No need to give up on the garden and landscape when winter arrives. In nearly every corner of the US, rest assured there are bound to be particular plants for your winter conditions. These greenhouse-grown plants can be a feature and spark interest in winter months. Some even will perform to the very end, offering their dead remains as a stark structure projecting through the snow. In Michigan, we find artistic value in the botanical carcasses like the seed pods on stems. Simply awestruck we are, by the architectural composition of old flower heads of “Neon” Sedum, no longer “Neon”, but brown.
Creativity abounds when your world becomes cold and covered in snow.
Flowers of winter are successfully produced by growers throughout the US, from Florida to Maine. Offered below is an introductory list of the flowering annuals and perennials to consider to brighten the gray days in the winter garden. The list is inclusive, but by no means conclusive of the possibilities.
“Winter” has different meanings depending on where you live and garden.
Each fall, there are those who conveniently divide the geographic US into: where the Snowbirds leave and where they end up, or where their crape myrtle is a small tree, or where it is a hardy perennial. Since the horticultural world depends on more accuracy, we use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The plants listed fall within the range of the zones depending on their specific hardiness. Also, your proximity to large bodies of water, mountains, valleys, heavily wooded areas, etc. are conditional aspects that influence hardiness. Since plants don’t read our hardiness maps, some of these plants overlap and can be found in several hardiness zones.
Noteworthy flowers of winter:
- South US: Cold Hardiness Zone 8-11 – Cyclamen, Pansies, Camellias, Petunias, and Winter Jasmine – bring bright colors and some sweet fragrance.
- Mid-US: Cold Hardiness Zones 6-7 – Bold color, diverse textures, and cold tolerance are evident with Snapdragons, Sweet Alyssum, Heuchera (evergreen foliage), Primula, Petunias, Hellebores, and Winter Heath (Erica carnea). An added feature to these colorful plants – edibility with Pansies, Ornamental Cabbages, and Kale.
- North US: Cold Zone Hardiness 5-6 – Many of the plants listed above in the Mid-US work well and depending on the year, can last into early winter and some in Zone 6 will last the entire winter. Most in Zone 5 area will die-back once the temperature remains below freezing for several weeks, then they’re not seen until spring. Some are exceptionally cold hardy: Hellebores and Primula at times bloom in the snow. I have witnessed, during on a midwinter thaw, Pansies rebloom as the snow melted enough for them to be visible.
- The Great White North: Cold Hardiness Zone 4 and possibly to — where Polar Bears roam – Some of my favorite flowering plants after snow eventually covers the rest, are those with tall, rigid stems. Stalwart stems project above the snow and proudly display seed and/or flower heads: Astilbe, Baptisia, Cup Plant and Prairie Dock (both Silphiums), Purple Coneflower (the straight species, Echinacea purpurea), Black-eye Susan, and the upright Sedums (Sedum spectabile). Ornamental grasses might endure winter for a time with tan, purple or blue-ish hues like both Little and Big Bluestem, Switchgrass and taller Fescues. When the popular grasses of the south are tried, once the deep snow accumulates, by January they look like they have been set upon by a moose.
Now excuse me, I’m heading out to snack on the last batch of Kale poking through the snow.
-Rob McCartney, Horticulturist
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