Great Plants for Pacific Northwest Landscapes

These award-winning plants perform like champions in the growing climate specific to the Pacific Northwest. Follow these recommendations for the best possible plant choices for your landscape.


Designed to serve gardeners living west of the Cascade Mountains from Eugene, Oregon, to Vancouver, British Columbia, the Great Plant Picks program selects plants that perform exceptionally well in the Pacific Northwest region. Great Plant Picks, administered by the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, Washington, also relies on a selection committee made up of horticultural experts from throughout the region. The educational program strives to help maritime Pacific Northwest gardeners make the best possible plant choices for their landscapes and gardens.

Bugbane (Actaea simplex 'Brunette', syn. Cimicifuga)

Bugbane is a tall, graceful perennial that will add a touch of refinement to any lightly shaded border. The foliage is fernlike and warm brown in color. It sends its flowers up on 5- to 6-foot stems in late summer. The white flowers are very fragrant and conveniently grow tall enough so you don't have to stoop to smell them. Consider planting it with yellow variegated plants such as Japanese forestgrass or hostas. Plant in full sun to light shade for the best foliage color. In deep shade, it tends to become leggy. Zones 5-9

Learn more about bugbane.

'Blue Fortune' anise hyssop (Agastache 'Blue Fortune')

Native hyssop was crossed in the Netherlands and came back to us a winner. 'Blue Fortune' is one of the easiest plants you will ever grow. All it needs is full sun and well-drained soil. In return, it will bloom from midsummer to fall. The blossoms are made up of many tiny lavender flowers that will attract butterflies and other pollinators. The foliage has a delicious licorice fragrance when you brush it or crush a leaf in your hand. An upright grower, 'Blue Fortune' hyssop reaches 2-3 feet in height and never needs staking. It combines easily with other sun lovers such as coneflowers and ornamental grasses. Zones 4-10

See more about 'Blue Fortune' anise hyssop.

Frikart's aster (Aster x frikartii 'Monch')

Frikart's aster deserves a place in every garden. It flowers in a beautiful lavender-blue shade, surrounding a button of yellow. It blooms for an exceeding long time, July to October, on 2- to 3-foot-tall stems. This aster flowers so heavily that the stems may bend under the weight, especially after a rain. It's a good idea to stake the plant, and it's worth the trouble. Frikart's aster is a treasure for its ability to perk up a tired late-summer garden. Plant this perennial in good, fertile soil in full sun. Zones 5-8

Golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea')

A small tree, golden catalpa wins with big color. Each spring, the new heart-shape foliage emerges with a touch of red, then quickly turns to bright golden-yellow. In summer, the foliage turns yellow-green before making a deep yellow statement in fall. The white flowers grow on large panicles and later produce long beanlike seedpods. Reaching just 15-18 feet tall, it is the perfect size for residential gardens. Easy to grow, golden catalpa is tolerant of a wide range of soils as long as there is good drainage. This tree delivers the best color when planted in full sun or part shade. Zones 5-9

Dwarf Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana')

A favorite evergreen for the decorative way the foliage curls around like little fans or cups, dwarf Hinoki cypress is very slow-growing with an elegant Japanese aesthetic. It does well in foundation plantings or as a focal point in the sun or part shade. Reaching just 2-3 feet in height, this cypress is also at home in an ornamental pot or a rock garden. Water the shrub regularly in the summer. Zones 4-8

'Gold Heart' bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart')
Bleeding hearts have long been a garden favorite because of their delightful pink blossoms that really do look like little pink hearts. 'Gold Heart' has the same darling flowers but adds a splash of color to a shady border with its golden fernlike foliage. The flowers bloom in April and May on graceful arching stems that rise just above the leaves, reaching about 2 feet in height. As the days become warmer, 'Gold Heart' will begin to go dormant. Plant this perennial with hostas or ferns that will fill in the gaps later in the season. Zones 3-9

See more about 'Gold Heart' bleeding heart.

Dove tree (Davidia involucrata)
The dove tree is without question one of the most beautiful of all flowering trees. In midspring, round flowers appears but are hidden by two bracts that look like delicate white handkerchiefs, often 6-7 inches long. It is an astonishing sight in full bloom. Discovered in China, this small tree reaches 10-20 feet tall and wide in the Northwest, just right for urban gardens. Grow it in full sun or part shade in moist but well-drained soil. It is also best to plant dove trees where they will be protected from strong winds. Zones 6-8

 

Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata)
Although Siberian cypress has been around for some time, it is still relatively new in commerce. It has a graceful form, attractive foliage, excellent cold hardiness, and a height of just 1-2 feet. This classic combination has won it several plant awards. The wide-spreading evergreen makes a wonderful groundcover. It looks natural planted near boulders in the landscape or cascading over retaining walls. Siberian cypress has a pleasing layered look with slender, nodding branch tips. It prefers full sun or partial shade. Despite some descriptions, it is not at its best in full shade and prefers full sun to partial shade. Zones 3-8

Variegated Japanese forestgrass (Hakonechloa macra 'Albovariegata')
No garden should be without variegated Japanese forestgrass. The slender green-and-white blades add subtle color to the border, while the slightest breeze moves the grass like ripples on the water. Delicate, airy seed heads float above the 2-foot-tall foliage in midsummer. This ornamental grass may be grown in partial shade and in full sun if it gets enough moisture. The long-lasting foliage works well in flower arrangements as a replacement for other greens. Zones 5-8

Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'
This is a late-summer beauty with rusty red petals. Butterflies flock to it, but deer tend to leave it alone. 'Moerheim Beauty' can grow to about 3 feet tall, but to keep it more compact, pinch or cut back the stems partway in June. It encourages the plant to branch more so it is less likely to need staking, and it will produce more flowers as well. This perennial makes wonderful cut flowers. Plant it in full sun with average to moist soil. Zones 5-9

See more about 'Moerheim Beauty' helenium.

'Minuet' mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia 'Minuet')
'Minuet' was selected because of its dwarf, compact habit. You will never need to prune this shrub, as it will only grow about 3 feet tall. Nevertheless, this little mountain laurel will absolutely burst into flower in June, covering itself with fat pink buds that open to white cup-shape blossoms with a crimson ring inside. Plant the shrub in small groups for a big splash of spring color. It also does well in decorative pots on the patio. Mountain laurel prefers moist, well-drained soil in full sun or part shade. It will not thrive in excessively hot areas. Zones 4-9

See more about 'Minuet' mountain laurel.

 

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
What isn't fabulous about this tree? Plant sourwood alone as an accent in the landscape. The foliage on this 20- to 25-foot-tall tree is lustrous deep green. The flowers bloom in August, smothering the foliage in chains of white blossoms that look like lilies-of-the-valley. The blossoms give way to cream-color berries that are backed by stunning fall foliage in shades of gold, scarlet, and purple. Sourwood prefers sun to part shade and acidic soil. It does not like to compete for water, so it is best not to plant anything underneath the tree. Zones 5-9

 

'Gulf Stream' heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica 'Gulf Stream')
'Gulf Stream' heavenly bamboo is a well-behaved evergreen shrub with four seasons of interest. It has a compact, mounded form reaching just 2-3 feet in height and a little less in width. The new foliage is scarlet red, slowly changing to its bluish green summer color. As fall days become cooler, the foliage changes again to bright red but does not drop. Stems of small white flowers are a bonus. Thanks to its size, this shrub is a versatile landscape plant, great for foundation plantings and narrow spots between buildings and walkways. It is easy to grow in full sun or part shade. Zones 6-9

Giant needlegrass (Stipa gigantea)
It's often described as the most magnificent of all the ornamental grasses. Native to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, giant needlegrass will lend a touch of the exotic to your garden. From a base of narrow, arching foliage, gigantic 6- to 8-foot-tall flower stems rise. In June, the silvery-purple flowers open, turning golden when ripe. They are excellent for dried flower arrangements. This grass makes a stately specimen plant. Giant needlegrass may also be planted in large groups or on embankments for erosion control. Plant it in full sun in well-drained soil. It will not tolerate wet soil and is drought-tolerant when established. Zones 8-10

'Tor' birchleaf spirea (Spiraea betulifolia 'Tor')
This spirea is a hardworking plant with loads of charm. 'Tor' grows into a perfectly round shrub about 2-3 feet tall and wide. The name likely comes from the Gaelic word torr, meaning hill or mound. White flowers cover the shrub in spring, attracting butterflies. The summer foliage is dark green but lights up in autumn with vibrant red, orange, and purple. 'Tor' makes a great small hedge plant and looks wonderful planted in groups. The deer-resistant shrub also works well in foundation plantings and shrub borders. It's easy to grow in well-drained soil in full sun. Zones 3-9 

'Green Vase' Japanese zelkova (Zelkova serrata 'Green Vase')

'Green Vase' Japanese zelkova is a fast-growing tree with a lovely upright habit. 'Green Vase' grows twice as fast as the species and has won awards for its stunning habit and beautiful winter silhouette. It eventually reaches 60-70 feet tall and 40-50 feet wide. Dark green foliage turns to soft yellow, orange, and russet in the autumn. Mature trees have an interesting bark pattern that adds another season of beauty. Zelkova is prized for its tolerance for high wind, pollution, drought, and compacted soils. Zones 5-9


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