The majority of western New York state lies in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5a and 5b, with average annual extreme minimum temperatures of minus 20 to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The moderating effect of Lakes Erie and Ontario keep a strip of New York that borders those lakes in the warmer USDA zones 6a and 6b, with minimum temperatures of minus 10 to minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Low-maintenance shrubs for the area should be hardy from zone 5a through 6b.
Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), hardy in USDA zones 3 through 7, is a low-maintenance choice for the spring garden in western New York. Flower colors range from white, through pinks, blue purples and purples. A new reblooming cultivar, Bloomerang (Syringa "Penda" Bloomerang), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 7, is suitable for smaller gardens at only 3 to 4 feet tall. Another fragrant shrub, slender deutzia (Deutzia gracilis), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, blooms in April or May, with tiny, fragrant white flowers. Both lilac and deutzia require only light pruning after blooms fade.
Gold-leafed cultivars of Japanese false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 7, provide four seasons of interest in sun or part shade and require almost no maintenance. At 3 to 5 feet tall, it is a good choice for small or larger garden settings in western New York. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is a broadleaf evergreen that is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9 and is relatively unattractive to deer and rabbits. Reaching 5 to 15 feet tall, it bears white or pink, rounded blooms in May and needs little maintenance beyond occasional pruning.
Hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, deciduous Japanese spirea (Spirea japonica) combines the benefits of easy care with pink flowerheads in early summer. It reaches 4 to 6 feet tall and can be used as a specimen shrub or as part of a foundation planting. The climate in western New York is also amenable to native oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9. The shrub bears large flower panicles that age from white to pink. The plant needs little maintenance other than occasional pruning after the flowers fade.
Hardy in western New York and USDA zones 5 through 9, blue mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis) provides clouds of butterfly-friendly blue flowers in late summer and early fall. At 2 to 4 feet tall, the plant boasts aromatic leaves and requires little maintenance. Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is a low-maintenance plant, hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8. It features hollyhock-like flowers in shades ranging from white to blue-purple. Rose of Sharon can also be grown as small trees, reaching 8 to 12 feet tall. Prune hard after flowering to keep the plants bushy and blooming.
- USDA: Plant Hardiness Zone Map
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Syringa "Penda" Bloomerang
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Syringa Vulgaris "Sensation"
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Chamaecyparis Pisifera "Golden Mop"
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Deutzia Gracilis
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Kalmia Latifolia
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Spirea Japonica
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Hydrangea Quercifolia
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Caryopteris x Clandonensis "Longwood Blue"
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Plant Finder -- Hibiscus Syriacus
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