and-a-half inches of mulch.

Sunshine ligustrum (ligustrum sinense 'sunshine')

8. Sunshine ligustrum

Sunshine ligustrum (Ligustrum sinense ‘Sunshine’) is a small evergreen shrub known for its bright golden-green foliage. This fast-growing privet grows to a mature size of about 3-4 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.

Ligustrum shrubs can be planted alone as a single specimen, together as a grouping of specimens, or in a line as a low border along a walkway.

Sunshine ligustrum is resistant to many common pests and diseases and also resistant to many environmental conditions. It is resistant to deer and pest insects, as well as to mildew fungal diseases. Ligustrum is typically both drought and heat tolerant once established.

Inkberry holly

9. Gem Box inkberry holly

Gem Box inkberry holly (Ilex glabra ‘Gem Box’) is a specialty cultivar of low-growing native holly. These dwarf evergreens naturally grow into a ball-like shape, reaching a mature size of 2-3 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide.

‘Gem Box’ native holly is a great choice for both traditional and modern designs, particularly if there is an emphasis on planting native species. They can be used in a row as low hedge or garden bed edging plants, or planted individually as single specimens.

Gem Box inkberry holly grows best in full sun, but is tolerant of partial shade. These slow-growing plants thrive in Zones 5-9.

10. Arp rosemary

Arp rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’) is a small broadleaf evergreen shrub with both landscaping and culinary appeal. These classic plants grow to a mature size of 3-5 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide.

‘Arp’ is known as a cold-hardy rosemary cultivar for landscaping. While chefs prefer specific cultivars, such as ‘Tuscan Blue’, this variety is also wonderful for cooking with and for adding to fragrant bouquets and potpourris.

Arp rosemary is best planted in full sun. The plant may become weak and thin and may not flower well if planted in partial shade. Arp Rosemary can be grown in Zones 6-10 but is susceptible to winter damage at the cooler end of this range. Winter damage may consist of dead stem tips, leaf drop, or even the death of the entire aboveground portion in a particularly cold year.

Full-sun evergreen shrubs for a beautiful year-round garden

Plantings that stay green and hold their shape even in the dead of winter give form to a garden, maintaining its presence as a counterpoint and complement to your home.

Many of these dwarf evergreen shrubs for full sun will flower along with annuals or perennials in spring and summer. Still, even the nonflowering shrubs maintain a green, lush look year-round that will make your garden pop in sun and shade, no matter the weather.

FAQs about small evergreen shrubs

What are the best dwarf evergreen shrubs that grow at or under 2 feet tall?

Here are some of the best dwarf evergreens that either grow naturally to a height less than 2 feet tall, or can easily be kept under 2′ for borders with some pruning.

Green Gem Boxwood (Buxus x ‘Green Gem’): 2-3 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide
Gem Box Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra ‘Gem Box’): 2-3 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide
Blue Pacific Juniper (Juniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacific’): 1 foot tall and 6 feet wide
Grey Owl Juniper (Juniperus virginiana ‘Grey Owl’): 2-3 feet tall and 5-6 feet wide
Dwarf Radicans Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides ‘Radicans’): 1-2 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide
Eternal Fragrance Daphne (Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’): 2-3 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide
Little Gem Norway Spruce (Picea abies ‘Little Gem’): 1-2 feet tall and 3 feet wide



More landscaping shrubs

Time to add some shrubs to your landscape to brighten things up year-round, provide privacy, and perhaps even some flowers?

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening expert and founder of Home for the Harvest. She's also a professional engineer, certified permaculture garden designer, and master gardener in training. Mary Jane has been featured by publications such as Real Simple, Mother Earth News, Homes & Gardens, Heirloom Gardener, and Family Handyman.