We’ve done some landscaping at our cabin up north this year. It was time as we’ve had the property for twenty years and built the cabin five years into that. The north woods of Wisconsin is just that – woods, mainly pine and birch. The landscape is dotted with small freshwater lakes, some of which have homes encircling the water’s edge such as ours.
As the July 4th holiday approaches, I was tasked by my husband to find some suitable plants and shrubs to finish our landscaping. This sounds easier than it is. We are finishing the gardens on the north side of the house. We do not have a lot of sun on that side, hence no windows in the cabin that face in that direction. Our 2-acre parcel is completely wooded except for a small area where the cabin stands and the sloped walkway that descends to the lake. Majestic pines, imposing cedars, and reaching white birch fill the property outside of the cabin area. It needs some trails but that’s another story!
About eight weeks ago, we planted the newly established beds on the east side of the house. We mainly bought perennials along with a lilac and a rhododendron. The east side, being east, gets sun all morning to early afternoon when the light slides over the peak of the cabin towards the lake. Despite many deer, porcupine, raccoon, and a few bears that roam the woods the plants seem to be doing well.
As a long time Master Gardener Volunteer, I know to stick to specimens that meet several criteria when planning landscape plantings. These criteria include 1) planting natives as much as possible, 2) choosing deer-resistant plants, and 3) sticking to the correct horticultural zone. It took a little research on my part to help me focus on what to look for when shopping. And, many of my favorites did not make the cut, unfortunately!
You can find a great deal of information online about all three of these criteria. I learned that deer do not like plants that produce a lot of odor, or those with fuzzy leaves. I also already knew to stay away from hostas. When I consulted my Wisconsin Gardening Book by Melinda Myers, I found the zone information lacking or very generalized (all). A horticultural zone, or hardiness zone, is extremely important. In fact, it is so important that I used to educate my garden club students about what it was and what the zone number meant. The US Plant Hardiness Zone tells us the geographical zone where certain plants grow best in that specific climate. The United States is divided into 13 zones. The zone number indicates the coldest temperatures in which the plant can tolerate and still survive. The lower the number, the colder the tolerated temperature the plant can withstand and still survive.
Our primary residence, near the Mississippi River in the West Central part of the state is a zone 4b. Our cabin is located in zone 3b. So, I know that I need to look for plants that will tolerate the colder winter temperatures of a geographic region more northward than where we reside most of the time. But, here’s the clincher – many nurseries stock plants that are outside of your zone. This means that if you are looking to plant in zone three, you cannot buy a zone 4 or 5 plant! You can buy and plant it, but the likelihood it will survive the winter is slim.
So, today, at the nursery, I had to look at many plants to find those that would survive a zone 3 winter at our cabin. On top of that, the plant had to be more of a shade loving specimen because it will be on the north side of the house.
It took a while, but I succeeded! Astilbes, coral bells, ferns, and hydrangea all came home with me. They were all rated for zone 3. What I found won’t fill the space but its a start! I am fortunate to know enough about plants and zones to make wise choices for our garden. If you need to find out more about the horticultural zone, you can refer to the following pages/websites. Happy Planting and Good Luck!
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