By: Amy Grant
Love lavender but you live in a cooler region? Some types of lavender will only grow as annuals in the cooler USDA zones, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on growing your own. Cold hardy lavender might need a little more TLC if you don’t have a reliable snow pack, but there are still lavender plants for zone 4 growers available. Read on to find out about lavender varieties for cold climates and information about growing lavender in zone 4.
Lavender requires plenty of sun, well-draining soil and excellent air circulation. Prepare the soil by tilling down 6-8 inches (15-20 cm.) and working in some compost and potash. Plant the lavender out when all danger of frost has passed for your area.
Lavender does not need lots of water. Water and then allow the soil to dry out before watering again. In the winter, prune back the herb’s new growth by 2/3 of the stem length, avoiding cutting into the old wood.
If you don’t get a good reliable snow cover, cover your plants with straw or dry leaves and then with burlap. This will protect cold hardy lavender from drying winds and chilly temps. In the spring, when temperatures have warmed, remove the burlap and mulch.
There are basically three lavender plants suitable for zone 4. Be sure to check that the variety has been tagged a zone 4 lavender plant; otherwise, you will be growing an annual.
Munstead is hardy from USDA zones 4-9 and has lovely lavender-blue flowers with narrow, green leafed foliage. It can be propagated via seed, stem cuttings or get plant starts from the nursery. This variety of lavender will grow from 12-18 inches (30-46 cm.) in height and, once established, requires very little care with the exception of some winter protection.
Hidicote lavender is another variety suited to zone 4 that, like Munstead, can even be grown in zone 3 with reliable snow cover or winter protection. Hidicote’s foliage is grey and the flowers are more purple than blue. It is a shorter variety than Munstead and will only get to about a foot (30 cm.) in height.
Phenomenal is a new hybrid cold hardy lavender that thrives from zone 4-8. It grows much taller than either Hidicote or Munstead at 24-34 inches (61-86 cm.), with the taller flower spikes typical of hybrid lavender. Phenomenal is true to its name and sports silver foliage with lavender-blue blossoms and a mounding habit much like the French lavenders. It has the highest amount of essential oil of any lavender variety and makes an excellent ornamental specimen as well as for use in fresh or dried floral arrangements. While Phenomenal thrives in hot, humid summers, it is still very hardy with a reliable snow cover; otherwise, cover the plant as above.
For a truly eye popping display, plant all three of these varieties, placing Phenomenal at the back with Munstead in the middle and Hidicote at the front of the garden. Space Phenomenal plants 36 inches (91 cm.) apart, Munstead 18 inches (46 cm.) apart, and Hidicote a foot (30 cm.) apart for a glorious assemblage of blue to purple blossoms.
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Munstead Lavender Munstead is an English lavender that is hardy from zones 4 to 9. If you get reliable snow cover you can grow it in zone 3, as well. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall and needs little care, other than winter protection. Like other English lavenders, it doesn't grow 100% true to type from seed.
Furthermore, how cold hardy is lavender? Cold hardy lavender does actually exist. The English varieties can withstand temperatures of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 C.) while the French can only withstand temperatures of 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 C.) or higher.
Hereof, can lavender grow in Zone 4?
Lavender Varieties for Cold Climates There are basically three lavender plants suitable for zone 4. Phenomenal is a new hybrid cold hardy lavender that thrives from zone 4-8. It grows much taller than either Hidicote or Munstead at 24-34 inches, with the taller flower spikes typical of hybrid lavender.
Is Lavender a sun or shade plant?
Shade-Tolerant Lavender English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) thrives best in full sun and well-drained soil, but it is somewhat shade tolerant and will still grow under low light. Under optimal conditions, it can reach a height of 20 inches and a width of 24 inches.
Fields of lavender offer beauty and fragrance. Lavender flowers are great dried and used to make teas, in cooking and perfumes.
English lavender is the most common and hardiest of all lavenders. 'Munstead' is a good variety to try in cold climates.
Lavender has one of the richest and most lavish histories. This Mediterranean herb has been found in Egyptian tombs and was extensively used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for a variety of purposes. Lavender was recognized early on for its healing properties. It has been used to clean and heal wounds, relieve headaches, soothe skin burns, and calm upset stomachs. The sweet scent was favored to clean the air of unpleasant odors and provide a perfume for clothing and bodies.
Royalty in France and England favored lavender, and it became widely popular even among the common people. Small bags were filled with dried lavender flowers to store in wardrobes and under pillows. It was used to repel lice and mosquitoes. Today, teas and oils are used in perfumes and medicinally to help with depression, sleep disorders, headaches, fatigue, and tension. You'll even find lavender in foods such as chocolates, adding a unique taste. While originating in Europe, lavender is now grown around the world.
In the home garden, the obvious place to grow this multi-faceted plant is in the herb garden. However, gardeners in USDA zone 8 and warmer climates can also use lavender as a landscape plant mixed with other perennial flowers, small shrubs, or around small trees. The beautiful gray-green foliage and colorful flowers work to make this perennial herb an attractive landscape feature.
Lavender grows best in full sun on well drained soil. While the widest selection of lavender plants can be grow in USDA zone 8 to 11 gardens, there are varieties that will survive even a USDA zone 4 winter with protection. Most bloom in spring and early summer and are a favorite among honey bees and other insects. The most popular type of lavender is common or English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). This evergreen has purple, pink, or white flowers, depending on the variety a strong fragrance can grow to 3 feet tall and wide is hardy in zones 5 to 11 and is used in the cosmetics and perfume industries. It grows best under cool, dry conditions.
French lavender (Lavandula dentata) doesn't have the strong scent of English lavender, and the flower colors are more muted. It's hardy in zones 8 to 11 and is used mostly for decorative purposes. Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechys) features unique purple flowers in spring. The upright, pine-cone shaped, flower bracts have a stunning appearance on this 2 foot tall and wide shrub that is hardy in zones 8 to 11. The piney fragrance is strong, so it's not commonly used in cooking.
Yellow lavender (Lavandula viridis) features a strong fragrance, bold yellow flowers, and yellow green foliage. It also is hardy in zones 8 to 11. Spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) is a coarser looking plant, but has up to three times the oil content of regular lavender. It's mostly used in making soaps, deodorants, and disinfectants. Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia) is a Dutch hybrid that's a cross between common lavender and spike lavender. It has the beauty of English lavender plants with a similar oil content of spike lavender. Spike and lavandin lavenders are a little less hardy than English lavender, but are more heat and drought tolerant.
There are many varieties of these lavenders you can grow, depending on your location. Here are a few to consider.
'Goodwin Creek Gray'' – This French hybrid lavender features a 2 foot tall and wide plant with purple flowers and hardiness to zone 7. It makes a great edging plant along a flower border.
'Munstead' – Considered one of the hardiness varieties of English lavender, it grows 12 to 18 inches tall and wide, has purple flowers and is hardy to zone 4 with protection.
'Hidcote' – Smaller than the 'Munstead' lavender, this English variety grows best in cooler weather. There is also a pink version available.
'Kew Red' – This Spanish lavender features unique pink and cerise-colored flowers with gray-green foliage. It grows to 2 feet tall and wide and is hardy in zones 7 to 9.
'Grosso' – A lavandin hybrid, this variety grows 30 inches tall and wide with violet flowers and a strong scent.
Hailing from the Mediterranean, lavender loves full sun and well-drained soil. Depending on the type, lavender grows best in cool or hot conditions. Amend the soil before planting with compost and keep the pH between 6.5 and 7.5. Lavender doesn't grow well on acidic soils. It's best to start with purchased lavender plants. Some English varieties such as 'Munstead' and 'Hidcote', can be started from seed, but germination is slow and erratic at best.
Spanish lavender has unique brachts on the tops of the flowers. Some varieties feature red colored flowers as well.
Lavender can be grown by itself in the landscape or used in a formal herb herb with other stately herbs such as rosemary.
Plant in spring in most areas. Space plants at the same width as their ultimate height. Full sun is important for the plants to fill out well. However, in hot summer areas, some afternoon shade may be appreciated. It's important to properly space lavenders, especially in humid summer areas, to avoid diseases and dieback. If growing in a potentially wet summer region or on heavy soils, consider planting lavender on a raised bed to make it more likely to survive. Lavender also grows well in containers, as long as the pots are protected over the winter in cold areas.
If grown on properly prepared soil, lavenders need little additional fertilization. Plants will take up to three years to become fully established, so it's important to keep them well weeded. Even though lavender is drought tolerant, keeping the soil moist during the early years is also important.
Once established, prune lavenders annually, removing up to one-third of the foliage after flowering. This is important to rejuvenate the shrub and keep it bushy. However, don't prune back into the old woody growth or it may set back the bush and even kill it.
Lavenders have few insect problems, and the only diseases that can become troublesome are related to poor soil water drainage, such as root rot. Also, plants that are overcrowded can get fungal leaf diseases such as powdery mildew. Properly space plants and encourage air flow to avoid these diseases.
Harvest lavender flowers for drying when they are from one-third to fully open. Purple colored varieties dry best, while pink or white colored flowers lose their luster when dried. They're still good additions to sachets and potpourris. Harvest after the dew has dried on a sunny day. Cut flower stems longer if using them as a cut flower.
Hang flower stems in a cool, airy, shaded room to dry naturally. Dried buds and flowers are great in potpourris and sachets. Use flowers and buds only in cooking and teas since the leaves may be too strongly flavored.
Other information on lavender:Charlie Nardozzi is an award winning, nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners through radio, television, talks, tours, on-line, and the printed page. Charlie delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. He's the author of 6 books, has three radio shows in New England and a TV show. He leads Garden Tours around the world and consults with organizations and companies about gardening programs. See more about him at Gardening With Charlie.
Pretty easy to grow and take care of, all varieties and cultivars are quite hardy, drought- and heat tolerant. Being from the Mediterranean regions, they all need poor to medium soil with excellent drainage along with full sunlight. They can grow in acidic to alkaline soil including sandy and chalky soils, but do not do well in fertile soils.
The flowers are often the characteristic factor of these plants, helping to identify the different kinds of lavenders. If you have a lavender plant and are not sure exactly which one it is, send us a picture so we can help.
You can’t get much more tropical than a banana tree. And luckily for most gardeners, there are a few varieties of this cold hardy tropical plant that can survive as far north as New England (USDA Zone 5). Sadly, these banana plants won’t produce edible bananas. But they will delight you with their broad tropical leaves and vigorous growth.
Cold hardy tropical banana plants can grow up to 13 feet tall. Cut your hardy banana tree to the ground after the first frost and mulch heavily over the stumps. This will protect the tough “tropical” plant so it can survive temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Click here to Buy a Musa Basjoo Banana Tree .
Toad lilies (Tricyrtis sp.) are not nearly as popular as they deserve to be. These cold hardy tropical plants have a wonderful, exotic flair with their uniquely intricate blooms. As if that wasn’t enough, the plants are surprisingly tough.
Raspberry Mousse Toad Lily
Toad lilies are prized for their attractive foliage for most of the year. But starting at the end of every summer, they dazzle as they burst into bloom. These lilies prefer partial shady areas with rich, loamy soil. The Raspberry Mousse Toad Lily is a classic look for these delightful flowering plants. The flowers show a base of white with a splattering of raspberry purple on the petals. The centers show a flash of yellow to make the flowers really pop in a garden setting. Click here to check the price on Amazon .
With its stunningly pretty flowers and beautiful vining habit– not to mention its tasty fruit– the maypop is the perfect fit for cold climate gardeners looking for a tropical vibe. This vigorous vine is the hardiest of the passion flowers (Passiflora spp.). Like its tropical cousins, the maypop dazzles with exotic, unique flowers that last from mid-summer through fall.
In warmer climates, this vine can get very aggressive. So, make sure you give it plenty of space. Maypops can survive temperatures below -20 F, and these topical-looking hardy plants can even thrive in a container. Just make sure to give them plenty of sunlight and water.
Maypops are tough to find at local garden centers, so buy them online from Logee’s or Amazon .
Elephant ears (Colocasia spp.) can’t survive year-round in climates colder than USDA Zone 7, but they still deserve a special mention in this list of cold hardy tropical plants. The enormous leaves that give elephant ear plants their name simply scream “tropical.” And the giant leaves will give your garden a serious “Wow!” factor.
Elephant ears make a wonderful tropical accent, whether you can grow them in the ground year-round or need to bring them inside during the winter. If you live in Zone 6 or below, you can grow them in a pot or in the ground. But before the first frost, bring your potted elephant ears plant indoors and dig up the corms (bulbs) in the ground and store them in a cool, dry place until spring.
There are many varieties of elephant ear plants that can make a huge impression in your garden. Perhaps the largest leaves are found on Jumbo Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta). This massive plant can easily grow 6 feet tall, and they have been known to reach 9 feet tall. The bulb is huge and can measure 17-19 inches. The massive bulb is bigger than a large pineapple! Jumbo Elephant Ear bulbs can sometimes be found at local garden centers, but they are also available online. Click here to check the price on Amazon .
The paw paw seems tropical—even though it’s not. Paw paw is actually native to temperate North America. Its closest relative is the soursop—a broadleaf flowering evergreen tree that grows in the tropical regions of the Americas. In fact, the paw paw is the only temperate member of a very tropical family of trees.
The large, abundant fruit it produces (up to 30 pounds per paw paw tree!) is said to taste like banana custard. And because this tree originates in America, it is cold hardy, pest resistant and virtually maintenance free. Grow these bountiful trees for a tropical look and tropical taste! Just make sure you grow more than one tree for cross-pollination.
Available at Logees.com .
The canna lily is one of those special plants whose foliage is easily as gorgeous as its flowers. These summer-blooming bulbs are much hardier than they look. Plus, they are very easy to grow in USDA zones 8-11. In colder zones, simply dig up the bulbs in the fall and replant them in the winter.
A set of mixed canna lily bulbs creates a stunning focal point in the garden.
The exotic tropical foliage and flower colors make canna lilies a garden favorite. The flowers are traditionally orange, but some varieties feature yellow flowers and even deep red. The assortment of mixed canna lily bulbs pictured above offers different colors that bloom all summer long for months of enjoyment. The plants grow 48-60 inches tall. Click here to check the price on Amazon .
Some of the most dramatic varieties of canna lilies feature very dark foliage that calls attention to the plants even when they are not in flower. Some varieties even have striped, multi-colored leaves. Canna Pink Sunburst has–you guessed it–pink flowers. It’s large leaves are striped with shades of dark green, dark pink and ivory.
Canna lily bulbs can be found at local garden center stores, but the largest selection of different varieties and different flower colors is typically available online. Check the price of Canna Pink Sunburst.
When most people imagine ferns, they think of the popular (but delicate) houseplants such as Boston ferns. Hardy fern species, however, are about as tough as they come. And several of them are native to North America.
Japanese Painted Fern is a cold-hardy plant that offers a tropical look.
Hardy ferns are ideal for shady areas of the garden. They come in a wide variety of textures and colors, from the classic evergreen Cyrtomium fortunei (Zones 5-9) to the stunning silver-plated Japanese Painted Fern (Zones 4-8). The Japanese Painted Fern was the 2004 Perennial plant of the Year. Many gardeners call this variety the most decorative landscape fern, because its striking gray-green fronds and red stems. This is a slow spreading plant that thrives in shade or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. Click here to check the price and availability.
The Jelly palm, also known as the Pindo palm, is one of the toughest palm trees around. In fact, a Jelly palm can withstand winters down to 10 degrees F. This tough, cold hardy tropical plant is one of very few palm trees able to handle freezing temperatures.
Jelly palms stay nice and compact, especially in cooler climates, only growing to about 10-20 feet tall. They also produce tasty palm fruits in the summer that are popular in jams and jellies (hence the name of the plant). For the more adventurous, the fruits can be fermented into wine. These palms can grow in containers, so gardeners in Zones 6 and colder can still enjoy them. Jelly palms are available at Nature Hills Nursery .
With its tropical flair and showstopping flowers the size of dinner plates, what’s not to love about hardy hibiscus?? These shrubby perennials look very similar to their tender tropical relatives.
But the cold hardy tropical plants can withstand winter temperatures down to USDA Zone 4. Hardy hibiscus such as “Lord Baltimore” and “Plum Crazy” (pictured above) are the result of many decades of careful breeding. They are easy to grow and widely adaptable. Plus, they give an unparalleled flower show from summer through fall.
Another great variety is Hardy Hibiscus Cherry Choco Latte .
Bamboo is the world’s tallest member of the grass family. These wonderful plants can make a delightful addition to any garden that’s inspired by the tropics. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant, and some mature bamboo plants can grow up to 12 inches a day.
Clumping Bamboo makes a great privacy hedge.
Bamboo is an aggressive grower, and many species can be invasive. However, clumping varieties are hardy, low maintenance plants that are a delight in any garden in Zones 5-9. Clumping bamboo does not spread, so it makes a great choice for a privacy hedge between yards or a focal point in the landscape. Check Availability and Prices .
For a nice cold hardy tropical plant that gives fruit as a bonus, you can’t go wrong with a fig tree. These trees are widely adaptable to different soils and climates, and their fruits are delicious when cooked, dried or picked right off the tree.
Most fig trees are only hardy to USDA Zone 7, but a select few, like ‘Chicago Hardy’ (pictured here) and ‘Violette de Bordeaux,’ can handle winters down to Zone 5.
Here’s more info and pricing for a Chicago Hardy Fig Tree .
Learn more about growing fig trees in containers in our story on growing Perfect Patio Fruit Trees.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the intoxicating smell of a jasmine in full bloom, you’ll be delighted to learn that there is a hardy species.
This beautiful tropical-looking vine can handle winters down to Zone 6 with some extra protection. In fact, a hardy jasmine needs a cold spell in winter in order to bloom the following spring. Provide your hardy jasmine vine with a trellis to climb on, and plenty of sun and water. It will reward you with many weeks of blooms from late spring through summer.
Now that you know about the perfect varieties of clematis for Zone 3 and Zone 4, will you plant some of these cold hardy specimens in your garden?
Beautiful, tough, and easy to care for, they’re the perfect solution for gardens that struggle with perennials in sub-zero temperatures!
If you folks have any questions or your own favorites to recommend for frigid winters, drop us a note in the comments below.
And be sure to check our other clematis guides to get the most from these remarkable, reliable vines.
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A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!