Forsythia bush growing zones

Forsythia bushes delight us each spring with their burst of cheery yellow flowers. This deciduous perennial bush has arching branches with flowers that come before the leaves appear. Planting forsythia is all about timing and spacing. The two best times are early spring and mid fall depending on your hardiness zone.

Check out this article for more information on forsythia bushes. It talks about pruning, transplanting, forcing and other gardening tasks related to forsythia.

The forsythia flower bursts into bloom well ahead of most early spring blooming plants. I get to enjoy it even before my daffodils show their sunny faces.

A forsythia shrub looks wonderful as a border plant (I have one that hides a chain link fence beautifully!) and can even be grown as a hedge.

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Tips for Planting Forsythia Bushes

Most garden centers sell established forsythia plants. Lynwood Gold Forsythia is a very popular variety that many gardeners choose. It really lights up the spring with an abundance of yellow blooms.

The plant is great for adding privacy and for focal plants in a garden bed. It can reach tree size that is up to 8-10 feet tall, so needs room to grow.

Mature forsythia plants that have not been kept under control can take up a lot of room in the garden. Keep your gardening habits in mind when planting them.

If you discover years later that your forsythia is too large for its space, you can move it. See my tips for transplanting forsythia here.

When to plant Forsythia

Forsythia can be planted pretty much all year long, other than when there is a frost or freeze. Timing depends a lot on your planting zone.

If you live where the ground does not freeze, you can plant even during the winter months. Northern gardeners like to plant in early spring after the last frost in order to help the plant become established before a hard winter.

One big advantage of spring planting is that you will be able to see the color of the blooms if you purchase locally. My one suggestion is not to plant in the middle of the summer unless you want to spend a lot of time on the end of the hose, making sure that it gets enough moisture.

For most zones, early to mid fall (September or October) is a good time to plant, The weather is not too hot but the ground is still quite warm which encourages root development.

Spacing Forsythia Plants

Check your tag to see how tall and wide the plant will be when it is mature. One of the mistakes that many beginners make is to plant shrubs too closely together.

They will end up crowding each other and won’t grow well. If the bush grows near a fence line, be sure to plant it in some from the edge so it will grow on the back side, too.

Forsythia has a pretty arching habit and needs plenty of room for those branches to spread out. Be sure to space your plants to accommodate the size of the mature plant, particularly if you plan to grow them along a side of your garden as a border plant.

I have mine spaced about 8 feet apart and now after three years the branches fill in the spaces between each shrub.

Where to Plant Forsythia – Soil Needs

Choose a location in your garden that gets full sunlight and has good soil that drains well. If you have a soil testing kit, check your soil.

Forsythia likes a soil pH with a range between 6.8 and 7.7. Many local departments of agriculture will test your soil for free if you get in touch with them.

If your soil is not in the suitable range, sublimed sulfur will help to lower the PH and powdered limestone will help to raise it.

As with all perennials, I like to add in 2 to 3 inches of organic matter or compost into the planting area to a depth of about 10 inches especially if the soil is sandy.

Planting forsythia shrubs grown in containers

Dig a hole that is at least two times as wide as the root ball of your plant and the same depth as the root area. Remove the plant from the container and set the root ball into the hole. Make sure that it will sit at the same level with the ground.

Fill in the space around the plant with more good quality soil and tamp it down firmly around the roots of the plant. Water the plant well. Transplanted shrubs can suffer a bit when moved from a pot to the garden and watering the area well gives it a better chance of withstanding the move with ease.

After watering, the soil level many look lower near the crown on the plant. Just add a bit more soil It is best to hold off on adding commercial fertilizer until the plant has become established.

Planting bare root forsythia

If you order online, you will often get bare root plants which will be shipped according to your hardiness zone. These plants are available from many mail order nurseries. They are generally less expensive than potted plants, but are also smaller as well. Forsythia is a fast grower, so a bare rooted plant may be perfect for you!

Bare root plants are shipped in a bag with a planting medium – normally sphagnum moss or shredded cedar. This is placed around the root system to keep it moist. Dormant plants will not have leaves. But actively growing plants may have some leaves showing.

Prepare the soil in your garden by adding some organic matter and be sure to plant very quickly once the specimen arrives. The shipping medium should be added to the planting hole along with the bare root plant.

Try to plant it at the same depth as the original plant was planted. (Check the trunk of the plant. You should see a tree ring which shows that level.)

If you get a cold snap or you don’t have time to plant the bare root specimens in the garden right away, just be sure to get them into soil in pots as soon as they arrive. They will only last a short while in the shipping medium.

Water the plant regularly for the entire first year. You will get the best results if you choose a bare root plant from a nursery in your own hardiness zone. Not only may it arrive more quickly, but it will have been grown according to local conditions.

Propagating Forsythia Shrubs

While buying plants from the garden centers is the quickest way to get a new plant, it is also the most expensive. Forsythia branches root easily and will give you new plants to use in other parts of your garden, if you are patient to wait for them to take root. And really, who doesn’t like plants for free?

Layering and taking cuttings are the two of the easiest and fastest ways to root a forsythia shrub. The process is simple enough that even a beginner with not much of a green thumb can have success with this easy to root plant.

Taking forsythia Cuttings

Cuttings are best taken in mid summer from this year’s growth. These branches will be more tender and will root more easily. Don’t use the old stems which can be hard and woody.

I use the cuttings from branches that have been “headed.” These will need to be removed to keep the arching shape anyway and the tips have tender growth that roots well.

To take a cutting, just remove the leaves from the bottom have and dip the bottom tip in a rooting powder. Place them in sand or a good seed starting soil or perlite mix and keep moist.

You should have rooted cuttings in 6-8 weeks. Then you can move them to their own larger pots with normal potting soil until they are more established and are growing. You can then plant them in your garden.

Layering Forsythia branches

For a forsythia, this is the easiest way to get a new plant. To layer a branch, just place a pot near an established forsythia plant. Choose a branch that will reach to the pot and bury the stem under a few inches of soil. Stake the branch in place with a landscape pin and water.

The roots will establish quickly and you can then cut the stem that connects the two plants and plant the branch with roots. It will grow easily into a new shrub.

This perennial plant is hardy in zones 4-9 and can even be forced indoors in the middle of winter so that you can enjoy those cheerful blooms even with there is snow on the ground. (See my tips for forcing forsythia here.)

Transplanting Forsythia Bushes

Once forsythia branches have taken root, you can transplant them in another area of your garden to give more of this showy plant to enjoy.

It is best to move a forsythia bush in late fall or winter, when the bush is not actively growing, to reduce any chance of transplant shock.

Two seasons ago, I had one forsythia bush take root just from having an arching branch touch the ground near it. I staked the branch down for a while to let the roots develop. It was then easy to chop off from the main plant and dig up to transplant in another border.

It actually flowered a bit the last spring, and now just about 18 months later, I have a good sized shrub that is about 4 feet wide and 3 feet tall. It was mature enough this year to give me a nice show of flowers just a few weeks ago.

Trimming Forsythia

Knowing when to trim forsythia is important to make sure that you get those blooms every year. Established forsythia plants will need to be trimmed to keep their pretty arching shape and also to keep them a manageable size.

This is best done in the spring after flowering and when the plant is at least 1 year old since you will be removing whole branches. See my tips for pruning forsythia here.

Overgrown forsythia bushes can get so large that general pruning won’t do the job of managing them. In this case, it is time for either renovation pruning or hard pruning. See my tips for this process here.

Follow these tips for planting forsythia and you will be rewarded with the first sign of spring each year that beckons you out into your garden, with the cheery yellow flowers. It is one of America’s most popular perennial shrubs for a good reason.

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Active Time 30 minutes Total Time 30 minutes Difficulty easy Estimated Cost $15


  • Forsythia plants can be purchased in pots, as bare root plants or you can propagate it from a friends plant.


  • Print out these care tips



  • Anytime there is no frost or freeze.
  • Northern gardeners do best if the plant is planted in early spring.
  • Southern gardeners do better planting in mid fall.


  • This plant needs room to grow. Space 8 feet apart or you will need to move as the size increases.


  • Plant where forsythia will get full sun for best flowers.


  • Forsythia needs well draining soil.


  • Dig a hold 2 x the size of the root ball and just as deep.
  • Add organic matter or compost


  • Try to plant at level of original plant (check trunk for a soil line impression)
  • Add organic matter to the soil


  • Forsythia can be propagated by tip layering, and soft wood cuttings


  • Transplant shrubs in the fall when the plant is starting to go dormant.


  • Best done in spring after flowering
  • Cut off 1/3 of the oldest and woodiest canes

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Though it’s originally from China and Korea, this harbinger of spring has adorned Southern gardens for so long that folks assume it’s native. At garden centers, it’s often the top-selling flowering deciduous shrub because it’s inexpensive, easy to grow, and dependably colorful. From late winter to early spring, countless yellow, 34- to 112 inches flowers smother the arching, leafless branches. During the rest of the growing season, the medium green foliage blends well with that of other shrubs. Fall color is inconsistent, but leaves may turn purplish or burgundy.

Forsythia can be used as a clipped hedge, an informal screen, a bank cover, or part of a shrub border. It thrives in most well-drained soils. Somewhat resistant to damage by deer. Rejuvenate after bloom by cutting a third of the oldest canes to the ground in late spring; also remove dead wood and old, woody branches. Prune to preserve graceful, fountain- like form; do not shear into balls or boxes. Cut branches are easy to rootjust stick them into moist soil.

border forsythia

forsythia ‘Arnold Dwarf

  • Grows 1123 feet high, to 6 feet wide.
  • Flowers are sparse and not especially attractive, but plant is a useful, fast-growing ground cover.

forsythia xintermedia

  • The most widely grown forsythias are in this hybrid group.
  • Most grow 710 feet tall and have arching branches; smaller selections are also included in the following list.

korean forsythia

Beatrix Farrand

  • Upright to 10 feet tall, 7 feet wide.
  • Branches thickly set with 2- to 212 inches-wide flowers in deep yellow marked with orange.


  • Grows 34 feet tall and a little wider.
  • Deep yellow flowers are followed by green-and-yellow variegated leaves that hold their color all summer long.

Golden Times

  • To 68 feet tall and wide.
  • Variegated selection with yellowish green leaves edged in gold; extremely attractive, especially when grown in light shade.
  • Remove any branches that revert to green.
  • Soft yellow flowers.

Gold Tide

  • (‘Courtasol’).
  • Compact growth to 20 inches tall by 4 feet wide; profuse bright yellow flowers.


  • (‘Gold Charm’).
  • Erect to 68 feet high and not quite as wide, with large flowers in deep yellow.

Karl Sax

  • Resembles ‘Beatrix Farrand’ but is lower growing, neater, more graceful.

Lynwood Variety

  • (‘Lynwood Gold’).
  • Stiffly upright to 7 feet., with 4- to 6 feet spread.
  • Profuse tawny yellow blooms survive spring storms.

Magical Gold

  • Upright grower to 5 feet high, 4 feet wide, with large golden-yellow blooms.


  • Dense, upright, vigorous shrub to 9 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
  • Deep yellow blossoms.

Spring Glory

  • To about 6 feet tall and wide, with a profuse show of pale yellow flowers.

forsythia ovata

  • Zones US, MS; USDA 6-7.
  • To 46 feet., with wider spread.
  • Heavy crop of bright yellow blossoms appears early in the season.
  • Flower buds are hardy to -20F.
  • Tetragold is lower growing (35 feet high and wide) and has deep yellow blooms.

weeping forsythia

forsythia suspensa

  • Dense, upright growth habit to 810 feet tall, 68 feet wide.
  • Drooping, vinelike branches root where they touch damp soil.
  • Golden yellow flowers.
  • Useful large-scale bank cover.
  • Can be trained as vine; if you support main branches, branchlets will cascade.
  • Forsythia s.
  • fortunei is somewhat more upright, more available in garden centers.

greenstem forsythia

forsythia viridissima

  • Stiff-looking shrub to 610 feet high and wide with deep green foliage, olive-green stems, greenish yellow flowers.
  • Bronxensis is a slow-growing dwarf to 1112 feet tall and 24 feet wide; good for shrub borders or ground cover.
  • Forsythia v.
  • koreana (F.
  • koreana), to 8 feet., has larger, brighter yellow flowers and attractive purplish fall foliage.
  • Its selection ‘Kumsom’ has striking silver-veined leaves and purple branches; grows just 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide.

How to Plant and Care for Forsythia

Forsythia is a fast-growing deciduous shrub best known for its distinctive yellow flowers—and their exceptionally early bloom time. Just when it seems the gray days of winter will never end, forsythia announces the coming of spring with a showy display of bright yellow blossoms on arched branches.

According to folklore, the appearance of forsythia flowers is a sign of spring, but only after three more snowfalls. Indeed, depending on your region’s climate, you may be treated to the sight of flowers surrounded by a blanket of snow.

Forsythia basics

A member of the olive family, forsythia is native to Asia and Eastern Europe. The plant has long been prized in China, where its inconspicuous fruit is considered a very important component of traditional herbal medicine.

Given its native surroundings, forsythia prefers a temperate climate, thriving in USDA plant hardiness zones 5–8, but will adapt to its surroundings. If given plenty of sunlight, forsythia’s low-maintenance needs and drought tolerance will enable it to thrive—even in poor quality soil.

Forsythia’s surfeit of yellow flowers, which have earned it the common name “golden bells,” blossom each year in early spring, before the shrub produces leaves. After the flowers bloom, the plant sets lush foliage that retains its bright green color through the heat of summer, turning shades of pale yellow to deep maroon in the fall.

Forsythia shrubs grow very quickly—up to two feet annually—making them especially helpful in landscaping new construction or creating a much-needed natural privacy hedge. At peak maturity, forsythia averages 8–10 feet high, making it an excellent addition for garden backdrops, landscaping schemes, and hedgerows.

Cold Hardy Shrubs: How To Find Shrubs For Zone 3 Gardens

If your home is in one of the northern states, you may live in zone 3. Temperatures in zone 3 can dip to minus 30 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit (-34 to -40 C.), so you’ll need to find cold hardy shrubs to populate your garden. If you are looking for shrubs for zone 3 gardens, read on for a few suggestions.

Growing Shrubs in Cold Climates

Sometimes, trees are just too big and annuals are too small for that empty area of your garden. Shrubs fill that in-between slot, growing anywhere from a few feet tall to the size of a small tree. They work well in hedges and also for specimen planting.

When you are picking shrubs for zone 3 gardens, you’ll find helpful information by looking at the zone or range of zones assigned to each one. These zones tell you whether the plants are sufficiently cold hardy to thrive in your area. If you pick zone 3 bushes to plant, you’ll have less problems.

Cold Hardy Shrubs

Zone 3 bushes are all cold hardy shrubs. They can survive very low temperatures and are the best choices for shrubs in cold climates. Which shrubs work as zone 3 bushes? These days, you can find cold hardy cultivars for plants that used to be only for warmer regions, like forsythia.

One cultivar to look at is Northern Gold forsythia (Forsythia “Northern Gold”), one of the shrubs for zone 3 gardens that blooms in spring. In fact, forsythia is usually the first shrub to flower, and its brilliant yellow, showy flowers can light up your backyard.

If you’d like a plum tree, you’ll have your choice of two large bushes that are definitely cold hardy shrubs. Double Flowering plum (Prunus triloba “Multiplex”) is extremely cold hardy, surviving zone 3 temperatures and even thriving in zone 2. Princess Kay plum (Prunus nigra “Princess Kay”) is equally hardy. Both are small plum trees with beautiful white spring flowers.

If you want to plant a bush native to the region, Red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericeabears) might fit the bill. This red-twig dogwood offers scarlet shoots and frothy white blossoms. The flowers are followed by white berries that provide food for wildlife.

Bunchberry dogwood (Cornus canadensis) is another excellent choice among zone 3 bushes. You can also take your pick from among the prostrate forms of broadleaf evergreen shrubs.

Top Hardy Trees & Shrubs (By Zone)

Everybody wants to have a bright and healthy landscape. Vibrant landscapes are inviting and promote environmentally friendly practices. But selecting the right plants is an integral part of a landscape.

By doing a little research, you can find out exactly what flowers, trees, and shrubs will look the best in your yard while factoring in climate, temperature, and weather.

Whether you’re looking to plant trees and shrubs to create a natural privacy barrier, or just wanting to “spruce” up your property, read on to learn more about how to pick the plant that will thrive according to your location.

Choosing Hardy Trees & Shrubs For Your Landscape (By Zone)

The United States Department of Agriculture divided United States and Canada into 11 hardiness zones, or areas based on a 10-degree Fahrenheit difference in the average minimum temperature. The U.S. falls in zones 2-10.

These zones help gardeners and growers determine which plants are suitably hardy for the location’s environment. Local variations, such as moisture, soil, winds, and other conditions might also affect the viability of individual plants. Ask your local arborist about which trees to plant in your community.

Why is Hardiness Important?

Hardiness is the ability of the tree to survive the winter and still thrive and reproduce. A tree’s hardiness determines if it can be expected to grow in a certain zone’s temperature extremes as determined by the lowest average temperature in the zone.

Best Cold Hardy Trees

If you are looking to redesign or update your landscape, finding the plants that stay vibrant and healthy in the climate you live can be difficult or overwhelming. Here’s a list of recommended trees:

  • Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) (Zone 4-9): Large, oval shaped tree, with furrowed bark and spectacular fall color.
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier) (Zones 3, 4): Oval-shaped tree with smooth gray-streaked bark and white upright flower clusters
  • European beech (Fagus sylvatica) (Zone 4-7): Large, oval tree, with glossy leaves, provides shade and good fall color.
  • Persian Parrotia (Parrotia persica) (Zone 5): A broadly pyramidal to rounded tree with showy, red flowers in the late winter and early spring that turn green in summer and a mix of yellow, orange, and red in the fall
  • Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) (Zone 4-10): Large, pyramidal tree with feathery foliage that turns bronzy in the fall.
  • White Spruce (Picea glauca) (Zone 2-6): Year-round color, columnar in shape, evergreen.
  • Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) (Zone 3-8): Adaptable, large oval tree with furrowed bark, pods, and yellow fall color.

Best Hardy Shrubs

Shrubs are an easily to maintain accessory that compliments any landscaping. They can act as borders to homes or pathways, build a foundation for larger landscape pieces, or just even stand on their own as ornamental plants. Here’s a list of recommended shrubs that will work in several different zones:

  • Leucothoe (Zones 5-8): A deer-resistant evergreen native shrub with attractive flowers and colorful foliage
  • Cherry laurel (Zones 6-9): An upright-standing shrub with dark green foliage and white flowers that give way to black berries
  • Azaleas (Zones 6-9): Shrubs that have thicker, leathery leaves in evergreen variety and softer, more delicate leaves in their deciduous varieties.
  • Yew (Zones 4-7): Evergreen shrub with softer foliage that is easily pruned and can be shaped to whatever form you want
  • Mugo Pine (Zones 2-8): Slow-growing but unique shrub that stays small and contained, reaching a height of about 4 feet and spreading out up to 10 feet

Fast Growing Hardy Trees

If you miss planting season for your zone, there’s no need to fret! There are a number of shrub and tree species that are fast growing. Here is a list of fast-growing trees and shrubs we recommend:

  • North Privet (Lingustrum x ibolium) (Zones 4-8): This hedge is known to be America’s fastest growing shrub, with a rate of up to 3 feet per year. The dense, dark, glossy, green foliage makes it a good choice for privacy screens.
  • Green Giant Arborvitae (Thuja standishii x plicata) (Zones 5-7): This landscape tree grows as much as 3 feet per year until maturity. Its natural pyramidal form contains dense green foliage that darkens during the winter.
  • Hybrid Poplar (Populus deltoides x Populus nigra) (Zones 3-9): Hybrid poplar trees have a vertical growth of 5 to 8 feet per year and can be harvested for firewood in 5 to 7 years.
  • Blue Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) (Zones 6-9): The most commonly known hydrangea with large, long-lasting mophead blooms that appear in the summer. These shrubs work as stand-alones or as a hedge.
  • Norway Spruce (Picea abies) (Zones 3-7): This tree can be used as lumber, pulpwood, Christmas trees, and landscape specimens. Its dense branching pattern and ability to tolerate different soil types make it a popular tree for windbreaks.

20 plants for drought tolerant landscaping

Most seedlings and perennials require irrigation at least until they become established. Even drought tolerant plants will require watering while their roots expand and become established. This list of drought tolerant plants will be tolerant of dry conditions only after they become established in your landscape. Plan to provide some water in the early spring after planting or transplanting. Use drip irrigation if you have a limited supply of water and consider using grey water or rain catchment, for water-wise gardening. See 10 tips for drought tolerant gardening for more ideas.


Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) Zone 3 to 8

Full sun or part sun with moist to dry soil. Will grow 60 to 100 feet tall. Acorns in the fall.


Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) Zone 3 to 9

Full to part sun; moist to dry, well drained, rocky soil. Will grow 3 to 5 feet tall with a spread of 3 to 5 feet. Baptisia has attractive blue-green foliage and lupine-like purple-blue blooms in late spring. Tolerates drought, deer and rabbit browse once established. Nitrogen fixer. Perennial Plant of the Year for 2010. It doesn’t like to be divided or transplanted.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) Zone 3 to 9

Full sun, average to dry, well-drained soil. It will grow 1 to 2 feet tall with a spread of 2 feet. This works well in a rain garden. Showy flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. It takes a while to get established and doesn’t like to be transplanted. Long blooming season once it is established.

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) Zones 3 to 8

Grows 2 to 3 feet tall with a spread of 2 feet. Prefers full to part sun with average to dry, well-drained soil. Purple-pink flowers with a long bloom time. Loved by bees. The roots, leaves, and flowers are medicinal. Self sows if seed heads are left to overwinter.

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) Zones 3 to 8

Grows 2 feet high with a spread of 2 feet. Prefers full sun with average to dry, well-drained soil. Yellow daisy-like blooms with dark purple-brown centre cone, from mid-summer to frost, accented by coarse, dark green leaves. Long bloom time. Will naturalize. Excellent container or border plant. Drought tolerant once established.

Sea Holly (Ernigium spp.) Zones 2 to 10

Grows 1 to 3 feet tall, with a spread of 1 to 2 feet. Prefers full sun, dry infertile, well-drained soil.

Spiky, thistle shape with globe flowers. Easily grown from seed. Warm temperatures enhance the blue colour of the blooms.

Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata) Zones 3 to 9

Grows 1 ½ to 2 feet tall with a spread of 2 feet. Prefers full to partial sun and average to dry, well-drained soil. Yellow, frilled edged blooms with a long bloom time. Deadhealing encourages long blooming.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Zones 3 to 9

Grows 1 to 2 feet tall with a spread of 2 feet. Prefers full sun to dappled shade, with average to dry soil. Numerous umbrel type flowers above fine ferny foliage. Many available cultivars with different colour blooms from white, yellow, pink to red. Easily grown from seed. All above ground parts are medicinal.


“Blonde Ambition” Blue Gamma (Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’) Zones 3 to 10.

Grows 2 feet tall and wide. Prefers full sun, with average to dry soil

Bunching blue-green grass that bloom summer to fall with pale, comb-shaped flowers. Blooms summer to fall.

Little Blue Stem (Schizachyrium scoparium) Zones 3-9

Grows 2 to 4 feet tall with a spread of 1 foot. Prefers full sun with average to dry well-drained soil.

Fine textured blue-green grass with purple seed heads. Grass takes on a russet hue after frost.

Northern Sea Oats or Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) Zones 3 to 9

Grows 2 to 3 feet tall by about 1 ½ feet wide. Prefers full sun to shade with moist to dry soil. This one works well in rain gardens. This seeds aggressively in a rain garden, where it is highly ornamental, with dangling seed heads.

Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) Zones 3 to 9

Grows 1 to 2 feet high with a spread of 1 to 2 feet. Prefers full sun with average to dry soil. Fine textured grass with silvery pink seed heads. Grass turns burnt orange after frost.

Sedge (Carex spp.) Zones 3 to 11, depending on species.

Grows 4 to 12 inches high with a spread of 6 to 12 inches. Prefers full sun to shade with average to dry soil. Short grasses make a good alternative to a lawn where turf grasses won’t grow.


Angelina Sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) Zones 3 to 9

Grows 6 inches tall with a spread of 3 feet. Prefers full sun to bright shade with average to dry, well-drained soil. Evergreen, fleshy leaves turn orange in the fall. Works well in rock gardens and in containers.

Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum Tectorum) Zones 3 to 11

Prefers full sun to bright shade with average to dry, well-drained soil. Fleshy green rosettes, tipped with purple that look like flowers. It makes numerous offsets that cluster around the mother plant, that give it its name, because the baby plants look like chicks clustered around a mother.

Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp.) Zone 3 to 10

3 inches to 10 feet tall with a spread of 2 to 10 feet, depending on species. Prefers full sun to afternoon sun with dry, infertile, well drained soil.

With prickly cactus paddle-shaped stems, that are topped with flowers in spring and summer and Sabra fruit in fall. Check species cold tolerance for your area. Different species have different cold tolerances.

Ground Covers

Pinks (Dianthus spp.) Zone 3 to 9

Grows 6 to 12 inches high with a spread of 1 to 2 feet. Prefers full to part sun with average, well-drained soil.

Forms a mat of narrow leafed stems that are topped by clove scented pink, magenta, or red flowers. Does well in containers.

Kinnikinnick, Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) Zone 2 – 8

Grows 4 inches with a spread of 20 inches. Prefers full sun to shade. Native mat-forming evergreen groundcover with small shiny leaves and pink bell-shaped blooms in spring followed by red berries. Drought tolerant. Leaves and berries used in herbal medicine.


Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) Zones 3 to 10

Grows 12 to 24 inches tall with a spread of 1 to 2 feet. Prefers full to part sun, with average to dry well-drained soil.

Ruffled showy flowers in spring or early summer. Numerous cultivars with showy, frilled flowers in purple, black, peach, white, and yellow. Divide every 3 to 5 years for largest blooms.

Chives (Allium tubersosum) Zones 3 to 9

Grows 1 to 1 ½ feet high with a spread of 8 to 12 inches. Prefers full sun to dappled shade, with average to dry, well-drained soil.

Onions scented grassy, edible leaves with purple or white flowers in mid summer. Liked by bees. Seeds out readily in gravelly soil. Good for rain gardens, and containers. Leaves and flowers are used in cooking and medicinally.

Many other culinary herbs like rosemary, lavender, and sage also thrive with low water levels. While not all varieties are hardy in zone 3 winters, they may be grown as annuals or as potted plants that are brought indoors in winter. For lavender varieties for zone 3, see this post.

Plan your garden with the available water in mind. These plants that are hardy to zone 3 and drought tolerant might be the right plants for your rain garden or the edge of your vegetable garden.

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