Top Shrubs for Cold Climates

Living in a cold climate can be dull, but the plants in your garden don’t have to be! You might be surprised at just how many gorgeous options there are for chilly gardens. We’ve gathered a few of our favorites to inspire you. 

A line of 'Limelight' panicle hydrangeas in the wintertime.

Note: If you’re gardening in a cold climate, you may see a pretty big change in sun exposure in the winter. Don’t worry. The sun requirement for a plant is only relevant in the growing season, when the plant is actively growing.

Aronia melanocarpa
– full to part sun
– 8-14 in. tall and 3 ft. wide
– USDA zones 3-9

A front of the border powerhouse. Its flower coverage is not only impressive, but a delight to pollinators. The flowers turn to berries in late summer and look fabulous against the glossy foliage as it erupts into fall color. With a spreading habit, it secures unstable spots.

Betula x plettkei
– full sun
– 2-4 ft. tall and 1.5-3 ft. wide
– USDA zones 2-7

This little shrub perfectly balances funky and classic. Its leaves are tiny, which gives the plant a fine texture, perfect for providing contrast in the landscape. It can be shaped or left to grow as a naturally rounded ball. 

Cornus sericea
– full to part sun
– 3 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide
– USDA zones 2-7

Extremely valuable for gardeners who plant for wildlife. This native shrub fills with tiny white flowers in spring for pollinators, has berries in fall to feed birds and other wildlife, and the red stems are not only beautiful in winter, but also provide a great perch for birds as they visit feeders.

Hydrangea arborescens
– full to part sun
– 4-5 ft. tall and 4-5 ft. wide
– USDA zones 3-8

Pillowy pink perfection. This native hydrangea looks like nature’s version of cotton candy all summer long as it blooms and reblooms to fill the middle of the border or add complexity to a foundation planting.

Hydrangea paniculata
– full to part sun
– 4-6 ft. tall and 4-5 ft. wide
– USDA zones 3-8

Better everything. If you’ve loved ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, you’re going to love this version too. Its flowers are all around more colorful – greener limes and brighter pinks. Foliage is robust, dark and healthy looking all season long. And stems are extremely strong and upright.

Juniperus communis
– full sun
– 2 ft. tall and 3-4 ft. wide
– USDA zones 2-7

Spice up your evergreen game! The fluffy, fine texture of this lower-than-wide shrub is perfect for dressing up the front of the garden. It thrives in impossible spots – even deer-infested, polluted, black walnut adjacent, sandy, salty plots with low fertility.

Ilex verticillata
– full to part sun
– 6-8 ft. tall and 6-8 ft. wide
– USDA zones 3-9

Brighten up your home and garden with this native berry-laden beauty. It makes a great cut for flower arrangements and winter displays. And the birds flock to it once the berries soften in mid to late winter, which means you will get a show before the birds strip the plant. 

Diervilla x splendens
– full to part sun
– 6-8 ft. tall and 6-8 ft. wide
– USDA zones 3-9

You need the right canvas for the right painting. In this case, a complex color show is combined with the perfect medium-large leaves. These big leaves bring contrast to the garden and to cut flower arrangements as foliage filler.

Physocarpus opulifolius
– full sun
– 5-6 ft. tall and 5-6 ft. wide
– USDA zones 3-7

Effortlessly beautiful thanks to an elegant, no-need-to-prune habit and dramatic foliage color. This native shrub has flowers for pollinators, seeds for birds, and drama for gardeners. But only the good kind. It gracefully deals with poor site conditions and harsh winter weather.

Potentilla fruticosa
– full sun
– 5-6 ft. tall and 5-6 ft. wide
– USDA zones 3-7

If there were an MVP award to give, it would go to a potentilla. These shrubs are tough as nails and thrive in places you wouldn’t think a plant could grow. And despite rough conditions, they manage to flower profusely throughout the entire summer.

Sorbaria sorbifolia
– full to part sun
– 2-3 ft. tall and 3-4 ft. wide
– USDA zones 2-7

If your calling is to plant a garden filled with unique color, foliage, and texture, you’ve met your match. This false spirea is small in size, but not in character. Its foliage is a blend of yellow, orange, red, and pink in the spring and softens to green for the summer when its astilbe-like flowers pop up to attract pollinators. 

Cornus alternifolia
– full to part sun
– 10-12 ft. tall and 10-12 ft. wide
– USDA zones 3-8

The. Tree. This is the tree you need for its mid-size, fit practically anywhere habit, fabulous variegated foliage, architecturally interesting horizontal branching and flowering, and its ability to thrive even in pretty shady spots.

Spiraea x
– full to part sun
– 2-3 ft. tall and 2-3 ft. wide
– USDA zones 3-8

If you’re looking for the longest flowering, easiest maintenance shrub on this list, you’ve found it. This spirea blooms, reblooms, and reblooms all throughout the summer without a bit of deadheading. It doesn’t create seeds, so it’s able to spend that energy making flowers instead! 

Syringa x hyacinthiflora
– full sun
– 4-6 ft. tall and 4-6 ft. wide
– USDA zones 2-8

If you’re looking for a heady, positively overwhelming lilac fragrance, you’ll find it with Scentara Pura. It’s derived from the most fragrant species of lilac, and the floral show matches the scent in intensity.

Have a question about your cold climate garden? Let us know in the comment section.

Written by
Kristina Howley

Kristina Howley

I am all in when it comes to gardening. Almost every part of the experience delights me – new leaves emerging in spring, pollinators buzzing in summer, birds devouring berries in fall, and the somber beauty of seed heads in winter. Thanks to a background in horticulture and gardening my own clay-filled, flowery USDA zone 5b plot, I’ve learned plenty of practical things as well. I like sharing these joys and lessons with my fellow gardeners and soon-to-be gardeners any way I can.

Share:

2 Responses

    1. In this case, we’d defer to the experts at a local garden center. You’ll want to make sure they are helping you select something that won’t get too large, and that will provide shade when you need it. You might start by looking at podocarpus, a type of conifer, and then explore some additional options that are on offer, like flowering or even fruiting trees.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get The Latest Updates

Love plants?
So do we!

Subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter for inspiration, information, and ideas to make your garden or landscape more beautiful and easier to care for.

Related Posts

Gardening Simplified magazine
[everest_form id="4997"]