Winter has its own kind of beauty, but it's not exactly known for its lush greenery and gorgeous flowers. Still, you can bring some plant magic to your winter garden with cold-hardy plants that survive - and even thrive - in chilly winter conditions.
The best cold weather plants either stay green all year or put on a gorgeous show when temperatures are super low. If you're looking to add some floral beauty or lovely foliage to your winter landscape, these ultra-hardy cold weather superstars are just the ticket.
Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) is hardy in USDA Zones 2-9, making it a true superstar among cold weather plants. This plant produces gorgeous and fragrant pink or white blooms in early spring when it's still quite cold outside in most areas.
Lily-of-the-Valley is highly toxic to animals and people, so plant it away from areas where pets or children could come in contact with it.
Also hardy in USDA Zones 2-9, bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) is a compact evergreen shrub that - despite its herby name - is not edible (and is not really rosemary). It's ideal for rain gardens and other boggy areas. It has whitish-pink flowers in spring.
Bog rosemary's foliage resembles true rosemary, but it contains andromedotoxin, which is poisonous. Plant bog rosemary away from culinary herbs so you don't mistake one for the other.
What's cold hardy in Zones 2 - 11, beautiful, and edible? It's lacinato kale, aka dinosaur kale. An established dinosaur kale plant can survive single digit temps - or even lower in a cold frame. All kale plants are cold-hardy biennials; dinosaur kale is among the most cold tolerant.
Lacinato kale may be called several different names including black kale, Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale, cavolo nero, and Toscana kale. It's all the same stuff, so no matter what name it goes by, it will be hardy in your winter garden and edible when you harvest it.
Swiss chard isn't quite as cold hardy as kale, but it's close. This plant grows as an annual in USDA Zones 2-11 and is hardy as a biennial in Zones 6-11. It will survive - and remain edible - in temperatures as low as 15 degrees. With the help of a cold frame or other crop cover, you may be able to keep this freeze-resistant plant going when it's even colder outside.
The colorful stems of Swiss chard not only add beauty in your winter garden, but they provide a hint about the plant's origins. Chard is a descendent of wild beet plants from North Africa and Europe called sea beets. So, it's probably no surprise it shares a classification (Beta vulgaris) with garden beets grown in North America.
Daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) are hardy USDA Zones 3- 8. These super-early bloomers flower in late winter and early spring. Yellow is the most common color, but they also come in white, pink, orange, and pastel tones.
If you decide to cut your daffodils and arrange them in a vase, don't include them in a bouquet with other flowers. Cut daffodil stems release latex into the water, which will shorten the life of the other flowers in the arrangement. If you want to include daffodils in a flower arrangement, put them in a vase of cool water by themselves for 6 to 12 hours, and then add them to a new vase with fresh water and other flowers.
Also hardy in USDA Zones 3-8, crocus (Crocus sativus) is a superstar among bulbs that bloom in cold weather. This plant produces gorgeous flowers in late winter and early spring. There are yellow, cream, white, and purple varieties.
You'll often see crocus blooms peeking through the snow in late winter. Not only does the snow not harm the hardy crocus, but the plants require cold to thrive. If you live in Zone 9, you can still grow crocuses - you'll just need to place the corms in the fridge for about four months before spring planting. In super cold areas (Zones 3 and 4), plant the corms about four inches deep (or three inches deep in other Zones), which will protect them from extreme cold.
Pansies (Viola x) are hardy in Zones 3-8. They may bloom all winter in USDA Zones 7 and 8. In colder areas where they're hardy, hard freezes may knock them back temporarily. But, they'll bloom again when conditions are less frigid.
Pansies are edible flowers. They offer vibrant color to salads, decorate baked goods beautifully, and make alluring garnishes for food and drink. Imagine if butter lettuce had a slightly floral flavor. That's how pansies taste.
Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) is hardy in USDA Zones 3-9. It's usually one of the first bulbs to bloom in the spring, so it's not unusual to see its blue, lilac, pink, or white blooms poking up out of the snow.
Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) may also be called snow glories, violet beauty, Lucille's glory-of-the-snow, or glory-in-the-snow. Sometimes, the bulbs are labeled Chionodoxa gigantea or Scilla luciliae. Look for any of these names if you want these late winter beauties to poke through the snow in your yard.
Also hardy in USDA Zones 3-9, moss phlox (Phlox subulata) is a perennial evergreen groundcover with short needle-like foliage. This plant spreads out as a spiky mat and blooms with purple, pink, or white flowers from early spring until the heat of summer sets in.
You might also find moss phlox called creeping phlox or moss pink. They're evergreen in the winter, and when the flowers bloom in early spring, they attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.
If you're looking for an extremely freeze-tolerant evergreen shrub, creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) is a great choice. It's hardy in Zones 3 -9. It stays under two feet tall and can spread up to 10 feet wide (hence the word creeping in its common name).
Creeping juniper is fairly salt tolerant, so it's a great groundcover to plant along the walkways that you salt during ice and snow.
Hardy in Zones 5-9, ivy-leaved cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) is the most cold hardy of all Cyclamen plants. It blooms between September and November, then keeps its lovely foliage throughout winter and most of spring.
All parts of ivy-leaved cyclamen contain saponin, which is toxic to pets. Plant away from pet areas in your yard.
How to Choose Plants That Really Thrive in Cold Weather
When looking for plants that thrive in cold weather, it's important to realize that you're not just seeking plants that survive winter in your area. Many perennials rated as hardy for an area don't stay green or bloom when the temperature is cold.
For example, perennials such as echinacea, bee balm, hostas, and many others completely die back in freezing conditions, then regrow in the spring. They aren't visible during the winter. They can definitely be good additions to a garden, but they won't add color during the coldest months.
Rather than just looking for plants that don't die in winter, if your goal is to add color to your yard when it's freezing outside, choose evergreen plants that are hardy in your area or annual, biennial, or perennial plants or bulbs that bloom and/or show foliage during winter.
Make Your Yard a Winter Wonderland
The plants listed above are truly cold-weather superstars - they'll all provide greenery and/or blooms when the temperatures are too cold for most other plants. They're what you need to use when your goal is to add visible life and beauty to your winter landscape.