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Best bets
5 hardy varieties that thrive in Wisconsin climes


September 2011

Choosing the right plants for your landscape can be overwhelming. Along with maintenance and expense, you need to consider how plants will fare in Wisconsin’s unpredictable weather conditions.

Knowing your community’s hardiness zone, which indicates how well a plant will adapt in a given climate, takes some of the guess work out of deciding what to grow. The metropolitan Milwaukee area typically falls into zones 4 and 5.

"It’s important that hardiness zones are respected," says Kerry Mattingly, a landscape architect and co-owner of Treetops Landscape Design in Grafton. "What’s considered hardy in the South wouldn’t winter very well here."

Site conditions also factor heavily into deciding what to plant, says Brian Zimmerman, senior landscape architect at Lieds Nursery in Sussex. "You have to consider things like soil type and sun exposure."

Here are five tough, low-maintenance plants sure to add beauty to any yard:

Gro-low sumac
(Rhus aromatica)

This reliable, trouble-free plant is an attractive ground cover with lots of visual interest. The rambling shrub typically grows only 1 to 2 feet tall, but spreads to 8 feet wide, making it an ideal choice for flat or sloping landscapes. In late spring, the shrub is covered with tiny, yellow flowers. The leaves — shiny and dark green in summer — change to a rich burgundy in fall. "The leaves turn a great maroon color in fall," Zimmerman says. "Although they do spread, they’re not invasive."

Pagoda Dogwood
(Cornus alternifolia)

A favorite of professional landscapers, says Pagoda Dogwood is a native North American plant that tolerates shade well. "It grows beautifully under a canopy of larger trees," Mattingly says. Although not as showy as the Flowering Dogwood, the Pagoda Dogwood produces creamy white blossoms in early summer, which later give way to blue-purple berries that attract birds and other wildlife. In fall, the leaves deepen to a beautiful reddish-purple color.

PeeGee Hydrangea
(Hydrangea paniculata)

One of the hardiest and latest-blooming hydrangeas, the PeeGee Hydrangea bears large, cone-shaped white flowers in summer that gradually turn reddish-brown and persist into winter. A fast-growing shrub, the PeeGee Hydrangea also can be pruned to serve as a small flowering tree. "They have great pinkish white flowers that continue to bloom well into winter," Mattingly says.

Common Lilac
(Syringa vulgaris)

A time-honored favorite, the Common Lilac is one of the most popular blooming shrubs for home landscapes. The shrub, which grows best in a sunny location, produces abundant, aromatic flowers ranging in color from white to purple. Easy to plant and care for, Common Lilacs prefer neutral, well-drained soil. "The lilac is a great plant that most people can easily identify," Zimmerman says.

Korean Spice Viburnum
(Viburnum carlesii)

Also known as Korean spicebush, this deciduous flowering shrub has very fragrant flowers and can reach 4 to 8 feet high. In spring, the shrub’s vibrant pink buds blossom into delicate white flowers with an intensely sweet aroma. Blue-black berries eventually replace the tiny blooms. In fall, the plant’s leaves deepen into a vibrant red hue for continued interest. "They look great next to the terrace or near your front door," Mattingly says.


This story ran in the September 2011 issue of: