A winter garden doesn’t have to be a dreary, barren landscape. There are plenty of fascinating plants that survive winter outside. To ensure the longevity of your plants, pick plants that are hardy one or two zones below your climate. These will be good candidates to survive winter outside in your zone. Keep in mind that potted plants are more likely to freeze than those planted in the ground. It’s time to add a few of these key characters to your garden and keep your yard looking great throughout winter.
1. Siberian Iris (Hardy to zone 1)
Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) is one of the most versatile plants that survive winter outside. They offer early colour as well as an interesting foliage texture. Hardy from zones 1 to 9, Siberian iris stalks may survive temperatures as low as -32°C (-32°F) without damage. If you live in a very cold climate, provide mulch for winter.
Siberians are low-maintenance and more resistant to disease than other garden irises.
2. Dianthus (Hardy to zone 2)
Dianthus, commonly called pinks, are incredibly tolerant of cold climates. Their low-growing grey-green foliage remains evergreen throughout the year. This garden classic is hardy from zones 2 through 8, surviving light frost and sub-zero temperatures.
In summer, dianthus flowers profusely, making it a wonderful filler both in the garden and in pots.
3. Bog Rosemary (Hardy to zone 2)
‘Blue Ice’ bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) is an evergreen silvery-blue ground cover that is between zones 2 and 6. This super hardy ornamental plant survives winter outside in temperatures well below 0°C. They do well in rock gardens and moist soils (even tolerating boggy conditions). Bog rosemary can also tolerate flooding, high winds, and ice.
Bog rosemary’s foliage brings interest to your garden all year long. In mid-spring they produce multitudes of pink bell-shaped flowers.
4. Snowdrops (Hardy to zone 2)
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are winter-hardy to zone 2. This tough evergreen woodland flower is happiest in chilly climates, thriving in temperatures below zero (32°F) and snowfall. Named for their drooping bell-shaped flowers, snowdrops are among the prettiest plants that survive winter outside.
In order to produce flowers, snowdrop bulbs require a winter chill of at least -6°C (20°F).
5. Violas (Hardy to zone 3)
Violas may look delicate, but they are cold-tolerant plants that survive winter outside. Hardy from zone 3 to 8, they are tough enough to survive frost and snow and can flower all through winter (down to about 0°C or 32°F). If the temperature drops below freezing, the existing flower buds may be damaged, but the plants will stay alive.
Violas are an edible garnish.
6. Columbine (Hardy to zone 3)
Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) is an adaptable wildflower hardy in zones 3 through 8. Their flowers can withstand cold conditions but will die back to the ground in the coldest of regions. Their semi-evergreen foliage will add some colour and interest to your garden through winter and autumn.
Columbine has drooping bell-shaped, spurred flowers.
7. Lily of the Valley (Hardy to zone 3)
Hardy in zones 3 through 7, Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is one of the daintiest plants that survive winter outside. Despite their fragile appearance, they thrive in cool weather and are known to bloom in the winter months. Their green leaves will remain all year but may shrivel up if exposed to very hot weather.
Lily of the valley has sweetly-scented clusters of little white bell-shaped flowers.
8. Wintergreen (Hardy to zone 3)
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a charming evergreen ground cover. Their vibrant, glossy leaves create an attractive carpet of foliage, which turns red or purple as temperatures drop. Wintergreen is one of the most attractive plants that survive the winter outside and is hardy from zones 3 to 7. Throughout winter and spring, wintergreen produces big, bright red berries, perfect for holiday decorations.
Wintergreen is a low-growing plant with mint scented leaves and edible berries.
9. Heath (Hardy to zone 3)
This low-maintenance, winter-hardy flowering shrub is a stunning evergreen plant that survives winter outside. Heath (Erica carnea), sometimes called winter flowering heather, blooms heavily throughout winter. They’re perfect for providing winter colour in the garden. For the best visual, plant heath in groups. Heath is hardy to zone 3 and can withstand neglect and temperatures as low as -30 °C (-22 °F).
Heath is a sun-loving evergreen that is winter hardy.
10. Crocus (Hardy to zone 3)
Crocuses are among the best plants that survive winter outside. Like many other bulbs, they need a cold winter in order to bloom properly (around two months of temperatures below 7 °C/45 °F). Winter hardy in zones 3 to 8, their cheery blossoms sometimes open when there’s still snow on the ground.
Crocus flowers come in purple, yellow, lavender, cream and white.
11. Heart-leaf Bergenia (Hardy to zone 3)
Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia), commonly called pigsqueak, is a fast-growing evergreen perennial that proves itself to be one of the most resilient and hardy ground covers from zone 3 and up. Bergenia flowers in late winter and early spring, producing showy clusters of waxy flowers on long stalks. Their large, glossy leaves change to a warmer colour in winter.
Bergenia maintains a strong presence in the garden all year round.
12. Holly (Hardy to zone 3)
If you are looking for plants that survive winter outside, there are a variety of holly shrubs that thrive in cold weather, some of which even survive temperatures below -1°C (30°F). This popular large evergreen shrub is full of bright red berries come winter time. Their shiny, spiky, dark green leaves are evergreen and hardy to most conditions, including frost.
Holly shrubs and trees are iconic plants.
13. Snowberry (Hardy to zone 3)
The snowberry, or waxberry, bush (Symphoricarpos albus) is a beautiful sight in the dreary winter months. This bushy shrub is cold-hardy to zone 3, tolerating temperatures as low as -40 °C (-40 °F). Even though they lose their leaves in the winter, their fairy tale-like white berries stand out against their bare branches. They also produce clusters of attractive waxy pinkish flowers in the summer.
Quails, grouse, pheasants, and bears like the berries of Symphoricarpos albus.
14. Witch Hazel (Hardy to zone 3)
Witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.) is one of the most visually interesting plants that survive winter outside. In autumn, their leaves turn a magnificent golden colour before they begin to drop, revealing bare branches on which bright yellow fragrant flowers profusely bloom in winter. Witch hazel flowers earlier than other plants and stays in bloom longer as well. They require a winter chill in order to fully flower (at least 30°F). Hardy in zones 3 through 9, this flowering shrub can add a pop of colour to any winter garden.
Witch hazel is virtually maintenance-free and resistant to most pests.
15. Hellebore (Hardy to zone 4)
Hellebore (Helleborus orientalis) is an ideal choice for the winter garden. They have a strong root structure that helps these hardy plants survive winter outside. Hellebore is hardy from zone 4 to zone 9 and can withstand temperatures as low as -15°C (5°F). Hellebore blooms even when covered with snow.
Hellebore is a long-lived partial shade perennial that thrives in colder climates.
16. Evening Primrose (Hardy to zone 4)
While most primroses flower in early spring, some species flower in late winter. While they are frost-tolerant, they could go dormant if exposed to very cold temperatures for a long period of time. Evening primrose can happily withstand temperatures down to -28℃ (-20°F).
‘White Desert’ Evening Primrose.
17. Catmint (Hardy to zone 4)
Catmint (Nepeta faassenii) remains attractive during the winter months. Mature plants are frost-hardy and can withstand hard frost quite well. Although it stops flowering with the first frost, its lush silvery foliage stays semi-evergreen in warmer climates. This hardy, herbaceous perennial needs little maintenance during the winter.
In spring and summer, catmint produces pretty lavender-like flowers.
18. Sedum (Hardy to zone 4)
You may not expect to find them on a list of plants that survive winter outside, but most sedum (Sedum spp.), or stonecrop, varieties are very resilient and can withstand the harsh winters. Sedum plants have evergreen foliage. Their thin leaves are less fleshy than other succulent varieties, allowing them to withstand the colder temperatures without freezing. Some interesting varieties to consider are sea star or ‘Lemon Coral’ sedum.
‘Lemon Coral’ sedum has bright needle-like foliage and the leaves often become tinged with orange or red during winter.
19. Coral Bells (Hardy to zone 4)
Coral bells (Heuchera) are hardy in zones 3 to 9, and in warmer climates they can be grown as evergreens. Their semi-evergreen, colourful foliage remains intact for most of the winter, providing much needed colour to the winter garden.
Coral bells striking foliage can be green, burgundy, silver, brown, or purple.
20. Flowering Quince (Hardy to zone 4)
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is a multi-stemmed shrub that loses its dark green foliage in winter. In late winter flowering quince plants produce fragrant flowers in beautiful shades of red, orange, white, or pink. Flowering quince is adapted to zones 4 to 9, tolerating temperatures as low as -28°C (-20°F). Young plants can be sensitive to cold, but once established they cope quite well.
Once flowering quince is established, the plant is quite forgiving of a wide range of temperature and humidity levels
21. Japanese Yew (Hardy to zone 4)
The Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) is an excellent choice for an outdoor winter plant because it is an evergreen that keeps its leaves on its branches all winter. It tolerates drought and grows well in both full and partial sun. Japanese yews are hardy to Zone 4 and can withstand harsh winters.
Japanese yews can also be shaped into topiary.
22. Japanese Andromeda (Hardy to Zone 5)
Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica) is a versatile broad-leaved evergreen shrub that provides excellent colour and interest throughout the winter season. In spring, new foliage grows in hues of red and gradually turns dark green in winter. The shrub begins flowering with bunches of copper-pink flowers in late winter and early spring for 2-4 weeks, making it one of the best plants that survive winter outside (in zones 5 through 8).
Survival rates in a cold winter may be improved by mulching the roots.
23. Wintergreen Boxwood (Hardy to zone 5)
Wintergreen boxwood thrives all year, making it an excellent addition to your growing list of plants that survive winter outside. They grow equally well in pots and in the ground. Hardy in zones 5 to 9, these versatile broadleaf plants make wonderful hedges, entryways, and garden borders.
This cold-hardy shrub can even survive under a blanket of snow.
24. Pansies (Hardy in zones 6)
Pansies (Viola tricolor var. hortensis) are cold-hardy in zones 6 and up. They provide much needed colour during the winter months. Pansies have a tolerance for low temperatures and thrive in cool weather. They are capable of freezing solid and then coming back to life when the weather warms up.
Pansies and violas look similar- if the bloom has four petals pointing upward, and one petal pointing downward, it is a pansy.
25. Clivia (Hardy to zone 9)
If you live in a warmer region, clivias are popular choices as outdoor plants. They are low-maintenance plants that look good all year round. Clivias can withstand temperatures as low as 4 °C (40 °F) for short periods of time. They do tolerate a light frost, but it’s recommended you grow them in containers and move them indoors if a heavy frost is expected.
Clivia is most active from spring through fall.
There are many more plants not listed here that are cold tolerant and hardy enough to survive harsh winters outside. You have plenty of options, even if you live in zone 1!
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.