A particular site in our garden (USDA zone 4) has dry, sandy soil over heavy clay and gets full sun. There is excellent drainage due to the retaining wall on one side that has a drainage pipe situated below two feet below grade.

What are some good, small shrubs with the following characteristics that will grow well under the above conditions?

  • preferably native to North America
  • tolerates dry full sun conditions
  • height of two to six feet, width of three feet
  • flowers can occur in spring or summer
  • berries or some fruit that hang on, red colour preferred
  • excellent fall colour
  • should not sucker, tolerate pruning if over 4 feet

What I've looked at so far is

  • Aronia melanocarpa "Brilliantissima": However, I understand it suckers and can grow eight to ten feet wide.
  • Euonomyus elatus compacta: In our area, good fall colour is not guaranteed with this cultivar.
  • Ribes aureum: There is a dwarf white pine very closeby and as the Ribes is susceptible to white pine blister rust, this doesn't seem promising.

Does anyone have any other suggestions?

  • 2
    I've edited your post a bit. When you give such a long list of required characteristics, the chances that a single plant will meet all of them are quite slim (I'm not saying there aren't any, but you're lowering choices). It might help people if you indicated which of the characteristics you're willing to compromise a bit on, if it comes to that. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 2:18
  • 1
    "Euonomyus elatus compacta: In our area, good fall colour is not guaranteed". Interesting. Where do you live? By the way, Euonomyus elatus compacta is not small (8-12 ft) and not native. Aronia, though lovely, suckers like mad. I'd look to the Viburnums, Witchhazels, Snowberries, Shepherdia, Vaccinium, Corylus, some native roses (R. setigera maybe), and some deciduous azaleas (those adapted to drier, sunnier, mountain places). Without knowing where you live, it is hard to be specific. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 5:31
  • When I say preferably this indicates an optional choice. I garden in Ottawa, Ontario. Dwarf burning bush is said to require a location exposed to north winds in the fall when you buy it. Some colour up and some don't.
    – kevinskio
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 11:05

3 Answers 3


A quick trip through the Fedco trees catalog suggests the following small-ish shrubs. None of them meet all of your criteria, but I suspect you're going to have to prioritize your criteria or pick and choose to find a shrub that meets the best balance of desirable attributes. I've listed larger or suckering shrubs where they have good fruit, flowers, and/or good fall color.

  • V. corymbosum (Highbush blueberry). The fall color and summer flowers aren't spectacular, and the fruit doesn't "hang on", but it is delicious.
  • Prunus japonica x P. jacquemontii (Joel Bush Cherry). Z3. 4x4'. Pink spring blossoms. Fruit ripens in September. Don't know about foliage.
  • P. tomentosa (Nanking Cherry). Z2. 6-10'. Pink buds, fragrant white flowers. Scarlet 1/2" fruit.
  • Itea virginica (‘Henry’s Garnet’ Virginia Sweetspire). "Z5 or maybe Z4". 5-6'. "Fragrant white flowers on upright racemes up to 6" long in early summer. Bright green foliage, brilliant reddish-purple fall color"
  • Kolkwitzia amabilis (Beautybush). Z4. 6-8'. Pink flowers. Yellow and red fall color.
  • Philadelphus lewisii (Blizzard Mockorange). Z4. 3'. White flowers. Native to Asia.
  • Salix integra (‘Hakuro Nishiki’ Dappled Willow). 3-5'. Z4. "Leaves turn yellow in fall and drop late [...] Color best in full sun and colder districts."
  • +1 for some nice (flowering & fruiting) shrubs there, though "width" (spread) might be an issue with most of them & careful consideration of exact varieties for USDA Zone 4 will need to be taken into account (though that should apply to any plant being chosen for a particular environment).
    – Mike Perry
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 15:56
  • Thanks for your answer, I will investigate the Itea species
    – kevinskio
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 16:12
  • @Mike: Yes, it will be necessary to research these more. Even within a given species, sometimes a different cultivar will be less hardy.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 17:33

Below are some additional deciduous shrubs that should meet most of your requirements (though all of them are non North American natives):

I've never heard of (Dwarf) Burning Bush needing a particular location for Autumn (Fall) colour. Granted I have mine (which I'm very happy with) in my front garden (North facing), see here on SE for a couple of photos, but I planted it there for a purpose (to screen something), not because it specifically required that location. Additionally I see Burning Bushes all over the place here where I live (Missouri) and all of them (at least the ones I see) put on that striking Autumn (Fall) colour.

Below are some Ottawa (and North America) native plant resources you may additionally wish to browse through, contact for local expert native plant knowledge, recommendations:


All of the following are dependably hardy in zone 4, have good fall color, are six feet or under, do not sucker much, and have long lasting fruit. They should also do well in a sandy soil where summers are relatively moist and cool (Ottawa). Spread may occasionally be an issue as most shrubs are at least as wide as they are tall.

Berberis thunbergii (Japanese Barberry). Size varies by cultivar, green varieties give best fall color. Red fruit.

Berberis 'Tara' (Korean-type Barberry). 4-5' high, 4-5' wide. Excellent fall color. Red fruit. Drought tolerant.

Malus sargentii 'Tina'(Dwarf Crabapple). 3-5' high, 4-5' wide, a really small crabapple, good fall color. Red fruit. Drought tolerant.

Rosa (Shrub Rose) There are lots of options here, but putting a rose on a dry sandy soil is asking for powdery mildew. Rugosa rose is an exception though.

Rosa rugosa (Rugosa Rose). 4-6' high, 4-5' wide. For best fruiting, choose single flowered varieties. R. rugosa and R. rugosa alba have excellent fall color. Red fruit. Drought tolerant.

Viburnum 'Emerald Triumph'. 4-6' high, 6 ' wide. Purple fall color. Red to black fruit. Drought tolerant. Half native.

Viburnum dentatum 'Christom' (Blue Muffin Arrowwood). 5-7' high, 4-6' wide. Yellow fall color, blue-black fruit. Drought tolerant. Native.

Viburnum dentatum 'Rastzam' (Raspberry Tart Arrowwood). 4-5' high, 4-5' wide. Red Fall color, blue-black fruit. Drought tolerant. Native.

Viburnum trilobium 'Compact' ('Alfredo', 'Bailey Compact', 'Spring Green Compact') (Compact American Cranberry). 4-6' high, 4-6' wide. Fall color varies by cultivar, but is typically very good. Red Fruit. Drought Tolerant. Native.

Vaccinium (Low-bush, Half-high Blueberry). 2-5' high 3-6' wide. As bstpierre noted the blueberry fruits do not last long (since the birds eat them), but these often have excellent fall color, which varies by cultivar. Drought tolerant. Native.

  • +1 Nice list, the crabapple sounds interesting, I'll have to check it out. In my experience with blueberries, the birds often have to do battle with young Homo sapiens for the fruit.
    – bstpierre
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 1:59

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