Hardy Perennial Plants: Best Plants For Cold Regions
By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Cold climate gardening can be challenging, with gardeners facing short growing seasons and the possibility of frosts occurring late in spring or early in late summer or fall. Successful cold climate gardening involves using plants that bloom early and tolerate cool temperatures.
Choosing Hardy Perennial Plants
Cool climate perennials come in many heights and widths. Choose a variety of blooms when picking plants for cold regions. Grow delicate and frilly flowers when choosing hardy perennial plants that are members of the Dianthus family, such as Sweet William and carnations. The herb yarrow provides frilly foliage and delicate blooms when used for cold climate gardening.
Local garden centers can help with plant choices when you’re growing hardy perennials. Retail plant technicians there will explain necessary conditions for growing hardy perennials. Ask which varieties are most tolerant of your garden conditions. Some cool climate perennials perform best in an area sheltered from winds.
Plants for Cold Regions
Many short border or ground cover plants for cold regions spread and fill in bare areas in the cool season garden. Hardy perennial plants often used for their spreading potential include the following:
- Sea thrift
Taller plants for the back of the cold climate gardening bed may include:
Don’t forget to plant spring flowering bulbs, like daylilies, for their range of colors. Additional cool climate perennials to choose for color include the following:
- False indigo
- Bleeding heart
- Globe thistle
- Purple coneflower
Choosing cool climate perennials that are frost tolerant for the garden when cold climate gardening is key to your success. Many varieties are available to fit the bill when growing plants for cold regions. Adding an abundance of these cool climate perennials will make your cold season garden pop with colors and textures.
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Winter hardy succulents
There are two principal varieties of succulents that will tolerate the temperature when it drops down to freezing – Semperviviums and Stonecrop Sedums. Most of these varieties will handle temperatures as low as -20ºF and won’t mind the occasional hot spell!
Here’s our list of cold hardy succulents:
Sedum Spectabile “Autumn Joy”
By Zefram (Self-photographed) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons Sedum Spectabile “Autumn Joy” is a xeriscape plant that grows natively in North America, but is happy when exposed to cold conditions in other parts of the world. The leaves are lime green, with a prominent central vein. The tiny flowers contrast beautifully in shades of pink against the vivid foliage. This flowering succulent produces tiny flowers that grow in tight bunches – a little like loose florets of broccoli.
Natively, the Autumn Joy grows happily alongside other garden perennials, such as Rudbeckia, and looks particularly striking amongst ornamental grasses.
The climate dictates the shade of the flowers, which range from a delicate pale pink, through to the deepest hue of salmon.
If you are interested in growing your own Autum Joy, you can see Amazon’s selection here.
Photo credit: Ephemeral Impressions on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA
Sempervivum, perhaps, has been given a bad rap in the past – associated mostly with the type of garden that your grandma might have enjoyed. However, there’s been a real renaissance of interest in these cute little cauliflower-like hens and chicks, so called because of the spreading behavior of this very pretty, exotic plant.
They add a great texture to any flower bed, and have the slightly alien and mathematical look of organic fractals. They grow in a wide variety of sizes, and the same plant can spread profusely with totally unique looking blooms that provide attractive, textural ground cover. They sit exceptionally comfortably in rockeries or present real textural interest on a green roof.
Sedum Spurium “Dragon’s Blood”
By Rob Hille (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Sedum spurium “Dragon’s Blood” is a real staple of the rockery garden. It copes extremely well in cold weather and has a magnetic attraction to butterflies and other insects that pollinate the Dragon’s Blood is an excellent addition to a garden full of fruit plants and trees.
These tough, robust plants spread widely, producing beautifully-formed ornate flowers that are characteristically tiny. Sedum spurium requires no intervention from the gardener and copes well in full sun, in well-drained soil. In fact, it prefers poor, gravelly earth, a little like an orchid. For a xeriscape garden, the Dragon’s Blood brings a stunning spread of pink blossom that brightens up a dry, forgotten corner of the garden.
Want a little Dragon’s Blood to brighten your day? Get them here.
By brewbooks [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons Jovibarba has the succulence and spikiness of a cactus, but with the resemblance of the beautiful bulb produced by a globe artichoke. They’re thoroughly robust and survive in extreme cold, during extended drought, through periods of blazing heat, and in poor soil conditions.
They won’t cope with waterlogged soil, however – as long as their chosen spot drains quickly, the jolly Jovibarba will set up camp and stay for the long stretch.
What’s particularly fascinating about the Jovibarba is that it will find its own space if it doesn’t enjoy the spot you give it – it will produce a clutch of chicks that spread and roll away from the host plant in an effort to form a new colony in more hospital soil.
There’s a wide range of genetic variety with this particular cold hardy succulent – it interbreeds willingly, adding a beautiful array of greens and pinks to wherever they decide to settle.
If you are after an extremely hardy succulent, then take a look at the selection on Amazon now.
Sedum Telephium “Purple Emperor”
By Jerzy Opioła (Own work) [GFDL] Sedum telephium “Purple Emperor” has more than a fleeting resemblance to purple-sprouting broccoli. I wouldn’t eat it, though, however tempting it might look. The flower heads grow in tight bunches of tiny buds that spring into cerise flower when the time is right.
The Purple Emperor is often chosen for its interesting color – a lovely contrast to the typically green-leafed type of succulent family. This is a tall border stonecrop, with majestic blooms that lift a darkened posterior edge of a flower bed, making plenty of space for smaller plants to comfortably find a home up front.
Once again, you can find these hard to kill plants on Amazon.
By S Molteno (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons Jovibarba heuffelii is similar in appearance to the more conventional Jovibarba we’ve already featured but has a more open globe with slightly more prominent spikes at the tip of each leaf. The colors are more attractive than that of its distant cousin, offering a broad spectrum of pale greens, yellows, bronzes, and pinks.
This is one of those plants that is literally impossible to kill as long as it’s not forced to sit in soggy ground.
This super-hardy specimen will grow during the harshest extremes of weather. It will appear to shrink down to almost nothing when faced with drought but will re-inflate perfectly once it’s had its first drink of the season. The challenge is in trying to kill this super-hardy succulent. Ideal for literally any garden, and particularly suitable for areas that experience long, hard winters.
If you are are the sort of person who seems to have a “black thumb”, then try this. Available here.
Sedum Reflexum “Angelina”
Sedum reflexum “Angelina” has the furry look of a fern, with profuse green stems that produce almost sponge-like fronds that transform, chameleon-like, from pale green to golden hues throughout the year.
A keen spreader, the Angelina provides a lovely break from the deeper greens and greys often associated with xeriscape gardening. It will flower, but reluctantly so don’t expect a regular burst of bloom with this particular succulent.
It will contribute a beautiful bronze aura to your garden during cold snaps, transforming itself through to golden orange or lime green when warmer.
Capable of enduring extremes of temperature, with a color response to match each one, this is one of those succulents that provide excellent floor coverage with a surprising array of continually changing tonal hues.
Looking to grow a garden indoors during winter? Check out our guide on an amazing product called the Aerogarden.
The Orostachys is, perhaps, one of the most unusual-looking of all the succulents – resembling a spikey, half-globe crown that stretches up from stony ground.
This can be a tricky plant to add to an established garden as its much pickier than the other succulents featured in this article.
It can be a slow grower if the position isn’t exactly right. However, once you’ve found the right spot, this extremely hardy succulent will survive the cold and drought, and won’t mind the occasional covering of snow.
It is not just flowers and shrubs that can be perennial plants. Garden herbs also can fit into this category. Not all herbs are perennials. (see if your herb is a perennial, biennial or annual here.) Here are some herbs that are classed as perennials and will grow back year after year. (There are many others, as well, and I will update this page as I add them to the list of posts with information.
- Chives This herb gives a light onion flavor to dishes and is better fresh than dried.
- Oregano From the planter to Italian dishes!
- Rosemary Very hardy perennial herbs. Mine grows even in the winter months in North Carolina
- Thyme This tasty herb will come back each year in most zones.
Most perennials should be planted in the fall or early spring. Fall planting gives the plant more time to become established before the start of active growth in the spring. Fall-planted perennials are usually well-established before hot weather. Fall planting should be finished at least 6 weeks before hard-freezing weather occurs.
Early spring is also considered a good time to plant perennials. Planting early, just after killing frosts have passed, is better than later spring planting.
Many perennials can be grown from seed, but most gardeners prefer to start with established plants. Perennials are available grown in containers, field-grown, or shipped bare-root and dormant.
Set plant in the hole at same depth as in the original container.Pull in the improved soil around the root ball and firm the soil.
Joey Williamson, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Mulch perennial with a 2-inch deep layer of pine straw or bark, and water the plant well to settle the soil.
Joey Williamson, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson Extension
If plants are somewhat pot-bound at planting time, loosen the roots around the bottom and sides of the root ball and spread them out in the bottom of the planting hole. To encourage side root growth, make the hole twice as wide as deep. Refill the hole, firming the soil in around the plant to avoid air pockets. Be sure the crown of the plant (the point where roots and top join) is even with the soil surface.