High-Impact Plants That Are Cold Hardy

These structural plants keep your garden wow-worthy year after year

Fine Gardening - Issue 189

In Taming a High-Impact Design, James Kincannon, a horticulturist out of Indianapolis, discusses how to marry dramatic structural plants with annuals and perennials to create a high-impact design that isn’t overwhelming. Below, see some of his favorite cold hardy architectural plants to use in your own high-impact design.


‘Green Arrow’ Alaskan Yellow Cedar

(Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Green Arrow’, Zones 4–8)

Growing 18 to 35 feet tall but only 2 to 10 feet wide, ‘Green Arrow’ furnishes a strong vertical silhouette with a small footprint. Its sculptural weeping branches retain their attractive gray-green color throughout the year.

Photo: Carol Collins


Japanese Banana

(Musa basjoo, Zones 5–10)

This banana looks right at home among its tropical cousins, but if its roots are well mulched, it can survive winter temperatures as low as –10°F. Find it a spot protected from strong winds, which can shred its big, beautiful leaves.

Photo: Carol Collins


‘Summer Chocolate’ Mimosa

(Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’, Zones 6–9)

Though this spectacular cultivar is at the very edge of its hardiness range in Zone 6, it is worth finding a sheltered location or microclimate for it if you can. Delicate, fernlike leaves emerge green and deepen to bronze-purple.


Photo: Carol Collins


‘Skylands’ Oriental Spruce

(Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’, Zones 4–7)

With golden needles arrayed on graceful, upswept branches, this conifer has plenty of charisma. Although it is slow growing, it can eventually reach up to 35 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide. Give it enough space to grow and perhaps a little protection from the hot afternoon sun to prevent its needles from burning.

Photo: Carol Collins

Jim Kincannon is a horticulturalist in Indianapolis. 

More on architectural plants:

Design a Border with Strong Plant Shapes

Big-Leaved Perennials

2 Ways to Design Bold Gardens

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