Plant Choices For Cold and Windy Sites

Armeria maritima, sea thrift grows happily in a cold windy site.

Since I started gardening at my current home, I have struggled to find plants that are happy existing in a cold windy exposed environment. Initially, I chose things I liked and things that I had grown successfully in previous gardens. After some failures, I began to do a bit of research into what might be a more successful fit. I am happy to report that I have come up with a few plants that I can now say thrive happily in the cold and the wind that the north west side of my property presents.

Planting shrubs to provide a barrier on the windward side is one way to go. I chose Fragrant Sumac. It is native to Ontario, holds soil on slopes and looks spectacular in the fall. Growing 2 to 2 1/2 feet high and spreading 6 to 8 feet, it provides a low barrier from winds.  Another choice I recently made was a Viburnum trilobum (highbush cranberry). The lacecap white flowers that bloom in the spring are followed by clusters of edible red berries that are produced in the fall. It’s zone 2 rating makes it a good candidate for the conditions. A couple of other choices are potentillas, and carpet roses.

One ground cover that has been very successful for me is Armeria maritima (sea thrift) which looks like a dark green pin cushion dotted with small round flowers that last most of the summer. Another is Artemisia (mugwort) which has a silver leaf. It tolerates heat, drought and poor soil and presents a nice contrast to other green leafed perennials such as hosta. I also really like Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff) which has rich green leaves and clusters of tiny white fragrant flowers in the spring. It will thrive in shade. It can grow vigorously but pulls out easily if it begins to infringe on its neighbours.

I have also had success with Iris. The narrow leaves and strong stems make it a great choice for a windy site. By combining dwarf iris which bloom early in spring with bearded iris that bloom in late spring and Japanese and Siberian iris which bloom into summer, I have some type of iris in bloom at all times.

A few other taller growing perennials that I like to combine with the iris are daylilies, a variety of hosta, peonies, sedums, and veronicas. This combination provides a variety of shapes, sizes, textures and colours of both foliage and flowers.

Some last advice as you are choosing plants to plant in a windy site, check the zone! Although I am located in Zone 5b, I often consider a zone or 2 lower meaning zone 4 or even 3 when choosing plants that have to stand up to cold.

authored by Carol Anderson

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