When tough winters turn yards into piles of twigs, gardeners rethink their planting strategies. Here’s a list of cold-hardy perennials that can stand a polar vortex or two. Plus, check out our top winter plant survival tips.
Much hardier than its modern cousins, wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), is a delightful spring bloomer that will eventually form large colonies in partially shady locations. The nodding, pink and yellow flowers are produced on wiry stems that seem to dance on every spring breeze. Wild columbine prefers a rich, moist soil, growing 2-3 feet tall. Each plant might only live a few years, but the plants spread easily so it’s hard to tell newplants from old. Many varieties are hardy to Zone 4.
Survival Tip: Instead of bagging your fall leaves, spread them lightly over your perennial beds to help protect them from the freeze/thaw cycle over the winter. For best results, shred the leaves before applying to prevent them from forming an impenetrable mat that your plants can’t penetrate in the spring.
Need a hardy creeper? Or, how about a colorful tall plant for back of the border? Look no further than the sedum family. These rough-and-tumble plants survive both hot summers and cold winters. Sedums are also drought tolerant, so they’re ideal if you live where rainfall is scarce — or if you just hate watering. One of the toughest members of the family is ‘Dragon’s Blood’. This hardy groundcover is smothered in rich green leaves with red edges. It has deep red blooms in late summer and when fall rolls around the entire plant turns red. Many varieties are hardy to Zone 4.
Survival Tip: Leave the faded flower stalks of sedums in place over the winter. They provide winter interest poking through the snow as well as nutritious seeds for visiting birds.
For decades, northern gardeners have relied on peonies to provide a spring festival of color and fragrance. Besides being drop-dead gorgeous, peonies are also tough enough to sleep soundly through the coldest winters. They pop back up at the first signs of warm spring weather. Peonies come in a wide variety of flower forms and colors. Most are hardy in Zone 3.
Survival Tip: Trim dead peony foliage back before winter. That way, the new spring foliage won’t have to poke through the previous year’s dead leaves.
Coneflower, often called by its scientific name, Echinacea, is an American native that naturally withstands harsh winters. The plants develop beautiful, daisylike heads of purple blooms through the summer and fall. Newer varieties offer a wide variety of colors, such as yellow, orange, and white, and flower forms. However, some of the modern hybrids are not as winter hardy as the native form, so read the plant label before you buy to check for cold tolerance. Most varieties are hardy to Zone 3 or 4.
Survival Tip: Help coneflowers and other newly planted perennials survive their first winters by clipping back their dead stems and covering them with a 1–2 inch layer of mulch after they go dormant in the fall. Uncover them in the early spring after the soil thaws.
It’s no secret that the populations of honeybees and other important pollinators are starting to decline. But you can help by offering them a nectar-rich meal when they visit your garden. Monarda, also called bee balm, is a great example. This must-have perennial develops beautiful flowers that are attractive to both gardeners and insects.Monarda grows 2-3 feet tall and comes in a pink, red, orange, purple, and white. In ideal conditions, some varieties can become invasive, so plant Monarda where it can’t spread. Monarda is hardy to Zone 4.
Survival Tip: Perennials are better able to tolerate winter conditions when they are in peak form. Apply a slow-release granular fertilizer in early spring to keep plants well fed through the growing season. And always mulch to prevent weed competition and maintain consistent soil moisture.
Native to northern Turkey and Russia, Siberian iris isn’t bothered when the thermometer drops below zero. These super-reliable perennials put on a spectacular spring show of fleur-de-lis shape blue, purple, lilac, yellow, or whiteflowers. The plants grow 3-4 feet tall and produce thick clumps of dark green, straplike leaves. Siberian iris prefers a rich, slightly moist soil, yet it will still look good even during drought. It’s also more resistant to iris borer than it’s slightly showier cousin, bearded iris. Siberian iris easily withstands Zone 3 winters.
Survival Tip: Voles, rabbits, and mice will occasionally dine on dormant perennials during the winter. Pull back protective mulches every few weeks to check for rodent damage.