It’s well-known that plants need air to grow, but having strong or gale-force winds blow at them will do more harm than good. This fact holds up during winter, where winter gales—particularly later into the season—can cause desiccation. The wind can make plants lose the water in their leaves, and it’s impossible to replace that lost water in the frigid weather.
Even the most adaptable plants are at risk of winter-induced desiccation, and the wind doesn’t even have to blow that hard. According to the New York Botanical Garden, five mph winds in subzero temperatures can induce the same effect as 40 mph winds in 20o F weather. Without adequate wind protection, winter can lay waste to any garden.
It may be the middle of winter right now, but that’s all the more reason to winterize your garden. You can add the following plants to ensure your garden stays beautiful no matter how hard the wind blows (provided proper plant care, of course).
Winter Resilient Plants
Coneflowers are ideal choices for low-maintenance gardens; you can leave them after planting, and they’ll still thrive. These herbaceous flowers thrive in hardiness zones between three and ten. In the case of winter, they’ll treat the cold of the American north-central and northeast as another uneventful day, growing on its terms.
Despite their impressive resilience, not all varieties of coneflowers thrive well in the cold. You want varieties that grow in hardiness zones between three and four, such as pale purple and any of the Echinacea purpurea varieties. Even better is that they bloom in the summer, so a garden full of coneflowers will achieve full vibrancy later in the year.
Regardless, don’t let their traits induce a false sense of confidence. Coneflowers are vulnerable to becoming soggy, which is a possible scenario once the snow melts. In addition, since plants are sometimes known to respond positively to certain sounds, why not add a few wind chimes for your garden? These addons will invite positive energy to the garden and the people admiring it.
Households that keep cats around, whether as strays or part of the family, keep a bunch of catnip for them to enjoy. Cats love their catnip so much that the English language has evolved to define “catnip” as anything that attracts plenty of attention. Then again, the meaning should’ve included something that can withstand windy climates because that’s another of its advantageous traits.
Catnip grows well in hardiness zones between three and nine, so winter conditions are fair game to them. Although they hold their own well in windy climates, planting them in baskets or other containers enhances their wind resistance. It won’t protect them just as well against craving cats, so keep them away until the catnip fully matures.
Though not as tolerant of winter as other plants on this list (hardiness zones between four and nine), daylilies are surprisingly wind-resistant. Beneath their somewhat fragile appearance is resilience that can weather the cold north with little to no intervention. Each stem will produce, on average, a dozen daylilies.
One disadvantage, however, is that these flowers stay true to their name. Given their genus Hemerocallis, daylilies only bloom for one day before dying off, though later varieties are known to last through the evening. Daylilies make up for this by producing plenty of buds throughout their growing season; hence, a garden won’t run out of daylilies too quickly.
Call it mädchenauge or tickseed; there’s no doubt that this flower is an excellent choice for a wind-resistant garden. Growing in hardiness zones between four and nine, coreopsis will stay alive even in the dead of winter. The result is a batch of bright, yellow flowers that’ll entice bees and other pollinators come springtime.
The gardening community is somewhat divided on whether to cut back these flowers during autumn. While experts cite that it all boils down to personal preference, they note that it isn’t necessarily a good idea. Leaving some dead growth can help keep the roots warm over winter, but cutting is viable if the garden is prone to moisture-related issues.
Regardless, take care not to cut too much; otherwise, the coreopsis won’t survive the winter. Experts advise leaving at least two inches of stems and protecting them with a lot of mulch to give them additional warmth.
It’s hard to blow away something that clings onto walls or surfaces while growing, which is the case for vines. They may be unable to carry their own weight like most plants, but they possess remarkable tensile strength. It’ll take more than strong winds to break them.
If you reside in hardiness zones seven through ten, or the lower third of the U.S., vines such as jasmine are worth planting. At its peak, jasmine can grow up to 15 feet with numerous sprays of white blossoms. It doesn’t require much care outside regular watering and sunlight exposure, but you’ll need enough space for it to crawl on as it grows.
This jasmine shouldn’t be confused with winter jasmine, a non-vine plant that thrives in winter but isn’t as wind-resistant.
Despite their name, winterberry hollies behave less like their relatives in the holly family. They have smooth leaves as opposed to notched ones, and they prefer partial shade and poorly-drained soil. On top of that, they can withstand the cold better, thriving in hardiness zones between three and nine, unlike the common holly in zones five through nine.
Perhaps the only similarity they share with other hollies is how they produce their iconic berries. Only female winterberry hollies bear the fruits, which require males to initiate the process. Their sex also determines their hardiness, at least for some cultivars. The male Southern Gentleman, for example, can thrive in a hardiness zone of three.
Rugosa roses show their impressive cold and wind resistance with their natural habitat. They’re native to the upper latitudes of East Asia, from 35o N (northern half of Japan) to 55o N (Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula). If a plant can survive in the harsh tundra known as Siberia, it can survive a typical American winter.
When these flowers bloom, they bloom so much that they tend to cover nearly the entire foliage. They also bear rosehips similar in appearance to cherry tomatoes, which you can eat ripe upon picking or make jams with them. However, you may want to remove its abundance of seeds and irritant hair strands before consumption.
Apart from their cold and wind resistance, rugosa roses have remarkable resistance against most plant diseases. They’re still vulnerable to pests like leafhoppers, spider mites, and caterpillars. Fortunately, there are ways to stop them from ruining your beautiful flowers without the use of harmful pesticides.
Spruces are as iconic in a winter landscape as some plants, and the Colorado or blue spruce is no exception. Their bluish hues come from the waxy layer on their spines that protect them from ultraviolet exposure and, more importantly, desiccation. They’re some of the hardiest plants for a garden, able to thrive in hardiness zones of two through three.
America has a long history of planting conifers in their households, dating back to as early as the mid-1900s. The reason for this is still a matter of debate, but some believe that blue spruce in one’s backyard back then was a status symbol. People would plant a lot of these conifers without regard to whether it’s native to the local area or climate.
Sadly, the challenge of growing blue spruce outside its natural habitat is real, with only sporadic successes. If you plan to add this to your garden, your best bet may be to reside near the Rockies, where high elevations are conducive to its growth. Other native areas outside these mountains include the coastal zones of California and Oregon.
Sedum is a resilient plant for several reasons, one of which is quite peculiar. Most gardeners half-jokingly call it stonecrop because sedum thrives even with so little maintenance that only stones need less care than that. Despite growing in a hardiness zone of three, not all species of sedum are ideal for the cold; some only flourish in warmer climates.
Some sedums can grow up to three feet, but the majority only grow up to a little over three inches. Their short stature means a reduced surface area exposed to the wind. More importantly, many gardens plant sedums as groundcover for other less-resilient plants, keeping the wind from blowing away the mulch that warms the soil.
Exactly as it says on the tin, Siberian irises are no strangers to harsh winters that define Russia’s Siberia. They make up for their slender stature and short flowering period with their striking blue petals and the ability to resist virtually anything nature throws at them.
If unwanted wild animals like deer or rabbits frequent your garden, Siberian irises will survive their onslaught. You can grow them in various areas of the garden for added elegance, namely along edges of water bodies or borders. Even if you leave them be, these flowers can reach their maximum height of four feet.
As a bonus, some gardeners that grow Siberian irises participate in an annual competition held by the American Iris Society. The best-looking Siberian iris receives the Morgan-Wood Medal, which the organization has been awarding since 1952.
This large flowering shrub is another herbaceous plant worthy of any cold and wind-resistant garden. As a member of the Hamamelis genus, witch hazels can grow up to 20 feet in height and width. Their flowers are akin to fireworks in the sky setting off, featuring a reddish core and yellow tendrils branching out.
To maximize witch hazel’s resilience, experts advise planting the seed as early as early spring. It’ll give the plant enough time to establish its roots and stand fast against strong winter winds. With proper care, witch hazels will blossom, bear fruit, and show next year’s buds—all within the current winter.
Widely considered the backbone of traditional gardens, yew provides vibrant hues all year round. They can often be found as groundcovers, foundations, or topiaries. Even better are species of yew that thrive in a hardiness zone of five, tough enough to weather the cold and the wind chill that comes with it.
Zone-five yews can come either short for containers and borders or large standalone plants. The short ones such as Aurescens, Densa, and Repandens grow up to five feet tall and are ideal as accents to other plants. Meanwhile, large yews can reach a height of 50 feet but require further wind protection, namely planting them in the part of the house where the wind blows the least.
One thing worth noting about planting yew is that it’s primarily poisonous, particularly the English and Japanese yews. Studies show that they contain taxine, a lethal alkaloid responsible for most cases of cardiogenic shock. Exercise the utmost caution in handling these plants and avoid ingesting any part of them.
Winter is as harsh to plants as to the people caring for them, whether because of gale-force winds or feet of packed snow. Given the effects of climate change, winters of the coming decades will be no less harsh than the winter right now. Plants can be adaptable lifeforms, so they’ll adjust when the need arises (though it may take some time).
While the plants on this list can undoubtedly withstand the cold and the wind, they have a better chance of doing so with a gardener’s helping hand. This piece has already mentioned some best practices, such as finding a less-prone area. Others include covering the soil with enough mulch and trimming some dead growth (not all plants benefit from this).
If your garden couldn’t make it this winter, consider having these plants in preparation for the next one. With the right choices, you’ll have a picturesque garden amidst the rigors of winter.
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