Tom Thumb Cotoneaster

'Tom Thumb'
Dwarf Cotoneaster


'Tom Thumb' aka 'Little Gem' Cotoneaster rarely has flowers or develops pomes, though it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility. The lack of flower & fruit makes other varieties more appealing, but Tom Thumb has such shiny compact miniature leaves it really does have a unique appeal. So we planted just one of them at a sun-garden's edge not terribly far from a spreading low-growing cotoneaster that flowers & fruits a great deal, Cotoneaster dammeri 'Coral Beauty'.

The herringbone pattern of limb growth quite resembles C. horizontalis, & a few experts believe "Tom Thumb" may actually be a sport of C. horizontalis, though the greater concensus at present seems to be that it is either a sport of C. adpressus (cranberry cotoneaster) or C. apiculatus (creeping cotoneaster), or most probably of all, an incidental hybrid C. adpressus x apiculatus.

Most of these species would be expected to grow three feet tall or occasionally taller, with C. adpressus var. praecox larger still. But 'Tom Thumb' is a true dwarf, not only in that it remains very close to the ground, but even the leaves are tinier than the species. It's just charming as all heck!

'Tom Thumb' is generally 4 to 8 inches tall but after many years can slowly mound to a foot or so height if never pruned. It easily spreads three feet around, can eventually spread six feet, or self-root where limbs touch the ground & creep even farther.

This native of western China has been deciduous in our garden, dropping its leaves by early winter. But it is occasionally semi-evergreen & keeps some of its leaves right up to spring. Tom Thumb's shiny green leaves turn a brilliant red in autumn, as seen in the October (2002) portrait at top, & in further November (2003) portraits on the 'Tom Thumb' Cotoneaster Page of the Autumn Leaves Gallery.

This low-maintenance miniature woody shrub prefers dry soil (within reason) & full sun, though it will do well enough in partial shade. It prefers northern climates, hardy to minus twenty Fahrenheit, & is intolerant of heat. Even our Zone 8 temperate summers can be a little hard on it, & it may need something sheltering it a bit during the hottest weaks of the year. Once it is established with a good root system, however, it will no longer demand summer coddling.


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