Small Shrubs For Full Sun (With Pictures) – Identification Guide

Small Shrubs For Full Sun (With Pictures)

Small shrubs that thrive in the sun are essential ornamental plants for most garden landscapes. Small and dwarf sun-loving shrubs and bushy plants add a splash of color, green foliage, and visual appeal to a front or backyard. Small evergreen shrubs for full sun ensure your yard never looks bare in winter. And low-growing flowering bushes fill gardens with colorful blooms from spring until fall.

Knowing the best small shrubs that tolerate direct sunshine for planting is vital in a south-facing yard. However, even in west- or east-facing landscapes, sun-tolerant shrubs are necessary if the shrubs get more than six hours of sunshine daily. Therefore, shrubs with a high tolerance for the sun will ensure a lush garden landscape with little maintenance.

Small shrubs for full sun typically grow under 6 ft. (1.8 m) tall and tolerate over six hours of direct sunlight. 

This article helps to identify the top sun-tolerant shrubs to plant in your garden. You will find pictures and descriptions of small evergreen shrubs, perennial flowering shrubs, and ornamental bushy plants that survive in direct sunlight. 

What is Full Sun and Partial Sun?

Small shrubs for full sun require at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. Partial sun or partial shade usually means the small bushes must have some shade for a few hours in the middle of the day. In some cases, dwarf shrubs for partial sun also tolerate dappled shade.  

It’s good to remember that full sun and partial sun shrubs typically need plenty of watering in the hottest climates. So even though they are classed as drought-tolerant plants, plenty of moisture is needed to prevent the most sun-tolerant shrubs from wilting in the intense heat.

How to Choose Small Shrubs for Full Sun

The four main factors affecting your choice of small landscaping shrub are USDA growing zone, sunlight exposure, moisture levels, and soil type. Usually, small, sun-hardy shrubs are low maintenance and don’t require pruning to maintain their height. It’s also a good idea to pick disease- and pest-resistant shrubs.

Types of Small Shrubs for Full Sun (With Pictures) – Identification Guide

Small shrubs can do wonders to enhance the aesthetics of a sunny garden. Let’s look at some small deciduous shrubs and low-growing evergreen bushy plants for a sunny garden landscape.

Small Hydrangea Shrubs for Full Sun

Potted hydrangea

Hydrangea shrubs include many sun-tolerant small cultivars with stunning flowers in a wide array of colors

Dwarf hydrangea shrubs thrive in sun-drenched gardens and are famous for their huge colorful, showy flowers, thick leathery leaves, and rounded growth. Small hydrangea shrub flowers consist of clusters of small blue, pink, creamy-white, purple or red petals. The flowerhead can be large, ball-like blooms or umbrella-shaped clusters. 

Small hydrangea shrubs are ideal for compact, sunny gardens or containers. The attractive shrubs grow 2 to 6 ft. (0.6 – 1.8 m) tall and wide. Varieties of the versatile landscaping shrubs can be cold-hardy perennials that survive harsh winters and return in spring. Or mophead hydrangeas thrive in hot, humid climates in the south as flowering evergreen shrubs. 

This makes hydrangeas dwarf shrubs ideal for planting in a Florida landscape or growing in a cooler climate in the north. Hydrangeas in northern climates are deciduous shrubs, and evergreen hydrangea shrubs grow well in warmer, semi-tropical regions.

Plant sun-loving hydrangeas along a foundation line, in mixed shrub borders, or containers to liven up a patio or decking area.

USDA growing zones: 3 to 9 (check individual cultivars)

Soil: Well-drained soil that is kept evenly moist

Sun exposure: Full sun or partial sun

Dwarf Azalea Shrubs for Growing in Full Sun (Rhododendron spp.)

Azalea

Flowering azalea shrubs include small cultivars that will give stunning color to sunny gardens

Small azalea shrubs thrive in sunny conditions, where plenty of sunlight encourages showy, colorful pink, red, purple and yellow blossoms. Azalea shrubs are identified by their funnel-shaped, ruffled flowers, smooth leathery lance-shaped leaves, and sun tolerance. Although azaleas can be large flowering shrubs, dwarf varieties only grow 2 to 6 ft. (0.6 – 1.8 m) tall.

Sun-loving azalea shrubs are essential shrubs for a sunny front or backyard. The compact deciduous or evergreen bushy plants bloom prolifically from early spring until summer. The flowering shrubs are ideal for full sun in small gardens, borders, cottage gardens, and foundation planting. 

USDA growing zones: 3 to 7; however, some heat-loving azaleas thrive in zones 8 and 9.

Soil: Well-drained, moist, acidic soil 

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial sun

Small Flowering Shrubby Cinquefoil For Full Sun (Potentilla fruticosa)

Potentilla fruticosa shrub

Potentilla fruticosa is a small shrub with pretty yellow flowers for full sun or part sun

Shrubby cinquefoil is a yellow-blooming small shrub that loves sun-drenched yards. The shrubby plant is identified by its abundance of five-petaled golden yellow flowers, small blue-green leaves, and compact appearance. Shrubby cinquefoil is also known for its long blooming time—from late spring through fall.

Small cinquefoil shrubs thrive in most landscapes if they get plenty of sunshine. The hardy bush tolerates hot summers and drought as well as freezing winter temperatures. 

As a sun-lover, shrubby cinquefoil grows 2 – 4 ft. (0.6 – 1.2 m) tall. The yellow-flowering shrub grows well as an informal hedge, specimen shrub, or massed in borders and beds. 

USDA growing zones: 3 to 7

Soil: Most soil types that are evenly moist and well-drained

Sun exposure: Full sun to part sun

Dwarf Arborvitae Shrubs (Thuja Occidentalis)

Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica’

Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica’ is a miniature globe-shaped arborvitae shrub for sunny locations

Small arborvitae shrubs are the “go-to” evergreen shrubs for full sun. Arborvitae shrubs are identified by their lush, compact foliage, consisting of flattened feathery sprays. Evergreen arborvitae shrubs range in color from golden-green to emerald green and dark green. Additionally, dwarf arborvitae shrubs can have a conical or globe-like growth habit. 

Thuja orientalis ‘Aurea Nana’

Thuja orientalis ‘Aurea Nana’

Dwarf arborvitae shrubs have several uses in a sunny landscape. Their dense evergreen soft scale-like leaves create perfect privacy screens or security hedges. Additionally, the shrub’s rounded, conical, or columnar growth can help complement any sunny landscape. 

Thuja occidentalis FIRE CHIEF

Thuja occidentalis ‘Fire Chief’

Some of the best small arborvitae shrubs include cultivars such as ‘Fire Chief’ with its orangey-red winter foliage, ‘Danica’ with soft feathery sprays creating a dark green rounded shape, and ‘Aurea Nana’ with its bright golden-green foliage and globose shape.

Thuja occidentalis ‘Hetz Midget’

Thuja occidentalis ‘Hetz Midget’

USDA growing zones: 2 to 7 depending on the cultivar

Soil: Average, moist, well-drained soils

Sun exposure: Full sun with some afternoon shade in the hottest climates

Small Juniper Shrubs For Full Sun (Juniperus)

Many varieties of junipers are small evergreen coniferous shrubs that thrive in the sunniest conditions. Small juniper shrubs typically come in three shapes—upright columnar, flattened and spreading, and a round mound. The woody leaves produce emerald-green, bluish-green, or silvery-blue needle-like leaves that tolerate intense sunshine.

Small juniper shrubs have many uses for landscaping a sunny garden. Here are some landscaping ideas on how to use junipers in the landscape:

Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone’: Columnar junipers (Juniperus communis) can be used to create a vertical accent in the ground or containers. The ‘Gold Cone’ cultivar has golden green foliage and grows 3 to 5 ft. (1 – 1.5 m) tall. 

Juniperus communis 'Gold Cone'

Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone’

Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’: Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) grows as full sun evergreen ground cover. The ‘Blue Chip’ cultivar spreads up to 8 ft. (2.4 m) wide but is only 1 ft. (0.3 m) tall. 

Blue Chip Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’)

Blue Chip juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’)

Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’: Squat junipers, with their horizontal branches and densely growing, prickly silvery needles, are perfect for complementing perennials and deciduous shrubs in a mixed bed. The flat-topped coniferous shrub grows 3 ft. (1 m) tall. 

Blue Star Juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)

Blue Star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)

Small Flowering Weigela ‘Alexandra’ Shrub (Weigela florida ‘Wine and Roses’)

Weigela ‘Alexandra’ Shrub

Weigela ‘Alexandra’ is also known as weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ and grows 4 to 5 ft. (1.2 – 1.5 m) tall

The purple-leafed weigela ‘Alexandra’ is a stunning landscaping shrub famed for its dark purple ovate leaves, rosy-pink funnel flowers, and compact growth. The eye-catching deciduous shrub is easy to grow and stands up well to full sun. In fact, intense sunlight encourages prolific blooming and deep leaf color.

The flowering weigela adds dramatic color to a sunny garden landscape. The small full sun flowering shrub is perfect for growing in borders, adding a pop of color to sunny borders, enhancing the aesthetics of a foundation line, or growing as a specimen plant. 

USDA growing zones: 4 to 8

Soil: Moist, well-drained soils 

Sun exposure: Full sun

Wintercreeper Shrubs for Full Sun (Euonymus fortunei)

Euonymus fortunei shrubs

The colorful foliage of small evergreen euonymus shrubs add an ornamental element to any sunny garden. This picture shows the compact cultivars: ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’, ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and ‘Moonshadow’

Wintercreeper is a leafy evergreen shrub with variegated leaves that looks spectacular growing in full sun. The landscaping shrubs feature low, vigorous growth and a spreading nature. The small, ovate leaves with serrated margins are yellow and green or creamy-white and green and measure up to 3” (7.5 cm) long.

Wintercreeper evergreen shrubs grow 1 to 3 ft. (0.3 – 1 m) tall and up to 4 ft. (1.2 m) wide. Their vigorous growth means the shrubs are ideal for fast-growing ground cover.

Wintercreeper shrubs are trusted landscaping plants due to their remarkable robustness. The creeping stems and densely-branched growth are ideal for evergreen ground cover, foundation planting, or edging pathways and driveways. Additionally, the vigorous climbing stems will cover walls or pergolas. 

Here are descriptions of wintercreeper leaves from some of the best small shrubs for landscaping a sunny garden:

Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’: Golden yellow ovate leaves with lime-green centers.

Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’: Glossy, emerald-green leaves with irregular creamy-white margins.

Euonymus fortunei ‘Goldy’: Bright, chartreuse-yellow leaves with soft serrated margins forming a bushy mat of brightly-colored foliage.

USDA growing zones: 5 to 8

Soil: Average, medium moisture soil that drains well.

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial sun

Dwarf Japanese Spindle Shrub (Euonymus japonicus)

Japanese Spindle (Euonymus japonicus) 

The attractive foliage of small evergreen Japanese spindle shrubs is great as a foundation planting for full to part sun. This picture shows the cultivars: Aureo-Marginatus, Silver King and Microphyllus

Low-growing Japanese spindle shrubby plants have brightly colored creamy white, yellow, or green leaves. The flowering evergreen decorative shrubs add visual interest to a garden landscape throughout the year. The full-sun shrub retains its foliage and color throughout the year. Dwarf Japanese spindle shrubs grow 2 to 3 ft. (0.6 – 1 m) tall and 2 ft. (0.6 m) wide.

Various varieties of Japanese spindle shrubs have eye-catching variegated foliage. The upright, bushy, evergreen plants grow well in beds and borders or accent taller shrubs and perennials. Or you can plant Japanese spindle as a foundation planting, container plant, or to accent an entranceway.

USDA growing zones: 6 to 9

Soil: Well-drained soils with medium moisture

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial sun

Spiraea Shrubs for Sunny Gardens

Spiraea japonica 'Gold Mound'

Gold Mound Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Gold Mound’) grows to 2 – 3 ft. (60 – 90 cm) tall and 3 – 4 ft. (0.9 – 1.2 m) wide

Spiraea shrubs are bushy, sun-loving, flowering plants ideal for sunny landscapes and compact gardens. Easy to grow in most yards, spiraea shrubs have a multi-seasonal interest. The shrub blooms in summer with white, pink, or crimson flowers that persist until early fall. The shrub’s beauty is enhanced by its orangey-red to purple leaves in the fall. 

Small spiraea shrubs grow 2 to 3 ft. (0.6 – 1 m) tall and wide. You can plant the blooming landscape plants as foundation plantings, a low-growing deciduous hedge, or enhance a sunny border.

USDA growing zones: 5 to 8 

Soil: Well-drained, average soils with medium moisture

Sun exposure: Full sun

Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)

Fothergilla gardenii

Dwarf fothergilla is a white flowering shrub that can grow in full sun or partial shade

Dwarf fothergilla is an attractive white-flowering small landscape shrub with lush green summer foliage and colorful fall colors. The showy white, honey-scented flowers don’t have petals but consist of wiry stamens. This gives the attractive bushy shrub three-season visual interest—white flowers in spring, green summer leaves, and glowing orange fall foliage.

Small fothergilla shrubs grow 2 to 3 ft. (0.6 – 1 m) tall. Plant the shrub in mixed borders or grow it as a foundation planting, low hedge, or specimen shrub.

USDA growing zones: 5 to 8

Soil: Organically rich, acidic, moist soil that drains well

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial sun

Small Spruce Shrubs (Picea glauca, Picea pungens)

Spruce shrubs are coniferous evergreen plants that thrive in plenty of sunshine. Small spruce shrubs are identified by their stiff, short needle-like leaves, densely-growing foliage, and compact, mounding growth. Depending on the variety of spruce shrubs, the full-sun landscaping plants grow 1 to 5 ft. (0.3 – 1.5 m) tall and wide.

Here are two varieties of spruce shrubs that grow well in sunny landscapes: 

Picea glauca ‘Alberta Globe’: This small white spruce has deep emerald-green foliage and a mounding growth habit. It grows 1.3 ft. (0.4 m) tall and 2 ft. (0.6 m) wide. 

Picea glauca‘ Alberta Globe’

Dwarf white spruce (Picea glauca‘ Alberta Globe’)

Picea pungens ‘Globosa’: This small Colorado spruce shrub is silvery-gray foliage and a pyramidal growth habit. The compact evergreen shrub grows 3 to 5 ft. (1 – 1.5 m) tall and up to 6 ft. (1.8 m) wide.

dwarf blue spruce Picea pungens 'Globosa'

Dwarf blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Globosa’)

USDA growing zones: 2 to 8

Soil: Well-drained, slightly acidic moist soil

Sun exposure: Full sun

Dwarf Evergreen Inkberry Shrub ‘Shamrock’ (Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’)

Ilex glabra Shamrock

Inkberry ‘Shamrock’ is a small low maintenance evergreen shrub for full sun that tolerates poorly-drained soil

Small inkberry flowering shrubs have small evergreen leaves, an upright growth habit, and are easy to care for. The shrub is identified by its small white flowers, slender dark green leaves, and dark blue, almost black berries. The dwarf shrub grows 3 to 4 ft. (0.9 – 1.2 m) tall.

Landscape uses: Foundation plantings, evergreen hedges, mixed shrub borders, and bog gardens

USDA growing zones: 4 to 9

Soil: Medium to wet acidic soils with excellent drainage

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial sun

Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense ‘Sunshine’)

Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense 'Sunshine')

The compact Chinese privet shrub adds a burst of golden yellow colored foliage to brighten up sunny garden

Chinese privet is a compact, low-growing, evergreen shrubby plant with brightly colored yellow leaves. The small shrub’s identifying features are its fragrant white summer blossoms, shiny bluish-black berries, and golden yellow foliage. The cultivar ‘Sunshine’ grows 3 to 6 ft. (1 – 1.8 m) tall and 4 ft. (1.2 m) wide.

Landscape uses: Shrub border, small hedge, foundation planting, or a container plant

USDA growing zones: 6 to 10 

Soil: Dry to medium average soils that drain well; the shrub is drought, heat, and salt tolerant

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial sun

Dwarf Bottlebrush (Callistemon viminalis ‘Little John’)

Callistemon viminalis little john

Callistemon viminalis ‘Little John’ is a small evergreen red flowering shrub for full sun

The bottlebrush cultivar ‘Little John’ is identified by its bright red bottlebrush flowers that stand out against narrow bluish-green leaves. The impressive red shrub flowers consist of bristle-like stamens that thrive in the sun. The shrub’s dense, rounded habit is perfect for small, compact gardens. Height: 3 ft. (1 m) tall and 5 ft. (1.5 m) wide.

Landscape uses: Foundation planting, low evergreen hedge, container planting, and sunny coastal gardens

USDA growing zones: 8 – 12 

Soil: Moist, well-drained soils

Sun exposure: Full sun

Small Viburnum Shrubs for Full Sun

Dwarf Walter’s viburnum obovatum

Dwarf Walter’s viburnum obovatum is a low growing evergreen shrub with white flowers in spring followed by small reddish-black fruit in summer

Dwarf viburnum shrubs are perfect for growing in exposed areas that get constant sunshine. The low-growing bushy shrubs are identified by their rounded clusters of white star-shaped flowers, deep green leaves, and reddish-maroon shades in the fall. Small flowering viburnum shrubs need plenty of sunlight to grow 3 to 4 ft. (1 – 1.8 m) tall and wide.

Landscape uses: Shrub borders, flowering hedges, summer privacy screens, perennial sunny gardens, foundation plantings

USDA growing zones: 4 to 7 

Soil: A wide range of soil types that retain medium moisture and are well-draining.

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial sun

Dwarf Chenille (Acalypha Reptans)

Dwarf Chenille (Acalypha Reptans)

Dwarf chenille is a low growing evergreen flowering ground cover for full to partial sun

Dwarf chenille is a stunning low-growing sun-tolerant shrub that creates a mat of fuzzy red cylindrical flowers and heart-shaped leaves. The ground-hugging, trailing evergreen shrub only grows outdoors in tropical climates. The spreading shrub grows 1 to 1.5 ft. (0.3 – 0.45 m) tall and wide in full sun.

Landscape uses: Ground cover in full sun, hanging baskets, container plantings, a season annual in colder climates

USDA growing zones: 9 to 11

Soil: Humus-rich, moist, well-drained fertile soil

Sun exposure: Full sun to partial sun

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