Miniature Gardening with Janit Calvo
I was hired to do a talk and demo for three days so I took the opportunity to make three different gardens. The silver shrub is a Blue Star Juniper. The burgundy bush is the Helmond Pillar Barberry matched with Red Thyme. Perfect for an eastern or cool sun spot.

Miniature Gardening in the Southeastern States

~ When you start looking for the plants that will suit miniature gardening, you’ll find a new world will open up to you. The same thing happened when I was asked to do a talk at the wonderful Epcot Flower and Garden Festival at Disney World a couple of years ago.

The southeastern climate is a bit different than the southwestern with not only the same extreme heat, but the humidity as well, and you will need plants that can withstand those conditions if you want them to thrive. I started my search with my short-list of ways to find plants for miniature gardening, consulted my library and found that some of our plants that we’ve been working with for years will work too. Here are the results.

Miniature Gardening with Two Green Thumbs
America’s Favorite Miniature Garden Center, – we love all things garden AND miniature!

What’s a Miniature Garden Plant?

Not everyone knows what a “miniature garden plant” is yet, and some nurseries are mixing up the fairy garden idea with miniature gardening to get a sale. Just because the plant has a “fairy” name, doesn’t mean it will work well in the miniature garden. And, just because it has small leaves, doesn’t mean it will suit either.

Here, on the other hand, is what will work if you focus on the right combination of small leaves, slow growth rate, the height of the plant (or if it can be pruned,) and its flowers. Note that what I mean by the height will depend upon whether you are using that plant as a tree, shrub or bedding plant – and that includes flowers too.

Look for small-leafed and slow growing:

  • – Rockery plants
  • – Miniature and dwarf plants, (‘miniature’ and ‘dwarf’ are growth rates)
  • – Alpine plants
  • – Baby plants
  • – Ground covers
Miniature Gardening with Janit Calvo
For this set-up, I anchored the bed with a Top Point Dwarf White Cedar, (the tall tree,) the round shrub is a Red Tip Podocarpus and matched with Dwarf Mondo Grass and a Fairy Vine. A good combo for cool sun or part sun with regular water.

Tips for growing Two Green Thumbs’ trees in southern climates:

A lot of the trees that you buy in 4” pots for miniature gardening are little balls of young foliage. In cooler climates, the air helps keep the plant at a comfortable temperature if you keep the conifer die-back cleaned out of the center where it tends to collect in the young shrubs. In more humid climes, you can help the young shrubs get air circulation into the wee canopy by “opening them up.” With a little patience and a sharp pair of garden scissors, carefully prune out the middle branches on the shrub.

Work gradually and always take the entire plant into consideration before each snip. Cutting the wrong branch or a “big” branch can compromise the overall look of the shrub. Start with cutting away any crisscrossing branches, snip any downward branches and then concentrate on shape.

Plant in part shade or part sun to avoid that strong afternoon sun. Many of our plants can handle the full sun in northern climates where the sun is a bit cooler, and the ground stays evenly damp. You can mimic these conditions by giving the plant a cooler spot to grow in with cooler sun, eastern sun, dappled light or on the northern side of the house. Create shade by planting something bigger beside it, or use a pot or garden art to throw some shade onto the spot.

Don’t over plant. Our tendency is to fill up the garden right away to get that look of a “real” garden – and that’s one of the joys of gardening in miniature: instant gratification. But, in some southern regions where there is a lot of humidity, the trees will appreciate any extra air circulation that they can get. So not only help the tree/shrub with a little pruning, plant the plants further apart so the air can go through the plants to keep them healthy.

Miniature Gardening with Janit Calvo
The combination can handle a little bit more sun. The yellow shrub is a Limeglow Juniper, paired with a Teeny Mugo Pine and an Elfin Thyme for the lowest layer.

Rethink your plant selections. You can always change your thinking and consider the miniature and dwarf conifers as annual plants that will last for a couple/few months. Hinoki Cypress or any dwarf Spruce can certainly be enjoyed over the holiday months until they start to fade. Don’t’ think of the initial cost of the tree as an expense, but rather as entertainment, and amortize the cost over the 4 to 6 months that you can enjoy your miniature garden – I bet it’s cheaper than a latte. You can also compare the expense to a bouquet of flowers too, but it  last longer.

And, it’s easy to replace too – swapping out a miniature garden tree for a fresh one takes minutes – and you can still go to work on Monday morning a brag about all the gardening you got done on the weekend. Lol!

Your Miniature Garden Center

Here is an example list of miniature garden plants from our online store that don’t mind the heat and humidity of the southeastern garden. Note that not all plants are not available at all times so check back often. AND there may be some trail and error needed in finding the right plant for your place if you’re just starting out.

Podocarpus – Podocarpus aplinus ‘Red Tip’
Junipers – Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’
Groundcover Junipers – Juniper horizontalis
Japanese Cedars – Cryptomeria japonica ‘Tansu’
Dwarf Elms – Ulmus parvifolia ‘Hokkaido’
Dwarf Mondo Grass – Ophiopogon japonica Nana
Fairy Vines – Muhlenbeckia complexa
Lily Turf – Lirope spicata
Sedums – Small leafed ground covers

Please refer to our online store for what is available here. Check back often, our inventory is always changing.

I’ve shown the results of the demos on our next blog here.

The books I consulted in my library, in addition to our bestselling Gardening in Miniature Book: Create Your Own Tiny Living World.

Succulent Container Gardens, by Debra Lee Baldwin, published by Timber Press.

Miniature Garden Guidebook for Beautiful Rock Gardens, Container Plantings, Bonsai, Garden Railways, by Nancy Norris.

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