The Q&A Archives: Perennials in Zone 3

Question: I live in Northern North Dakota, zone 3. I would like to plant some perennial plants and bulbs this fall. Could you recommend some bulbs for this zone and any particular suggestions for Alpine Bells?. Also, can I plant perennials like Ruby Slipper Lobelia (even if it says zone 4 I may protect it and try it!) and Bluebird Aster now in the fall or is it better to wait and plant in the spring so the roots can get established?

Also, I transplanted some peonies this past spring and they barely even made any foliage. Are they dead and should be replaced or just waiting until next year? The little foliage that was there dried up in August and most of it has broken off already.

Thank you in advance for your help!

Answer: Alpine bells, Cortusa matthioli, is a hardy, summer-flowering mountain plant that favors wet rocks and moist glades. This primrose relative requires cool, moist, humus-rich soils. Arrowhead Alpines (ph# 517-223-3581) carries the plant, and they may be able to help you decide if the plant is appropriate for your region--especially with respect to cold hardiness AND tolerance to summer heat.

There are many bulbs hardy to zone 3, including some varieties of crocus, daffodil, tulip, allium, and snowdrops, among others.

You might be better off planting marginally hardy plants, such as the lobelia you mention, in the spring, so the plant will have a full summer to get established before facing the harsh winter. However, if you can provide good winter protection this first season, you might be fine. (A deep snow cover is a great insulator and protector!) Because asters flower in the fall, I would be inclined to wait until spring to plant, but, again, if you can provide some protection this first winter you may be fine. I suggest you contact Burpee's Customer Service department directly at to discuss their shipping schedule.

Peonies are quite particular in that they must be planted at the proper depth--the buds on the crown should sit about 2" below the soil surface. Planted deeper or shallower than that, and they suffer.

Hope this helps!

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