Small Plants for Small Spaces A Short Guide to Small Plants Like Pansy

Short guide to small plants like pansies.

Written by David S.

There is a fantastic collection of plants that stay small. In this blog, we look at some ways to use small plants and, of course, some of those plants. To get started, let’s say that small plants stay under 1-foot, though some may never reach more than an inch. 

Why You Should Consider Small Plants in Your Landscape

The most basic reason to consider small plants in your landscape is that they fit perfectly into small holes where they fill up the “white space” with a bit of green and color. Other Reasons Include:

  • Lovely in the Front Border
  • You can crane more into smaller pots. 
  • They surprise the eye. 
  • Many are not Standard Plants — plants that you see over and over again. 
  • They are delightful 

Small Plants for Borders 

Whether you are designing a flower bed or adding plants along a walkway, smaller plants offer a front-row opportunity. There are so many small plants that it is impossible to go through them all here. But these little guys play a starring role and deliver beautiful colors and textures. They include 

  • Pansy — are available in so many colors, and they are happy tiny plants. They grow 6-9 inches tall and are lovely when planted close together. They will create a sea of color along a walkway or flower bed. Interestingly enough, pansies are available in a deep purple that appears to be black. 
  • Sedum — are succulents, and many are short and spreading. They offer unique textures and colors, especially when planted in mixed beds or along pathways. Sedums spread and will fill in gaps in your flowerbed or sprawl and drape dramatically into a walkway. They are also lovely little gems for spilled containers as they will trail out of the pot and down to the ground. 
  • Viola — A close cousin of the Pansy, violas grow to about nine inches. They are perky and happy little plants available in a range of beautiful colors, including vivid yellows, blues, and mixed tones such as blue and white. Violas work well in shallow pots, tucked into gaps into your flower bed or along pathways. They make a lovely understory plant and will enjoy tucking in under taller plants. 
  • Ice plants — These are leggy succulents that do well with little water. You see them in droves along freeways, but in a home landscape, they offer a dramatic texture with a spotting of lovely blooms, often reddish-pink or yellow. Ice plants are beautiful when dangling, so plant them in a place where their long tendril-like runners will show off and cascade. Please keep them in check by pruning back long runners. These plants also offer a bit of fire resistance to landscaping. 
  • Spring Bulbs — Tulips, Daffodils, Narcissus, Hyacinth, Crocus are five examples of flowering bulbs that make their appearance in the early spring when little else is blooming. These are all lovely in mass plantings or when planted in small clumps. They work well in containers, or you can plant them along pathways, on the border of beds, or in small pots where they become centerpieces. There is a fantastic variety of spring flower bulbs, and I encourage you to explore them as an option for your landscape. 

Trailing Plants 

Trailing plants dangle and sprawl out of containers giving a dramatic fringed look to a garden bed, container, or pot. These are also plants that will spill into a walkway or may establish themselves between stepping stones. They include:

  • Sedums 
  • Lobelia 
  • Alyssum 
  • English Ivy 
  • Spider plants — though they can get quite large. 

Many others offer that dramatic and hanging effect. 

Breaking Up the Landscape 

In terms of design, an entire border of small plants is quite beautiful. However, you can break up that look by adding plants that get 1-3 feet tall. The idea is to place a clumping of plants, such as daffodils, amid the smaller plants. The taller plants rise from the sea of small plants creating small vistas within the landscape. As a landscaping trick, this method works well for creating dramatic walkways where the taller plants help to guide the person along a path. You can add solar lighting to this, making the effect even more lovely during the early morning and evening hours. 

Caring for Smaller Plants 

Many small plants have shallow roots and will benefit from light mulching. The mulch helps keep the soil from drying out and will keep water near the root zones of small plants. Soil for many of the plants we have discussed is a basic well-draining loam. Sedums may love sandier soil. Some plants grow in carpets, which we call a living mulch, and will help keep the ground moist for plants that grow near them. Sedums are one of those plants. 

Set up your growing area before you plant or amend the soil in small spots for individual plants going into an established bed or container. Here are some products that help transform the soil:

  • Perlite — and other aggregates such as sand, vermiculite, coconut coir, etc. These lovely amendments will break up clay soils and add oxygen and drainage to poorly draining soil. 
  • Organic Compost — If your soil is sandy, add organic matter to it. Pair this with a top layer of mulch, such as bagged bark, and the soil will improve. Some plants love poor soil, so be sure to build the soil to suit the plants. 
  • Bio or Living Soil — are products that are full of microbial friends. Healthy soil is a mixture of moisture-retaining and biota. Many plant diseases are preventable by encouraging healthy soil. A few products to check out include – earthworm casting, FoxFarms 70/30 perlite, coconut coir, Black Gold compost, and specialty amendments by EB Stone, such as succulent food. 

Green Thumb Nursery has five locations scattered throughout the Southern California landscape. We stock a fantastic variety of small plants that are perfect for tucking into holes in flower beds, adding to small containers, or as the backbone of impressive walkways. 

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