We all want to continue to plant new favorites in our gardens, but for many the real estate is running out. We must then stop planting, or strategically pick plants that will stay small and not out grow their space, crowding out other favorites. Below is a good example of a miniature cedar that would be choked out if we didn't prune back the spreading Juniper horizontalis 'Green Carpet'. Perhaps moving the little cedar would be a good choice, but I kinda like this little 'blue button' in a sea of green.
According to the American Conifer Society, a dwarf conifer will grow between 1 inch to 6 inches per year while a miniature will grow less than 1 inch per year. In the garden below the Picea glauca 'Conica' trees are about 5 ft. tall, so if we were talking about a 10 year old garden here then these trees have grown 6 inches per year, and would be labeled a dwarf. The little conifer in the front, Picea glauca 'Alberta Globe' is about 12 inches per year tall, so will have grown less than 1 inch per year, and is considered a miniature.
Another example shows that this Pinus t. Banshoho has grown 6 inches per year, resulting in a shrub 5 feet tall in 10 years, so it is a Dwarf Conifer.
Many dwarf conifers are used as 'bones' of the landscape. They are anchors that 'hold' the garden together, plants that are strong in character and do not change much over time. Perennials or annuals can be used to fill in as these dwarf conifers get up to size. Then, as the conifers attain their mature size, some of the filler plants can be removed. The garden below is a good example of this type of planting strategy. Notice the colors of flowers between the dwarf conifers.
Another example, which is mostly dwarf and miniature conifers, also uses flowering perennials to add color during the spring and summer. The garden is that of the late Ed Resek, Long Island, NY.
After collecting and planting dwarf and miniature conifers for many years, here is my list of some of my favorite Dwarf Conifers. I will pick one from each of the genera starting with Abies, the true firs.
Now here are a few miniature conifers that are exceptional. The first is Pinus leucodermis 'Schmidtii'. Look how good it contrasts to Thymus 'Minus'.