Tips For Gardening In The Northeast

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The US Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone Map, based on the average annual minimum temperature, assigns zones 3 through 7 to the Northeastern United States, with the coldest areas having average winter lows of -30 to -35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Included in the Northeastern gardening zone are:

  1. Connecticut
  2. Delaware
  3. The District of Columbia
  4. Illinois
  5. Indiana
  6. Kentucky
  7. Maine
  8. Maryland
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Michigan
  11. New Hampshire
  12. New Jersey
  13. New York
  14. Ohio
  15. Pennsylvania
  16. Rhode Island
  17. Vermont
  18. Virginia
  19. West Virginia
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Gardening in the Northeast has its own challenges, mainly the legendary winters. Plants must be able to withstand the severe temperatures, and gardeners must choose plants suitable to the region, or be willing to replace them each spring. The growing season can be as short as April through October, depending on which part of the northeast you live in.

By sticking with plants that are hardy in the lowest temperatures, you can easily design and maintain a beautiful garden, regardless of winter storms. Here are some excellent choices in each category of garden greenery that will thrive in your Northeastern garden.

Roses

By picking roses that tolerate sub-zero temperatures, and protecting them from winter extremes, you can have a beautiful rose garden. Here are five great choices for the Northeast.

  • Double Delight - A hybrid tea rose with delicate creamy white blooms edged with pinkish red. The strong scent makes it even more delightful.
  • Knockout - A shrub rose with a low, spreading habit, the Knockout roses are very disease resistant, need little deadheading, and are covered with flowers through the summer.
  • Gemini - A tall hybrid tea rose, with creamy pink flowers edged with coral orange. Fairly disease resistant.
  • Fourth of July - A climbing rose with ruffled, red and white streaked flowers.
  • Julia Child - A floribunda with buttery yellow blooms, and a fragrance reminiscent of licorice.

Perennials

The backbone of your flower garden, perennials bring cheerful color through the spring and summer, die down to the roots over the winter, and return in the spring. Here are five perennials that are tough and hardy enough to survive even the coldest Northeastern winter.

  • Coral Bells - A wonderful plant for the shade, coral bells come in an amazing variety of colorful foliage. The flowers are small, and held in gently nodding stalks of color above the low mound of round leaves.
  • Astilbe - The feathery stalks of astilbe look delicate waving above the ferny foliage, but astilbe is actually a tough plant that can tolerate shade, and is not picky about soil.
  • Bee Balm - Adored by hummingbirds and butterflies, bee balm's shaggy flowers in pink, red or white are an old fashioned addition to your perennial beds.
  • Garden Phlox - Another old-fashioned favorite, garden phlox requires little maintenance, holds up to wind and cold, and comes in a wide range of pinks, purples, whites and reds.
  • Yarrow - Tough but delicate in appearance, yarrow attracts butterflies, and spreads rapidly to provide plenty of cut flowers. Colors range from yellow to white to pink, red or purple.

Lawns

For the greenest, lushest, healthiest lawn, a mixture of grass seeds that tolerate cold winters and humid summers will do best.

  • Kentucky Bluegrass is usually considered the best grass for Northeastern lawns, but can be improved with the addition of red fescue, which is tolerant of extreme weather, and perennial ryegrass, which germinates quickly to fill in bare spots.
  • Soil in the Northeast tends to be acidic, while grass prefers a neutral pH. The addition of lime in the spring, and again in the fall will help counterbalance the pH, and keep your lawn green.
  • Fertilize your lawn in the late summer, to encourage strong roots and energy to survive until the next growing season.

Shrubs

Shrubs provide the background of your garden, giving form and balance to the yard. Shrubs can be used to screen out unattractive features, provide privacy, unify an area, or act as a focal point.

  • Bottlebrush buckeye has large white flower spikes in the summer, and bright yellow leaves in the fall. A large shrub that reaches 12 feet tall and wide, deer leave it alone, and it makes a nice specimen plant.
  • Black chokeberry is a small shrub with pinkish flowers followed by shiny black berries. Red-purple foliage is attractive before falling in autumn. Use chokeberry as a filler or background plant.
  • Summersweet has fragrant white or pink flowers, and even blooms in the shade. It can reach 8 feet tall, and spreads into a dense clump. Fall color is golden yellow.
  • Chinese witch hazel has colorful fall foliage, and fragrant yellow flowers on its bare stems in late winter. Spreading to 10 feet, Chinese witch hazel makes a great accent in a woodland setting.
  • Japanese barberry has arching, spiny branches that color with red berries during the winter. The autumn foliage is brightly colored, and the shrub makes a good hedge or border.

Trees

  • The balsam fir is not only a popular Christmas tree; it is an attractive evergreen addition to your Northeastern yard. Long cones fall from the tree in September, and deer and songbirds will come to enjoy the seeds.
  • Box elder maple is native to the Northeast. The green and white foliage turns to striking colors of red, yellow and orange in the fall. Box elder makes a nice border to line your driveway or property line.
  • American white birch is striking with its white bark, punctuated with black markings. The leaves yellow and drop in the fall, leaving the birch to make a dramatic focal point on your lawn.

Though the winters may be cold, your Northeastern garden will survive, and return in the spring to provide bright color. Winter is the perfect time to look through gardening catalogs, and decide on annuals to fill your containers and flowerbeds come spring.

Last Updated: August 25, 2011
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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