The easiest way to know which plants will thrive in a yard or garden is by paying close attention to your climate and hardiness zones; in other words, the distinct climate and weather patterns in your area. Factors such as humidity, rainfall, and length of seasons determine what to plant and when to plant it. But what do you do when these key elements begin to rapidly shift with little to no way of predicting the future?
Changing climate zones and weather conditions are an unfortunate reality for today’s gardeners and landscapers. Northern New England currently has a humid continental climate, but as the Northern United States warms faster than any other region, climate change is changing the conditions in our zone year by year. In fact, while Northern New England’s hardiness zones currently range from 3 to 7, they are projected to range from 4 to 8 in 2040; increasing by an entire zone — that’s about 5 degrees. It may not seem like a lot to us, but 5 degrees can be detrimental to the survival of many plants that previously thrived in New England. Climate change makes it increasingly important to consider plants that can withstand changing weather conditions in any gardening or landscaping work.
Wollaston Development, a Greater Boston-based site development and property design company, discusses how you can use its list of climate-smart plants to not only build a beautiful, long-lasting landscape, but to support local ecosystems too. Wollaston Development recommends plants that support the local flora and fauna; increasing bird, deer, and pollinator populations throughout the region.
Wollaston Development’s top 8 plants for landscape designs, and New England’s ecosystems, are as follows:
This ornamental grass grows in dense bunches about 18-24 inches tall. The slender stems have a bluish-green hue in the spring, but are most notable for their vibrant mahogany red color in the fall months, which even persists through the winter snow. Little Bluestem thrives in hardiness zones 3-9, is low maintenance, and deer resistant.
This perennial warm season grass grows in bunches about 2-3 feet tall, with leafy, pale green stems at the bottom, and hanging, purple, oat-like spikelets on the top which bloom showy, reddish-orange florets in the summer and bleach to a tan color in the fall. Sideoats Grama mixes well in plantings with spring wildflowers due to its short length in the spring. This tall grass thrives in hardiness zones 4-9, is low maintenance, and supports bird populations.
Dense Blazing Star
Another showy perennial, the Dense Blazing Star is known for its radiant tall spikes of purple (or sometimes white) flowers that grow 1-5 feet tall. The flower clusters have an overall feathery appearance, hence its alternate name, the Dense Gayfeather. Its linear, grass-like leaves are clumped at the base of the plant, but climb and taper off to the beautiful flowers above. The Dense Blazing Star thrives in hardiness zones 3-8, supports both pollinators and birds, and is low maintenance.
As you might infer from the name, Butterfly Weed is famous for its brilliant butterfly attracting flowers. A lively addition to any garden or yard, this bushy perennial blooms flat-topped clusters of vibrant yellow, orange, or red flowers from early summer to early fall. Its spiraling, lance-shaped leaves provide a dark-green backdrop; creating a beautifully contrasted backdrop for the showy flower heads. Butterfly Weed thrives in hardiness zones 3-9, supports pollinators, and is deer resistant and low maintenance.
Coastal Sweet Pepperbush
Also known as Summer Sweet, this deciduous shrub grows in tall, narrow, mounded clumps about 6-12 feet tall. Coastal Sweet Pepperbush’s leafy branches are spotted with clusters of sweetly fragrant white flowers in the summer. Its oval, toothed leaves turn from their moody, dark-green color to a golden-yellow in the Fall. Coastal Sweet Pepperbush is not only an aesthetically pleasing addition to any yard, but is also incredibly low maintenance as it is resistant to insects and diseases. This shrub thrives in hardiness zones 3-9, and supports pollinator and bird populations.
If you’re looking for a shrub with beauty and incredible adaptability, Ninebark takes the cake. This mound-shaped shrub grows from 3-10 feet and blooms charming spherical clusters of white to pinkish flowers from May to June. Adding to its beauty, Ninebark also bears vibrant red ornamental fruits in the fall. Ninebark is not only fast-growing, drought-tolerant, and insect and disease resistant, but is adaptable to a wide range of soil and light conditions. Thriving in hardiness zones 2-8, its adaptability to harsh conditions makes it perfect for erosion control on banks, but it’s beautiful flowers and fruits may be enough to convince you.
Gray Dogwood is a small, thicket-forming tree that grows up to 16 feet in height. Its twigs are an alluring deep red color, and remain so into the late fall and early winter. The twigs produce delicately small white flowers in rounded clusters sometime between May and July, which then blossom into beautiful white, berry-like fruits from August to October, which many native birds feed on. Gray Dogwood’s red twigs and reddish or purplish fall foliage make it the perfect plant for a vibrant New England Fall. It thrives in hardiness zones 4-8, supports pollinator and bird populations, and is deer resistant and low maintenance.
With its large, blue-green leaves and height of 60-70 feet, the Kentucky Coffeetree is a perfect choice for creating shade in any yard or landscape. In addition to the aesthetically pleasing color of its leaves, this moderately fast-growing tree also bears fragrant white flowers in late spring, which later bloom into reddish brown pods that ripen in October and persist well into winter. The best part? The pods can be roasted and used as a substitute for coffee beans. The Kentucky Coffeetree thrives in hardiness zones 3-8, and is low maintenance.