The Q&A Archives: Plants / Trees / Flowers for Chicago climate

Question: I am looking for plants/flowers that will grow well in the Midwest climate. That look nice even in the winter. Also, what kind of trees grow well here with the soil/climate? Looking for a tree for a narrow background. Something that will grow up to 10-15' but that is not very wide. Any suggestions would be most helpful

Answer: There are many plants you could use. Your zip code places you in USDA winter hardiness zone 5A or the colder part of zone 5. In a windy exposed or rural location it could actually be as cold as zone 4, so I would suggest you be conservative and look for plants considered winter hardy into zone 4.

Some evergreen shrubs to consider would include mugo pine, dwarf Alberta spruce, arborvitae, yew ("Taunton" and "Capitata" should be hardy for you) and chamaecyparis. Check each specific variety for its expected mature size. All of these need full sun and a well drained location; protection from sweeping winter winds is also helpful. Additional shrubs might include Aronia, Clethra, shrub dogwoods, and mockorange.

The size of tree you need is very small in terms of trees both for height and width -- a small tree is typically 30 feet)-- so you may want to consider large shrubs that can be shaped like trees such as tree lilacs or the woody hydrangeas (H. paniculata "Tardiva" or "PeeGee".) You might consider some of the smaller named varieties of Amelanchier, along with Cotinus and also smaller crabapple trees as well but do check the mature size of the variety you are considering.

Your local county extension should be able to help you analyze the growing conditions where you want to plant and help you identify plants that will thrive there. You may also find their web site helpful.

You may also find the following web site helpful in researching specific plants. It includes a search feature where you can specify the hardiness zone and so on.

Enjoy your new landscape!

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