Midwest Regional Reports

The Best New Compact Shrubs for the Northern Plains

These cold-hardy, low-maintenance introductions shine in tight and hard-to-fill spots

Ground Hog aronia
Ground Hog™ aronia spreads over the ground like a groundhog spreads under it, providing year-round interest with flowers, berries, and fall foliage. Photo: courtesy of provenwinners.com

If you are like me, you are always looking to see what the latest and greatest shrubs are to add to the landscape. I look for shrubs that are not just cold tolerant but that stay small without much effort while providing a “wow” factor. Thankfully, there are folks out there constantly working on new introductions to keep us wanting more. Here are a few of the newest compact shrubs for 2020 to look at adding to your Northern Plains landscape.

Pinktini Preston lilac
Pinktini™ Preston lilac bursts with large panicles of fragrant pink. Photo: courtesy of Jeffries Nurseries

Pinktini™ Preston lilac

Syringa × prestoniae ‘Jeftin’, Zones 2–7

Bred from the popular ‘Miss Canada’ Preston lilac (Syringa × prestoniae ‘Miss Canada’, Zones 2–7), which reaches 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide, Pinktini™ Preston lilac reaches a height and spread of only 4 to 5 feet, making it the perfect little shrub. It is nonsuckering and hardy down to Zone 2. What this lilac lacks in size it more than makes up for with fragrant bright pink flowers in late spring and dusty red to purple foliage in the fall. Add this shrub to your foundation plantings, or pick up a few and create a small screen where you can enjoy their heavenly scent.

Iceberg Alley sageleaf willow
Iceberg Alley® sageleaf willow has silvery foliage that will contrast with your darker shrubs and perennials. Photo: courtesy of First Editions Shrub and Trees

Iceberg Alley® sageleaf willow

Salix candida ‘Jefberg’, Zones 2–6

I am excited to see how people use this new sageleaf willow in their landscapes. This small native shrub grows only 3 to 6 feet wide and just as tall. It offers powdery, silver foliage that creates excellent contrast and texture. In spring, silver catkins that are highlighted with red stamens grace the branches. This shrub responds wonderfully to pruning, and the catkins make great cut flowers.

Ground Hog aronia
Ground Hog™ aronia is a versatile shrub that will act as a dense ground cover. Photo: courtesy of provenwinners.com

Ground Hog™ aronia

Aronia melanocarpa ‘UCONNAM012′, Zones 3–9

Ground Hog™ aronia is a good shrub to use for a dense ground cover in those difficult-to-maintain areas. As a native shrub, this plant can withstand our tough winters, periodic droughts, and wide range of soils. Individual plants reach a height of 8 to 14 inches tall and a spread of 36 inches. They are covered with glossy green foliage and white flowers in spring, followed by dark purple berries in fall—which birds thoroughly enjoy—nestled among red fall foliage. This is a perfect pick to naturalize and stabilize a hillside, but it can also be tucked into a manicured landscape.

Ground Hog aronia berries
Blue berries fill the branches of Ground Hog™ aronia shortly before the foliage turns red in autumn. Photo: courtesy of provenwinners.com

These small, well-behaved shrubs are exactly what you may be looking for. They are compact and hardy plants that need little maintenance but offer multiseason interest, making any one of them a great addition to your garden.

—Chris Schlenker is the head gardener of McCrory Gardens at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota.

View Comments


  1. freykarts 08/17/2020

    One of the most interesting part in gardening or landscaping is choosing the right shrubs or flowers. It must go well with the intended soil and of course in the eye sight.
    Great options you have right there!

    our url:

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest

Shop the Store

View All Products