Little-leaf CotoneasterCotoneaster microphyllus ‘Thymifolius’
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Cotoneaster microphyllus ‘Thymifolius’
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Little-leaf Cotoneaster is a charming shrub that grows slowly into a mound of slender branches, about 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. While young it looks like a miniature tree – even more so with a little careful pruning. The small leaves are glossy green, turning bronzy red in winter. In spring small white flowers stud the branches, and these are followed by ¼ inch bright red berries through fall and winter. This unique plant is often grown in miniature gardens, tray gardens, or as bonsai. It fits into a rock garden of any size, and once older it can be grown in a garden bed, perhaps beside a walkway.
The Little-leaf Cotoneaster will grow well in full sun or some partial shade, in any well-drained soil. It prefers coarse, gritty soils, such as are found in rock gardens. It is easy to grow – but pay attention to watering during summer – and it generally stays free of pests or diseases. It can be allowed to grow naturally or trimmed into tree-like forms.
So you would love to have a garden, but all you have is a window box? Or perhaps you only have a tiny garden and have to choose every plant carefully. Maybe your larger garden has a rock garden, with small pockets of soil for small plants, and you want to fill it with special treasures? Or perhaps you are very patient and happy to give a plant about 10 years to grow to at most 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide? Of course you love the unique, special and charming, which is why this plant attracted your attention. Well read on, because the Little-leaf Cotoneaster is an absolute charmer, no matter how you grow it.
Miniature gardening is a definite ‘thing’ these days, and if you want a ‘tree’ for your window box garden, this is it. When young it’s a small, upright clump of stiff, angular branches, covered with tiny leaves that are indeed hardly larger than on the herb plant thyme. With a little trimming it can look exactly like a tiny tree, shading a tiny patio with tiny furniture. In a rock garden it will have you on your knees to admire its beauty – the small 5-petaled white flowers and the ¼ inch bright red berries that follow them, are a source of wonder at what nature can do. Of course it is perfect for a bonsai plant, and loved by growers of those Asian-style beauties. After a few years in a planter it will be large enough to carefully move to the edge of a bed, perhaps beside a walkway, where it will catch your attention as you pass by, watching it slowly expand. However you choose to grow it, this is a special plant for special places – sound like your place?
The Little-leaf Cotoneaster is a small, mostly-evergreen shrub that slowly develops from a mound of stiff, upright stems into a broad mound of tightly interwoven branches, reaching 2 feet tall and about 3 feet wide within 10 years, and perhaps adding another foot in each direction one day. The stiff branches often have a white, wooly coating when young, before the leaves fully open. This fades and the bark becomes smooth, light reddish-brown, and then dark brown with age, and more heavily textured. The leaves are about ¼ of an inch long, smooth, glossy and dark green, turning rich bronzy-red in winter. They have a blunt tip and taper to a slender triangular base where they meet the leaf. The edges tend to turn under, making the leaf look even smaller. In spring small white flowers, about one-third of an inch across, stud the branches singly, or in groups of 2 or 3. Each flower has 5 broad petals making a bowl, with golden stamens in the center. These are followed by berries that are first green and then apple-red, about ¼ inch across. The berries often persist through fall and well into the winter. The whole effect is of a perfect miniature, with everything from stems and leaves to flowers and fruit in perfect scale. Truly a charming and remarkable plant.
With its perfect tiny scale this plant can be used in all types of miniature gardening, from a tiny landscape garden in a window box to Asian tray-gardens. It is ideal for a tiny bonsai tree, or as a special specimen in a pocket of a rock garden. Grow it in a pot on a patio table as a conversation piece. We hesitate to suggest planting it straight into the garden, but if you are a careful gardener you could. Better to grow it for a few years in a pot and then transplant once it has reach perhaps a foot across. Then it could be grown at the edge of a patio or pathway in a prime position.
The Little-leaf Cotoneaster has limited hardiness, but it will grow in zones 5, 6 and 7, which covers a lot of the country. Note that it can’t be grown as a houseplant, as it needs winter cold to develop properly, but it could be brought indoors for short periods.
Full sun or partial shade are perfect for the Little-leaf Cotoneaster, and it will grow best in gritty, well-drained soils. For planters soils blended for trees, such as bonsai or Japanese maples, would be ideal. In the garden add some organic material, and perhaps a handful of coarse grit. Water regularly, but don’t drown it.
The Little-leaf Cotoneaster is generally free of pests or diseases, but it will make a tasty mouthful for a deer, so take precautions if they are needed. It can be left to grow naturally – perhaps the best plan – but it can also be trimmed into an upright tree form by removing some of the lower branches and developing a short trunk.
The plant group Cotoneaster is a large one, with as many as 300 species, depending on which botanist you talk to. Some are tree-like, others large shrubs, and some are low-growing, creeping plants from alpine regions of Europe and Asia. Cotoneaster microphyllus grows naturally in the Himalayas and the mountains of western China, and it was brought to England in 1824, so it has a long history of cultivation in gardens. At one time there was a plant with smaller leaves that grew at high altitudes called Cotoneaster thymifolius. As the number of recognized species in this group was reduced, this plant then became a botanical variety of Cotoneaster microphyllus, while today it is mostly considered to be simply an unusual form of that larger plant, called ‘Thymifolius’.
We love offering these unique and special plants to our customers – we hope you love them too. This plant doesn’t grow it’s true miniature-self from seed, so it must be grown from stem pieces, and you can imagine how long that takes. So supplies are always low, while demand is high. When word gets around that we have this treasure, they will all be gone, so order now while we still have stock available.