The Best Plants for Northern Utah

See some of our favorite perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs…

Utah is the second driest state in the country (just behind Nevada) with a climate that can be classified as “semi-arid” or “desert”. The combination of cold, snowy winters and hot, dry summers can make gardening frustrating and difficult — but not impossible. 

When choosing a plant to add to your garden in Northern Utah, I’d recommend reading the tags and getting the ones that say “drought and heat tolerant” (and aren’t too picky about their soil conditions!). 

Now before you start thinking that you’re stuck with a limited number of plants to choose from (or they won’t be as beautiful as those in a more forgiving climate) don’t worry — there are plenty of plants that thrive in these harsh conditions.

Read on to see which ones are best suited to our climate, including some of my favorites!

Best perennials for Northern Utah

Best perennials for Northern Utah

Perennials are classified as plants that are hardy enough to survive in their location year after year (as indicated by your area’s zone. In Utah, our area is classified as zone 5). You can still plant perennials that won’t survive our harsh winters, but you would treat them as annuals and replant them every year (or bring them inside in the winter). Here are some we recommend:

  • English lavender is a good choice if you have sandy, well-drained soil (lavender doesn’t like to get its “feet” wet) and at least five hours of sunlight. It blooms from mid-June to September and fills the air with its lovely fragrance.

  • Coreopsis (commonly referred to as tickseed) is a delightful little plant that is covered in colorful yellow or pink blooms (depending on the variety) from early summer to late fall. It’s hardy up to zone 3, making it perfectly suited to our climate in Northern Utah.

  • Bee Balm is incredibly drought resistant and attracts both bees and butterflies to your garden. When conditions are ideal (rich, moist soil with at least four hours of sunlight) you can enjoy their pink or red blooms all summer long.

Best annuals for Northern Utah

Plants that are not hardy enough to survive all year round are considered annuals. They make up for their lack of longevity by the abundance of colorful blooms during the summer months. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Ageratum (or”floss flower”) are hardy plants that will grace your garden with colorful blooms from late spring almost to frost. They prefer well-drained fertile soil and plenty of sun!

  • The treasure flower is a native of Africa, and is right at home during our arid summers. It’s daisy-like petals are yellow with an orangey-brown stripe and bloom from late spring to early autumn.

  • Marigolds are a popular choice for many gardeners. It loves the sun and its cheery blossoms come in a variety of colors, from yellow and gold to orange, red, and mahogany, and some cultivars are striped or bicolor.

Best shrubs for Northern Utah

Shrubs are great foundation plants and can be used to define specific areas in your garden, block the wind and/or provide privacy by creating a “living fence”. Choose a combination of evergreens and flowering shrubs for four-season appeal:

  • Caryopteris (blue mist shrub) are drought-resistant, woody shrubs that love the sunshine, making them a perfect addition to your landscape. Its beautiful blue to purple flowers bloom from late summer to frost, and attract butterflies and bees.

  • Native to Utah, the red elderberry is a perennial shrub that is covered with tiny white flowers in late spring, which give way to edible purplish berries late in the summer. These berries can make you ill if eaten raw, but are safe to eat when cooked (they make great jams, syrups and pies!)— if you can get to them before the birds do! 

  • The juniper bush is an evergreen that emits an amazing pine smell all year round. There are many varieties to choose from, such as blue star, mint julep and old gold. Each cultivar has its own characteristics, and can be ground covers, bushes or even trees.

Best trees for Northern Utah

When considering which trees to include in your landscape, it’s important to consider its location. Trees planted facing south or west, for instance, must be able to tolerate hotter and drier conditions than trees planted on a north or east side of your property. Here are some to consider:

  • The blue spruce, with its beautiful blue-green needles, is Utah’s State Tree. One of the most popular evergreens, it can reach a height of 50-75' with a spread of 10-'20' and is hardy from zones 2 through 7. Works well as an accent piece in a large yard, or as a grouping.

  • The English oak grows well in Utah's arid climate, and drought can actually benefit the tree by helping ward off powdery mildew. Word of warning… this tree can be massive but can be controlled with regular pruning to lighten its canopy.

  • The pinyon pine is a water-thrifty evergreen conifer that produces cones with edible seeds (pine nuts). It’s a slow-growing tree that can be as high as it is wide — this rounding habit makes it a great addition to the landscape (plus it can last 600 years or longer!)

Want some help planning your garden?

Many of the public gardens and water conservation demonstration gardens in Utah have compiled lists and databases of plants appropriate for our climate, showing homeowners that it’s possible to create a beautiful and colorful landscape while reducing water usage. 

If you’re planning a new landscape, we can help you choose the plants that match your style and are best suited for your property… just contact us for a consultation. If you’re one of our property care clients, ask your account manager about our enhancement program.

There’s a lot to consider when choosing plants for your landscape (like grouping plants with similar water needs and soil requirements together and timing the foliage to create year-round, seasonal interest) and our horticulture experts can help!