14 Pretty Perennials You Can Count on to Survive Even the Coldest Winters
Need a hardy creeper? Or, how about a colorful tall plant for the back of the border? Look no further than the sedum family, which includes both low-growing types and more upright forms. These rough-and-tumble plants survive both hot summers and cold winters. Sedums are also drought-tolerant, so they're real winners if rainfall is scarce in your area. Most of them bloom in late summer into fall and are hardy to Zone 4.
Test Garden Tip: Wait to cut down the faded flower stalks of sedums until spring. They'll add interest to your winter garden by poking through the snow.
Northern gardeners can rely on peonies to provide a spring festival of color. These plants are tough enough to survive long, frigid winters. Peonies come in a wide variety of flower forms and colors, so you should have no trouble finding one (or more) that fits in with the rest of your garden's design. Most are hardy in Zone 3.
Test Garden Tip: Trim dead peony foliage back to the ground in winter. That way, the new spring foliage won’t have to poke through the previous year’s dead leaves.
Coneflower is an American native perennial that also goes by the scientific name, Echinacea. It develops beautiful pink blooms through the summer and fall. Newer varieties offer a wide range of colors, like yellow, orange, and white, plus there are a few different flower forms. Most varieties are hardy to Zone 3 or 4, but some of the modern hybrids aren't as cold weather-tolerant, so check the plant label before you buy.
Test Garden Tip: Help coneflowers and other perennials weather winters better by covering them with a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch after they go dormant in the fall. Uncover them in the early spring after the soil thaws.
Monarda, also called bee balm, is a favorite perennial for all kinds of pollinators from bees to hummingbirds. It grows 3-4 feet tall and develops beautiful flowers in early summer that can be pink, red, orange, purple, or white, depending on the variety you choose. Though this plant is native to North America, it belongs to the mint family and like many other mint relatives, it can spread quickly so place it where it will have room to ramble. Monarda is hardy to Zone 4.
Test Garden Tip: Perennials are better able to tolerate winter conditions when they are in peak form. Make sure to weed around them, and keep them watered if you have a drought in summer (a wilted plant is a stressed plant).
Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a delightful spring bloomer that eventually forms large colonies in partially shady locations. Each plant might only live a few years, but wild columbines re-seed themselves easily, so a patch of them will keep on growing. Its wiry stems support pink and yellow flowers that bob and dance on spring breezes. These plants prefer rich, moist soil, and are hardy to Zone 4.
Test Garden Tip: Instead of bagging your fall leaves, shred them and spread over your perennial beds to help protect them from the freeze/thaw cycle over the winter.
Heuchera, commonly called coralbells will pack a ton of color into shady garden beds. Prized for their colorful foliage, coralbells come in shades of purple, green, yellow, orange, red, and there are multicolored varieties, too. As a bonus, the plants send up spikes of pink or white bell-shaped flowers in the early summer. Many Heuchera varieties can survive Zone 4 winters.
Test Garden Tip: If you live in a cold climate, most perennials won’t survive the winter if they are left in containers. Save the plants by popping them into the ground at least a month before the first expected frost in your area.
Native to northern Turkey and Russia, Siberian iris isn’t bothered when temperatures drop below zero. These reliable perennials put on a spectacular spring show of blue, purple, lilac, yellow, or white flowers. The plants grow 3-4 feet tall and produce thick clumps of dark green, straplike leaves. Siberian iris prefers a rich, slightly moist soil, and withstands Zone 3 winters.
Test Garden 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.
Throughout the summer, ‘Moonbeam’ coreopsis produces a seemingly endless supply of cheerful yellow flowers. It’s also a rugged variety that takes cold winter temperatures in stride. However, not all coreopsis varieties are as winter hardy as ‘Moonbeam’, so check the plant label before you buy. To keep ‘Moonbeam’ in top form, dig and divide the plants every several years.
Test Garden Tip: To ensure winter survival, select perennials listed for at least one zone further north from yours. For example, if you garden in Zone 4, choose those recommended for Zone 3.
Once established, Baptisia can live for decades. Also called false indigo, this hardy prairie native has pretty gray-green foliage topped with sprays of blue, purple, white, or yellow flowers in the spring. Thanks to its prairie heritage, Baptisia can tolerate both summer heat and below-zero winters. Baptisia grows slowly, so buy the largest plants you can find if you want a faster flower show. Baptisia is hardy to Zone 3.
Test Garden Tip: Baptisia can be a bit fussy when transplanted, so place it in your garden in the early spring. That way the plant will have plenty of time to develop a strong root system before summer's heat kicks in.
We love catmint for its lavender-like flowers in spring and summer, making it an ideal substitute for less winter hardy lookalikes, such as lavender (its leaves are fragrant like lavender, too!). Shear back the plants after the first wave of flowers fades in spring and you’ll get a second wave of bloom in late summer. Catmint is hardy to Zone 3.
Test Garden Tip: Catmint starts to bloom almost as soon as it breaks dormancy in the spring, so clip the plants back in the fall to make way for fresh growth the next year. This will also allow snow to accumulate over the crown of the plants, which helps insulate them in the winter.
At first glance, you might not think the delicate-looking blooms of lily-of-the-valley are tough enough to handle the extremes of winter. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, these fragrant beauties have a tough-as-nails constitution that shrugs off bone-chilling temperatures. Plus, lily-of-the-valley is shade tolerant, making it a great groundcover for wooded backyards. Most commonly seen with white flowers, there are also varieties with pretty pink blooms. There’s also a variegated form with dark green leaves with white stripes. This plant is hardy to Zone 3.
Test Garden Tip: During the winter deer can do a lot of damage to perennial gardens. To avoid destruction, select deer-resistant plants like lily-of-the-valley.
An American native, Heliopsis (also called ox-eye daisy or false sunflower) produces masses of cheerful yellow flowers all summer long. Heliopsis is a large perennial that easily grows 3-6 feet tall and 2-4 feet wide, so plant it where it can spread out. It isn’t fussy about soil type but does need full sun to keep stems upright—it'll flop over if grown in partial shade. The blooms make great cut flowers and the more you cut, the more the plant will produce. Heliopsis is hardy to Zone 3.
Test Garden Tip: Cold weather isn’t the only thing that kills perennials during the winter. Sometimes plants die because they have shorter lifespans than other species. Heliopsis, for example, might die back naturally every few years. Just start new plants if the old ones disappear.
Keep your garden colorful through the fall by adding a generous dose of New England asters. These easy-care natives burst into bloom just as other perennials in your garden start to flag. Growing 3-6 feet tall, New England asters are also a popular source for nectar for migrating monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico each year. Available in shades of pink and purple, New England asters look terrific paired with ornamental grasses and chrysanthemums. Many asters tolerate Zone 4 winters.
Test Garden Tip: After the plants finish blooming, cut the tall stems back to the ground to prevent them from flopping over under the weight of the snow. This will keep the plant tidier and healthier in the spring.
Make hostas the backbone of your shade garden. Unfazed by cold winters, hostas just keep growing bigger and better every year. Because these hardy perennials are available in a seemingly endless selection of shapes, sizes, and colors, they’re a lot of fun to mix and match in your garden. They also make great companions for other shade-lovers such as astilbe, Lamium, Epimedium, Heuchera, and bleeding heart. Hostas can survive Zone 3 winters.
Test Garden Tip: When you plant hostas or other perennials, make sure to place them in the hole at the same depth they were growing previously. If the top of the roots, or crown, is exposed to freezing weather, the plant might die.