10 Winter Plants That Will Thrive in the Cold Weather
There are actually several plant species you can count on to survive through the winter season. Here's what you need to do.
Andrew BlokEditor I
Andrew Blok has been an editor at CNET covering HVAC and home energy, with a focus on solar, since October 2021. As an environmental journalist, he navigates the changing energy landscape to help people make smart energy decisions. He's a graduate of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State and has written for several publications in the Great Lakes region, including Great Lakes Now and Environmental Health News, since 2019. You can find him in western Michigan watching birds.
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In the more northerly parts of the US, many of us will have to slog through a few more months of cold and potentially snowy weather. It feels too early to start looking for spring flowers to start poking out of the ground, but it's hard to keep from doing so when the gray winter season is dragging on.
Making sure your landscaping is planted with hardy plants is one way to make sure you'll be greeted by greenery after the winter. It can also ensure that your flower beds are beautiful all year long, from early spring to the end of the growing season. Choosing plants that are adapted to your climate isn't difficult and takes just a bit of know-how. There are more than enough plants to choose from and, if you shift all of your landscaping to these perennials, you'll save money and time each year. We've highlighted 10 plants below that will work in most cold winter climates and laid out how you can find more.
To know which plants will survive winter where you live, you'll need to know how bad winter is likely to get. To help people determine that, the US Department of Agriculture has divided North America into distinct areas based on average minimum temperatures called USDA hardiness zones. TL;DR: The lower the number, the colder it's likely to get in that zone.
And, to make your plant shopping even easier, plants are rated for hardiness zones. A lemon tree is good for zones 8 to 11 (mostly the South and parts of the West Coast), a peach tree works in zones 4 through 8 (most of the continental US except some of the most northern and southern parts) and a Fuji apple tree is rated for zones 5 to 10. To check your location's USDA hardiness zone, check out the detailed map.
It pays to take a close look. When I moved just a couple of miles in Michigan, I switched to a different hardiness zone.
The USDA zones aren't the only factors you should consider in choosing plants, though. Local gardeners and nurseries can share firsthand knowledge of what works in your area and what's doomed to fail. A local expert might have a better grasp on microclimates and unique gardening challenges in your area. Temperature isn't the only factor when it comes to healthy plants: soil type, moisture and sunlight all play a role, too.
When it comes to surviving the rigors of winter, though, here are a few that will keep coming back, even after the coldest, snowiest winters.
Plants that can survive extra-cold winters
Rhododendrons are a group of flowering shrubs that are known for their showy pink springtime flowers. Even after their blooms have faded for the season, they have waxy green leaves year round. Depending on the variety, rhododendrons are hardy enough to survive all the way to zone 4.
Daffodils, crocuses and tulips
These three bulbs are the essence of spring for some people. Hardy all the way to zone 3, they actually do better with cold winters. These plants need cold weather to bloom well in the spring, thanks to a chemical reaction that takes place when the soil temperature is below 55 degrees, according to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum.
Bleeding hearts sound fragile, and with their rows of pink heart-shaped flowers, they look a little fragile, too. But these flowers, which also die back each winter, are hardy from zone 8 all the way to zone 2. That means you can grow them in the coldest parts of the continental US.
Varieties of irises -- and there are a lot of them -- are commonly hardy from zones 3 through 9 (though some are only safe bets to zone 4). Bearded or not, there are varieties that can likely match your winter.
Daylilies are often chosen for landscaping by intersections or commercial buildings because they're tough and require little care. That's true when it comes to surviving winter, too. Daylilies are generally hardy from zones 4 to 9, making them a good fit for a lot of places. The 35,000 varieties of daylilies will have different climate preferences, so be sure to check first.
Lilacs are another plant that prefers a colder winter. These shrubs are hardy from zones 3 to 7 and pack one of the most potent perfume punches of all garden plants.
Hydrangeas, depending on the variety, are hardy down to zone 3. The long-blooming, perennial shrub is also a bit of a chemical chameleon. Its blooms change color based on the chemistry of the soil it's planted in.
Don't just guess at what's going on in your soil, actually measure it. Things like pH and the availability of certain nutrients can affect the health of your plants. Testing pH is actually fairly simple with an at-home meter. This meter measures pH, but also moisture and light.
For lovers of succulents, sedum is the outdoor answer to your crowded windowsills. Sedum has the fleshy leaves of succulents and, depending on the variety, delicate blooms. Some sedums are hardy to zone 3.
Blueberry bushes will provide a sweet summer crop of berries and nice fall colors year after year. Certain varieties are hardy to zone 3, but be sure to check. Buying from a local nursery can help ensure you get plants suitable to your area.
If you're looking for plants that are capable of beating winter in your area, why not look to plants adapted to your specific area? Native plants have spent thousands of years thriving in their historic range. That means native species have survived each of those winters, including historically severe ones.
While native plants are often pitched as being good for wildlife, including pollinators, they can also be very pretty. Even if you just want a good looking set of flowerbeds, native plants can get you there while weathering winter after winter.