My lists are intended to be a general starting point for plant selection for gardeners in USDA hardiness zone 8 on the west side of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest. These are short, region-specific lists of plants known to do well in this region. Of course, there are many more plants that exist and which are utilized by gardeners in zone 8 of other regions of North America. But each region has it’s own specific oddities, and we’ve found that what may grow well in zone 8 Deep South US simply doesn’t do well in zone 8 PNW. I’ve tried to select plants that most novice gardeners can’t destroy. Yes, of course, there are more challenging plants, and as you progress in your gardening abilities, I encourage you to spread your wings. But as always, remember who is in charge, Mother Nature. You must obey your Mother!
Many plants grow well in a range of zones. Though my garden is in zone 8, I actually prefer to plant for zone 7 (or colder — insurance!) So you’ll find that most of the plants on my lists are hardy at least to zone 7. They may be hardy down to zone 5. If you garden west of the Cascades and in zones, 9, 7, 6, most of these plants should work for you, but please check the plant labels as you buy to be sure. If you are farther outside zone 8 than the zones stated previously, this list may not work for you.
The best way to check a plant’s hardiness zone is to Google the botanical name of the plant in question along with the words ‘USDA zone 8’ (or your specific zone, or the zone for which you want to plant for). Then check several of Google’s returns to get a consensus. Remember, resources based in other parts of the country may have slightly different data. If you get one return saying the plant is hardy to zone 5, and 10 returns saying it’s hardy only to zone 6, bank on it being zone 6. Nature is not absolute, and so all lists everywhere should be taken with a grain of salt. Your garden outcome is determined by a host of variables including the micro-climates specific to your site that may shift your hardiness zone one way or another outside of what is published for your zip code.
The plants on these lists may perform differently in other planting zones in other areas of the country/world. If you want to know how a plant will grow in your local area, you need to gather data locally, and that is what I’ve tried my best to do with all of my lists. My information comes from both personal experience gardening in Vancouver, WA (zone 8) as well as gathered from other information sources and nurseries in the Pacific Northwest.
To find YOUR hardiness zone, type your zip code into the appropriate box here.
Plant Selection Criteria
I recommend plants that are perhaps a little different than what a home builder would install — though some of those plants are on my lists simply because they do so well and are so easy to grow. I recommend plants that:
- Grow well here in the Pacific Northwest — and usually can be gotten at a local, independent garden store.
- Can be grown and maintained sustainably (without use of additional chemicals or excessive use of natural resources).
- Are disease and pest resistant. You’ll see my lists do NOT include plants that, though beloved, are routinely attacked by pests, diseases, or otherwise adversely affected by climate/weather in this location. If there is a specific cultivar of such a plant that is immune, I would list only it.
- Have tidy growing habit which translates into less pruning and/or deadheading maintenance for you the gardener.
- Aren’t thugs that would creep, excessively sucker or drop fruit, or otherwise invade your or your neighbor’s yards. I don’t consider large trees as thugs, but because so many residential lots are now so small, I have separate lists for large trees and shrubs. Check them out if you have a large lot.
I choose plants for my lists an attempt to balance beauty with practicality and respect for Mother Nature.
Varying Situations, Perceptions, Opinions
It is difficult to make general plant lists because a lot of plants behave differently in varying situations. Also, humans have their own perceptions that may be different than those of horticulturists. So you may see some plants on several lists simply because the plant grows differently in specific situations. It’s amazing that a tree such as vine maple grows taller in the shade, and smaller in full sun. Because of this, you’ll see this tree listed in: Trees — Deciduous Shadier and Shrubs — Deciduous Sunnier.
In some cases, I will not be using purely horticulture-correct definitions. Since my lists are mostly used by DIY gardeners who may not be well versed in horticulture, I’ve tried to create lists based on real gardener perceptions — as best I can. With that said, I do believe we ALL need to learn the botanical names for plants because common names are often misleading and down-right incorrect from one region to another. Please see my post on learning botanical names and my list of botanical Latin terms.
Most people consider trees to be quite tall, but if they have a Japanese maple tree that is only 4′ tall, they generally consider it to be a shrub. So again, you may find the same plant on more than one list to cover these inconsistencies in perception.
I have assigned plants to either shadier or sunnier lists according to their PREFERRED exposure. If they merely tolerate full sun, and prefer part shade, they will be on the shadier list. If they grow equally well in both sunnier and shadier, they will be on both lists. Like is NOT the same as tolerate.
Because our high latitude in the Pacific Northwest greatly affects how a plant is reacts to sun exposure, you will find that, at least in the Pacific Northwest, we make a subtle distinction between the terms part sun and part shade. Both terms mean the plant can grow with about 4–6 hours of daily sun exposure, but part sun means the exposure can come from the harsh west afternoon sun as well as eastern or southern exposure, while part shade means the exposure can be any exposure EXCEPT the harsh west afternoon sun. Part sun plants often do quite well in part shade situations, but the reverse is rarely true in the PNW. When the exposure is specifically noted as full or part shade it means that the foliage will burn in our harsh west afternoon sun, and care must be taken to protect the plant from that exposure.
For the purpose of my lists, I shall use these definitions:
- Shrubs — woody plants that are multi-branching low to the ground, and are, in general, smaller than 15–20′ in height. Some shrubs are columnar in shape — much less wide than they are tall — in which case, they may be well over 20′ tall, but maybe only 3-4′ wide. Note that some shrubs can be pruned to take a tree form. They are still shrubs. Some trees, when grown in contrary-to- their-preferred sun exposure take on shrub form. For these reasons, you may find the same plant on different lists.
- Trees — woody plants that are single- or multi-branching with a canopy higher off the ground than shrubs. Because most of us garden on smaller lots my tree lists includes smaller trees up to about 25’–30′, though some may be taller, but thinner (which work just fine on smaller lots). I have a specific list for larger trees (over about 30′ tall and 20′ wide).
- Sunnier — receiving MORE than 6 hours of sunshine daily (during the growing season). The sun exposure can be from south and west as well as east. In our region, western exposure is very harsh and many plants get sunburned with such exposure. Plants on my sunnier lists, can generally take western exposure.
- Shadier — receiving LESS than 6 hours of sunshine daily (during the growing season). The sun exposure CANNOT be from the west! In our region, western exposure is very harsh and many plants get sunburned with such exposure. Plants on my shadier lists, CANNOT take western exposure.
Genus, Species, Cultivar… Oh My!
Plants have both common and botanical (Latin) names. The main reason horticulturists and nurseries prefer botanical names is to avoid confusion (see section above). My lists will include both botanical and common name.
A botanical name is formatted like this: Genus species ‘Variety or Cultivar Name’. In prose the Latin parts of the name are almost always in italics, but the part in quotes is not italicized (and usually the quotes can be single or double). But for list formats, it is very common to not italicize the Latin words. And I have chosen to follow that route. When listing several plants of the same genus and/or species, it is common to abbreviate those words. So Genus species ‘Variety or Cultivar Name’ would become g. s. ‘Variety or Cultivar Name’.
The main parts of a botanical name:
- Genus — A taxonomic category ranking below a family and above a species and generally consisting of a group of species exhibiting similar characteristics. In taxonomic nomenclature the genus name is used, either alone or followed by a Latin adjective or epithet, to form the name of a species (see below).
- Species — A fundamental category of taxonomic classification, ranking below a genus or sub-genus and consisting of related organisms capable of interbreeding.
- Variety — A taxonomic category ranking below a species, a variety has an appearance distinct from other varieties, but it will hybridize freely with other varieties (if brought into contact). Usually varieties are natural-forming and geographically separate from each other.
- Cultivar — Short for cultivated variety (cultivar), it is a plant that has been deliberately selected and bred by man for specific desirable characteristics (such as the color, form, flower, yield, disease resistance, etc.)
In my lists, if I use the term spp. after a genus name, it means that there may be several species of this particular genus available or suitable for this situation. Similarly, if both genus and species is listed, but no variety/cultivar is named, it means there may several varieties or cultivars from which to choose (or that there are none specifically named). If I’ve named a variety/cultivar, it’s because I particularly like it over others. You may find a separate plant list showing a varieties or cultivars of specific types of plants; like Heucheras or Japanese Maples (see the list of plant lists). Or there may be so many that you should just go to the nursery and choose one that appeals to you in size, shape, color, etc.
I use a variety of codes on my lists. There is really no rhyme or reason why I have chosen to give these select attributes. There are so many more. You can check a good database (I am working on my own database) to find out a lot more about these plants. But for most DIY gardeners, when selecting plants, they are interested in just a few basic things. These are the things I note under the attributes heading of my lists. And each list itself can be considered a specific attribute. I’ve got lists for: specifically shrubs, plants that hummingbirds like, plants with fragrance, plants with good fall foliage, plants that do well in shadier situations — and many more. All of these lists constitute one or more ‘attributes’, but each plant on the list might have several more attributes.
Explanation of my attribute codes:
- D — Deciduous; plants that lose their leaves and go dormant in winter.
- E — Evergreen; plants that keep their leaves year-round. A plant that retains their leaves longer than one full year is said to be evergreen. It can be a year longer; a month longer; a day longer. If it’s longer than a year, they are evergreen. Evergreens need not be conifers. Some conifers are evergreen; some are not.
- S — Semi-evergreen; plants that sometimes are and sometimes aren’t evergreen. Some plants are listed as evergreen, but in a very harsh winter, they may drop a lot of leaves then grow them back.
- N — Native; plants that are indigenous to a particular area, and that can include plants that eons ago were not indigenous, but were more recently introduced. They have become so pervasive in local wild area that they are now considered to be native. Plants can be native of large geographic areas, but generally (and for the purposes of my lists) we tend to think of native in terms of smaller regions. The US is a huge country, and things that are native here in the PNW are not necessarily native in Georgia. Likewise, plants native in Georgia cannot (usually) be considered as native here in the PNW — even though those plants may be listed as native to the US in general.
- B — Bulb; plants that produce short stem with fleshy leaves or leaf bases that contain food reserves to enable the plant to survive adverse conditions. Other types of storage organs (such as corms, rhizomes and tubers) are sometimes erroneously referred to as bulbs. The correct term for plants that form underground storage organs, including bulbs as well as tubers and corms, is geophyte. But most people generically use the term bulb, and for my basic lists, I will refer to all plants with any type of reserve storage organ as bulb.
- F — Flowers; plants that make flowers that are considered significant. If the flower is very difficult to see they are considered to be insignificant, and on my lists the attribute of F would not be listed for that plant.
- Fg — Fragrance; plants that emit a fragrance, be it from their flowers or in some other way.
- Ft — Fruit; plants that produce some type of fruit. The fruit can take many forms and sizes, and may or may not be edible to humans. Please consult other lists for edibility. The main reason why I note fruit is that plants with fruit tend to self-sew their seeds. This means there is a higher chance of maintenance issues be it from cleaning up the fallen fruit to weeding the sprouted fruit once it germinates in the ground. Fruiting plants can be beneficial to both humans and wildlife as a food source.
- Sh — Shade; plants that prefer to grow in shadier locations. Some of my lists aren’t specific to the plant’s preferred sun exposure. On these lists, I note this preference in the attributes section.
- Su — Sun; plants that prefer to grow in sunnier locations. Some of my lists aren’t specific to the plant’s preferred sun exposure. On these lists, I note this preference in the attributes section.
Some of my lists note color. When there is not room for me to spell out the color name entirely, I try to create a reasonable phonic abbreviation. Color is so subjective. There is a fine line between orange and red, for example. For the purposes of my lists, I will use definitions as follows.
For fall foliage:
- Yellow — pale yellow to rich, deep gold.
- Orange — more red than golden yellow; more yellow than crimson or scarlet red; orange added to another color means the plant could display both colors at once, or it’s foliage is some combination of those colors, or depending on the weather, the leaves may appear to be one color or the other or a range between the two colors. Orange includes blush and salmon coloration if they seem more pinkish than true red.
- Red — scarlet to crimson (light or dark).
- Bronze — any reddish or purplish color that is very, very dark (approaching black or brown).