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Cold Climate Gardening: Perennials and Tropical Plants to Grow in Cold Regions

Posted by Melisa on

Imagine having the only green garden in your neighborhood during the cold months. It’s possible to grow a thriving garden even in the dead of winter as long as you filled your outdoor space with cold-hardy perennials, shrubs, and trees!

Cold weather plants are plants that could withstand low temperatures, ice storms, snowstorms, and occasional frosts. Most cold-hardy plants are easy to care for during the cold months as long as the soil can be worked. That said, even the hardiest plants are no match for extended cold, heavy snow falls and deep freezes so be sure that the conditions are still conducive to gardening despite the cold. In this guide, we are outlining the many hardy perennials and tough tropical plants that could survive cold weather:

Choosing Cold Weather Plants

Generally, plants with USDA cold hardiness ratings of 3, 4 and 5 are the best ones to grow for cold-climate gardening. However, if you are doing this for the first time, we suggest getting plants that are one zone or more cold hardy than in your local region. For example, if you are in zone 5, choose zone 3 and 4 plants. As you gain more experience in cold weather gardening, you could experiment with different plants.

Fall transplanting is best for regions that get mild winters and hot summers. For USDA zone 7 to 10 regions, you have more options as to what plants to grow as long as the said plants are regionally suitable species in the fall. The only exceptions are zone 3 and 4 plants, which won’t be able to stand the hot weather.

Cold Hardy Perennials

  • Foxglove
  • Bugbane
  • Meadowsweet
  • Sneezeweed
  • Yarrow
  • Jupiter's Beard
  • German Bearded Iris
  • Blue Flax
  • Beebalm
  • Catmint
  • Oriental Poppies
  • Beardtongue
  • Garden Phlox
  • Prairie Coneflower
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Ajuga
  • Spurge
  • Sea thrift
  • Wormwood

The key to making an outdoor space look lush and full of life despite the cold weather is smart layering. You want to start with the smaller perennials in an arrangement, set the medium-height plants in the middle and then keep the tall ones in the back.

Cold Hardy Flowering Plants

  • Delphinium
  • Lenten Roses
  • Aster
  • Daylilies
  • Chrysanthemum
  • False indigo
  • Tickseed
  • Bleeding heart
  • Globe thistle
  • Purple coneflower
  • Tulips
  • Daffodils
  • Crocus
  • Grape Hyacinth
  • Miniature Iris
  • Allium

A cold climate garden is never complete without flowering bulbs that would bloom during the spring season! Plant spring flowering bulbs like daylilies, tulips, etc., to add lovely pops of color to your garden. It’s also a great idea to grow a nice selection of native plants because these plants have adjusted to your local climate. Wildflowers would look lovely as they gracefully sway in the cold breeze.

Cold Hardy Groundcovers

Make your garden setup look vibrant with groundcovers. Some perennials are used as ground covers during the cold season for filling in bare areas of the garden. The best spreading perennials to grow during the cold climate are:

  • Ajuga
  • Spurge
  • Sea thrift
  • Wormwood

Cool climate perennials come in different heights so combine different textures for beautiful results. For example, yarrow has frothy, delicate foliage and blossoms that would go so well with wispy tall perennials like Meadowsweet or foxgloves.

If you are unsure what perennials to add to the arrangement, ask help from your local garden center. Don’t forget to ask what types of perennials are most tolerant of your garden conditions and which ones could withstand the winds, which ones are best grown in sheltered areas, and so on.

Cold Hardy Shrubs

Evergreen shrubs give an outdoor space a much-needed boost of color during the cold months. Fruit-bearing shrubs such as holly and Juniper attract all sorts of garden-friendly critters too, particularly birds. Except for evergreens, weigela, and lilacs, most shrubs could be pruned back once they go dormant late in the autumn season.

  • Flowering Almond
  • Daphne
  • Forsythia
  • Lilac
  • Mock Orange
  • Quince
  • Weigela
  • Dogwood
  • Elderberry
  • Hydrangea
  • Ninebark
  • Potentilla
  • Smoke Tree
  • Spirea
  • Summersweet
  • Dappled Willow
  • Barberry
  • Burning Bush
  • Arborvitae
  • Boxwood
  • Juniper
  • False Cypress
  • Mugo Pine

Cold Hardy Tropical Plants

  • Colocasia
  • Bamboo
  • Hibiscus
  • Bird of Paradise
  • Palms
  • Canna
  • Hostas
  • Ferns
  • Agapanthus
  • Bougainvillea
  • Yucca
  • Mandevilla
  • Japanese silver grass

Tips for Planting Cold-Hardy Perennials

The quality and temperature of the soil affect the growth of cold-hardy perennials. The roots have to be planted in unfrozen soil to grow and prosper. We recommend transplanting young plants 6 to 8 weeks before the first average date of hard frost.

For growers in the USDA zone 3, fall is not the best time to plant because the soil conditions might not be ideal for transplanting. Also, planting too soon won’t give young plants enough time to grow more resilient roots. Wait until the middle to the late spring season when the ground can be worked into easily. You want to give the young plants enough time to grow their roots before the onset of the winter season.

For new transplants, create a water-holding base around the base of the plants then fill this barrier with high-quality coarse mulch. Mulch the plant beds around the new transplants too to insulate the soil. This will give your plants extra time to grow their roots.

A long, final watering is a must for fall transplants and mature plants in arid climates. Do the final watering after the first hard frost, making sure to saturate the soil completely so the water reaches the roots.

If the plants have stems and leaves that were dried out because of the frost, do not cut them off. Wait until the mid-spring season to cut the dead leaves and stems. This way, the plants could still absorb the nutrients from the dying leaves and stems.

Avoid low spots as planting ground for plants that prefer fast-draining soils. As the snow melts, water will pool into these low-lying areas. The same thing goes for early spring rains; the water will make its way into low areas, which could drown the plants.

If you have tender transplants, which are vulnerable to frost, we highly suggest installing floating row covers for protection. Use a protective barrier that’s light and breathable. You could also cover the plants that are still producing flowers if there is a warning for a killing frost.

Gardening in cold regions has its challenges but with these tips, you can build a gorgeous green haven. Tune in for more gardening tips! Subscribe to our weekly newsletter for the freshest gardening resources and helpful guides.


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