Most conifers and young plants found in four-inch pots can be enjoyed in the miniature garden for years before they get too big. That is a Blue Star Juniper on the left, and the base of a Compress Juniper to the right of the bench – both would do well in the Houston climate.
A Little Miniature Gardening in the Big State of Texas
I was invited to do an interview for Your Livable Garden, the nation’s longest running landscape architecture radio show based in Houston, Texas. Everything is bigger in Texas and that includes miniature gardening – pardon the oxymoron. It remains in our top fives States for our online store sales and our Mini Garden Gazette sign-ups, and it has been for years.
So, it was about time to go digging deeper into what miniature garden plants would grow well in the area. Aside from the usual fall-back-plants for hot climates: sedums, cacti and carnivorous plants – all of which can lend interest to a miniature garden design – I wanted to find a better list of plants that can actually look like miniature versions of full-sized trees to help cinch the realism. And where’s there’s a will, there is a way.
This is what the Blue Star Juniper looks like when found in found in four-inch pots.
How Did You Do That?
How did I find some ideas of what plants would work in Texas from my desk in Seattle? I first looked at a variety of trees and plants on a few websites and some on Pinterest (focusing only on specific boards titled “Plants for Houston.”) I looked for the similarities or varieties of the same plants that we have been growing with success for years in our miniature gardens here in Seattle. Once I saw a tree or ground cover that I recognized, I looked it up to make sure it fit into USDA Zone 9 and the AHS Heat Zone 9 – focusing on the Houston area where the show was based. The decisions came easy, it was either they matched or not.
Microclimates are Your Friends
The second place I looked was to my Fellow Miniature Gardeners. I looked up what plants my customers from Texas were ordering, double-checked some of the zones, and found out that some of these gals are pushing the zones – which really meant microclimates. Yay, more trees to choose from!
Microclimates are areas in your garden that differ from the regional zone that you are in. For example, if the Houston area is in USDA Zone 9, but your eastern side of your house is shaded by a big tree, you may have a microclimate that could be in Zone 8. That big tree will make air make the air cooler and the soil damper, allowing you to push your zone to accommodate more plants. Awnings, structures, denser trees or shrubs, or a big planter can create different microclimates in your garden, and help plants that need a little more protection from that harsh Texas summer sun. (Here is more information on the Texas’ microclimates from a gardener in San Antonio.)
Baby boxwoods can be enjoyed while they are young. Pruning it back yearly can help slow down the growth rate and keep its bushy shape. This is the Justin Brouwers Boxwood.
And the Results are In!
Bedding-Plants for USDA Zone 9
(Note that I may be off on the flowering times.)
Vinca minor – Can get aggressive. Trim ruthlessly or let it run behind your garden scene. Flowers in late spring, early summer.
Ajuga reptens – Can get aggressive in-ground but we have had terrific results in containers by trimming back the spring growth. Purple flowers in the summer. We like the ‘Chocolate Chip’ variety.
Liriope spicata – This Dwarf Lily Turf can grow tall in-ground after a few years, and spread somewhat fast. We have found it stays shorter in pots where the spreading can be controlled. There are other kinds of Liriope, look for the clumping kind, it’s better behaved.
Bellium minuta – Miniature Daisies are just the greatest. (We’ll have more in the store next week.)
Miniature Hostas – Love the shade. The miniatures are the cutest ever. Easy to grow. (The only reason we don’t grow them here in Seattle is the snails and slugs love them too.)
Groundcover Thymes – Different than the culinary Thyme and not edible. A pleasure to grow in the minature garden. Flowers in the summer.
Dwarf Mondo Grass – Another favorite. Good for indoors too.
Miniature Garden Trees and Shrubs for UDSA Zone 9
I used the botanical latin names because there are a number of varieties within each of these recommendations that will suit:
Euonymous japonicus microphylla – Look for the babies in four-inch pots as the shrubs can get really big. Start small can keep it small with yearly pruning to help slow-down the growth-rate.
Buxus microphylla – The English Boxwood is another favorite. As with the Euonymous, look for the young babies in four-inch pots and prune them to slow them down. See our selection of dwarf Boxwoods here.
Spirea japonica – Japanese Spireas are available in many different leaf-colors. Start with baby plants in four-inch pots and shear them by third after bloom and again in late winter. (Note that there is a gap in my spirea knowledge – I’m not sure what Spireas do in the winter in Texas. I need a teleporter. Lol!) See our Bullata Japanese Spirea here.
Juniper horizontalis & squamata – The Juniper horizontalis is the ground cover juniper that grows sideways. Great in-ground or in pots, just trim the runners (new growth) every spring and winter to slow them down. The Juniper squamata ‘Blue Star,’ for example, is a favorite with a mounding growth habit that can be shaped into a tree. See our miniature and dwarf Junipers here.
The Juniper horizontalis, or ground cover Junipers, comes in many forms and colors. It really is a delight to grow.
You can start to see a pattern here with choosing young or baby trees with small leaves. If you can find them in four-inch pots, you can enjoy them for years in a miniature garden while watching it grow up. When it gets too big, you can start a “bigger” miniature garden, pass it on to another gardener or use it as in your full-sized garden bed.
And lastly, this is a sampling that other Texans have ordered from our online store where they must have microclimates. All of the plants listed below will need consistently damp soil (as in wrung-sponge-damp) and shade from that hot afternoon sun. Or, try them in containers that you can easily move around as the weather changes but, double-check to be sure that you can push the zones in your garden first.
– Dwarf and Miniature Hinoki Cypress
– Dwarf and Miniature Canada Hemlocks
– Dwarf and Miniature Spruce
– Jacquelline Hillier Elm (Available in Spring)
(The above list is based on the orders from our clients in Texas.)
Got a microclimate in your garden? See all of our “Zone 8 and Up” plants for miniature gardening here.
See all of our plants for all zones here.
We are just stocking up the online store this week and next to to get ready for the fall planting season! Want to be on the inside of the hobby? Join us for your FREE monthly Mini Garden Gazette newsletter. Sign up by using the form here.