Regional Picks: Plants for Winter’s Worst – Northeast

Fine Gardening - Issue 149



Autumn Radiance® maple (Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Radiance’)

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 7

Size: Up to 30 to 50 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

This may look like just another boring red maple, but it’s not. Autumn Radiance® colors up in fall about two weeks earlier than most other maples and really glows in the sunlight. Its strong, uniform limbs help it ward off threats of breakage under heavy snow, which makes it ideal for the Northeast. The silvery gray bark is an added bonus, while its broad oval canopy creates a nice shady place to hide under in the heat of summer.


‘Powder Giant Blue’ woodland Iris (Iris cristata ‘Powder Giant Blue’)

Zones: 3 to 9

Size: 6 to 8 inches tall and wide

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

‘Powder Giant Blue’ woodland iris is a spreading beauty, with great straplike blue-green foliage and dainty purple flowers in midspring. My wife and I received this plant as a gift many years ago, and since then, I’ve run it over with a lawn mower, sprayed it with Roundup, and even forgotten to find it a new home when we moved (I literally just threw it under our deck and hoped for the best); despite all this, it’s still thriving. The plant has always pulled through winter well, surviving under heavy snow laced with road salt.


Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata)

Zones: 3 to 8

Size: 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

For years, I have marveled at some Japanese tree lilacs along the Connecticut shore, which seem to thrive despite being subjected to high winds, salt spray, road salt, heavy snow loads, and kids hanging monkeylike on their lower limbs. This stand of trees never skips a beat. Although Japanese tree lilac has always been one of my favorite plants, seeing how tough it is has cemented my love for it. With a fairly upright habit, this plant would fit into almost any setting without taking up a large amount of space.


‘Unique’ panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Unique’)

Zones: 4 to 8

Size: 10 to 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

When a plant thrives in Maine, you know that it’s tough. While visiting that state years ago, I was surprised to discover that the flowers of this shrub have a subtle scent—the only fragrant hydrangea I know of. ‘Unique’ panicle hydrangea also has sturdy branches that help it persevere against strong winter winds and the heaviest snow loads. I like to cut this plant back hard in late fall and then thin out some branches in early spring to get the biggest and best blooms.


Ed Gregan is a woody-plant specialist and garden designer in New London, Connecticut.

Photos: Courtesy of Ed Gregan; Doreen Wynja; Courtesy of North Creek Nurseries;; Michelle Gervais

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