The 17 Best Plants to Grow in Zone 1a (-60 to -55 °F/-51.1 to -48.3 °C)

Welcome to The Zone! This article is Part 1 in the Gardentabs Zone Series, where we look at all USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and recommend the top 17 plants for your region. 

Betula nana, the dwarf birch close up, The 17 Best Plants to Grow in Zone 1a (-60 to -55 °F/-51.1 to -48.3 °C)

Tiny red bearberries close up, The 17 Best Plants to Grow in Zone 1a (-60 to -55 °F/-51.1 to -48.3 °C)

Arctic Mountain Avens on the arctic tundra, The 17 Best Plants to Grow in Zone 1a (-60 to -55 °F-51.1 to -48.3 °C)

Zone 1a 

Zone 1A is the coldest of all USDA hardiness zones, with winter temperatures reaching extreme lows between -60 to -55 °F (-51.1 to -48.3 °C).

It is found primarily in the far northern reaches of North America, covering areas such as Fairbanks in Alaska, parts of northern Canada, and the uppermost extremities of the Scandinavian countries. 

The climate here has very long, exceptionally cold winters and very short, cool summers. The growing season is limited, and plants must withstand freezing temperatures and harsh, often windy conditions.

Given these conditions, the types of plants that can survive in Zone 1a are limited. However, some resilient species have adapted to such harsh environments. 

Here Are 17 of the Best Plants to Grow in Zone 1a

1. Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera)

Yellowed poplar leaves (Populus balsamifera) in the park

This robust, deciduous tree native to the northernmost parts of North America can grow up to 80 feet (24.4 meters) tall.

It prefers moist, well-drained soil and lots of sunlight. Its buds are known for their medicinal properties, providing a vital resource to indigenous communities.

2. White Spruce (Picea glauca)

White spruce with conical shape and patchy blue green foliage growing in a garden

The white spruce is a sturdy conifer native to the northern United States and Canada. It can grow up to 60 feet (18.3 meters) tall, tolerating harsh winters and poor soil conditions.

This tree is a vital part of the northern ecosystem, providing food and shelter for local wildlife.

3. Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum)

Labrador tea in Kurjenrahka national park

This evergreen shrub thrives in the acidic soils of northern regions. Its leathery leaves can make herbal tea, rich in vitamin C and known for its calming effects.

4. Dwarf Birch (Betula nana)

Dwarf birch grows alone in the tundra

Dwarf birch is a small, bushy tree or shrub that grows about 1 to 2 meters (3.3 to 6.6 feet) tall.

It thrives in the harsh climates of the Arctic and subarctic regions, providing food and shelter for various wildlife species.

5. Arctic Willow (Salix arctica)

Arctic willow on the harsh cold environment of the alpine tundra regions of Denali National Park

This ground-hugging plant, growing only about 15 cm (6 inches) tall, is one of the few species that can survive in the extreme conditions of Zone 1a.

Its ability to withstand cold, wind, and poor soil conditions makes it ideal for this zone.

6. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Tiny red bearberries

This hardy ground cover, growing only about 20 cm (8 inches) tall, thrives in poor soil and full sun. It produces small, edible red berries that attract a variety of wildlife.

7. Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)

Macro of two beautiful cloudberries

This perennial plant, growing about 10 to 25 cm (4 to 10 inches) tall, is a cold-hardy species that can withstand poor soil conditions.

Its amber-colored berries are a traditional food in the Nordic countries, known for their high vitamin C content.

8. Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)

An extreme close-up of black crowberries

This low-growing shrub, growing about 10 to 20 cm (4 to 8 inches) tall, thrives in acidic soil. It produces small black berries, providing a food source for various birds and mammals.

9. Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)

Arctic mountain avens on the arctic tundra

This hardy perennial plant, growing up to 30 cm (1 foot) tall, thrives in rocky, well-drained soils. Its ability to fix nitrogen in the soil makes it a beneficial plant in poor soil conditions.

10. Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia)

Edible flowers of purple saxifrage

This evergreen perennial, growing only about 5 cm (2 inches) tall, is one of the first plants to bloom in spring, producing a vibrant carpet of purple flowers.

Its ability to withstand poor soil conditions and high winds makes it ideal for Zone 1a.

11. Arctic Poppy (Papaver radicatum)

Arctic poppies in the mountains

This hardy perennial plant, reaching up to 30 cm (1 foot) tall, is a beautiful addition to any garden in Zone 1a. Its bright yellow flowers can add color to the often monotonous landscape.

12. Moss Campion (Silene acaulis)

Moss campion in the mountains

This low-growing perennial, reaching up to 15 cm (6 inches) tall, produces a cushion of foliage dotted with small, bright pink or white flowers.

Its ability to withstand high winds and poor soil conditions makes it a tough contender for Zone 1a.

13. Alpine Arnica (Arnica angustifolia)

Arnica angustifolia bearing a large, single flower with toothed, yellow petals and yellow disks

This hardy perennial grows up to 40 cm (1.3 feet) tall and thrives in sandy or gravelly soils. The yellow, daisy-like flowers are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and are used in various medicinal applications.

14. Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum)

Lapland rosebay found in the mountains

Growing up to 30 cm (1 foot) tall, this small evergreen shrub blooms with purple flowers in the spring. It prefers well-drained, acidic soils and can tolerate the harsh winds and cold temperatures of Zone 1a.

15. Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale)

Northern bedstraw flowers

This perennial plant can grow up to 60 cm (2 feet) tall in full sun and well-drained soil. Its small, white flowers attract various pollinators, making it a great addition to a biodiverse garden.

16. Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla patens)

Pasque flower on the field

This hardy plant, growing up to 30 cm (1 foot) tall, produces beautiful purple flowers in early spring. It thrives in well-drained soil and full sun, and its blooms attract pollinators.

17. Tufted Saxifrage (Saxifraga cespitosa)

Yellow blooming plant called tufted saxifrage

This perennial plant, growing up to 15 cm (6 inches) tall, thrives in rocky, well-drained soils. It produces clusters of white flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Survive and Thrive

While the climate in Zone 1a is extremely challenging, these 17 plants have adapted to survive and even thrive in such conditions.

By choosing these resilient species, you can create a vibrant and diverse garden that contributes to the local ecosystem, even in the harshest of environments.

The key to successful gardening in Zone 1a is understanding the specific requirements of each plant species. By providing the right soil conditions, adequate water, and protection from wind where necessary, you can help these plants establish themselves and flourish. 

Remember, gardening in such an extreme climate requires patience and persistence, but the rewards can be immense.

Here are other articles of interest:

When Is It Too Cold To Spray Herbicide?

The Secret to Beautiful Evergreens: When to Trim Evergreen Bushes in Your Region

Fragrant Indoor Plants That Thrive in Low Light

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