Hardy Perennials That Won’t Die In Winter

Want to know which hardy perennials will survive even in cold climate regions? We round up the super hardy perennials you need to grow

bleeding hearts in full bloom in spring
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Hardy perennials that will keep coming back, year after year, are plants we can all aspire to grow. Just because you live in a cold winter climate doesn’t mean you can’t have plants in your garden that come back every year. Plants with a lifespan of more than one growing season are termed perennials. While some perennials need year-round warm weather to thrive, others are hardy perennials and can cope with chillier temperatures.

These plants will amaze you with their ability to sleep soundly under winter snow, then burst forth with new leaves, shoots and flowers in spring. If you are looking for the hardiest perennials, read on for some great ideas.

Choosing Hardy Perennials for Cold Climates

You'll find the easiest way to determine whether a plant is 'cold hardy' is to look at its USDA hardiness zone range. The USDA planting zone map divides the US into 13 climate zones based on average temperatures. Each zone is 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer or cooler than the zone next to it. The colder the average temperature is, the lower the zone number. Zone 13 is on the warm end and zone 1 is on the cold end.

Each plant is assigned a range of USDA hardiness zones in which it can thrive. Assuming a gardener knows the hardiness zone of their home or garden, they can pick hardy perennials that will skate through their winters in great shape. We’ve identified five of the hardiest cold hardy perennials as candidates for your cold-winter landscape. Each one has its own unique characteristics and is hardy down to USDA zones 2-3.

1. Red Twig Dogwood

Cornus sericea foliage changing color in the fall

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For chilly areas, red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) is a shrub that provides landscape beauty year-round in chilly areas, hardy down to USDA zones 2-3. It can grow to 9ft (3m) tall and lights up the winter garden with its attractive blood-red branches. Spring brings beautiful white flower clusters that evolve into summer berries. Its variegated summer leaves turn rose and gold in autumn. 

This is a plant that grows fast. Some report that their shrubs put on up to 24in (61cm) of new growth in a year. These are hardy perennials for sunny areas and moist soil. A full sun location will result in the best bark color, but they will survive in light shade as well.

2. Bleeding Heart

bleeding hearts plant flowering in early spring

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If you are hoping for blooms, pick a hardy flowering perennial. The bleeding heart plant (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) fits the bill, with unusual flowers that resemble puffy pink hearts. They grow atop long, slender, arching stems up to 3ft (9m) tall. Each heart blossom has a white petal beneath that looks like a raindrop, leading to the common name. The flowers hang onto their stems for a few weeks. 

Bleeding hearts are hardy to USDA zones 2-3. A bleeding heart’s height ranges from around 1-3ft (30cm-1m) tall and wide. One note, however: if there will be children or pets in the vicinity, do bear in mind that the entire shrub is toxic.

3. Serviceberry

serviceberry leaves turning red in the fall

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Flowers are nice on a hardy perennial, but flowers that turn into edible fruit might be even nicer. The serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is a large shrub or small tree that can grow to 25ft (7.6m) tall. Their hardiness zone range runs down to USDA zone 2, so it is good to go in your cold climate.

This hardy perennial is a lovely addition to the garden. It offers white spring flowers that turn into dark purple fruit in autumn. This makes great jams and jellies. The green summer leaves transform into fiery shades in autumn, then fall, revealing the smooth gray bark.

4. Japanese Yew

Japanese yew in detail showing speckled yellow and green foliage

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The Japanese yew cultivar 'Dwarf Bright Gold' is not only a perennial but also an evergreen. These shade-loving evergreens grow almost as tall as the gardener planting them, to 4ft (1.2m) tall, and delight with their unusual golden-hued new growth. Great hedge plants, they accept pruning and shearing. 

Best of all, 'Dwarf Bright Gold' shrubs (Taxus cuspidata) are hardy all the way down to USDA hardiness zone 2. These are hardy perennials for sun and grow best in a no-shade location. Be sure to plant them in well-drained soil since yews do not tolerate wet soil.

5. Winterberry Holly

winterberry holly branches filled with berries and covered in snow

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As cold-hardy perennials go, winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is an extremely attractive bush. Its leaves are shiny and green all year long. In the summer, female trees are covered with small white blossoms. As the season ripens, the flowers turn into bright red berries that hang on the tree all winter.

Bear in mind that the male tree must be located nearby the female if you want berries. This hardy perennial grows to 9ft (2.7m) high and is hardy to USDA zone 3. It prefers a sunny location but tolerates partial shade.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.