In Asheville and Western North Carolina, we have one of the most versatile growing areas you could ask for.  You can grow almost anything here.  Technically most of us fall into zone 6 or 7 depending on how high you are up the mountains, but since the temperatures rarely dip into single digits, with a good mulch many plants rated to zone 8 have no trouble popping up again in the spring.

While we can grow almost anything, we have our share of challenges.  The tradeoff for our perfect weather and mild winters is that we don’t get a good hard freeze and insulating snowfall, which helps keep disease in check in places like the Northeast or Midwest.

It’s hard on plants to cycle between freeze and thaw so often, which can cause problems like rot or premature growth that then damages the plant with a late freeze.  That is why I recommend either later blooming plant varieties or rebloomers like the newer varieties of hydrangeas that bloom on both new and old wood.

Aside from the weather, we have two primary growing challenges in Asheville:  Heavy clay soil and deer grazing.  Interestingly, it’s the deerzes we hear about most often when people stop by the nursery.  Heavy clay can be reasonably dealt with at planting time, but nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing a prized shrub suddenly decimated by deer.

Here are five of the easiest flowering plants to grow in Asheville, NC.  These tick all three boxes:  They are deer resistant, tolerant of heavy clay, and not too bothered by late spring frost.

  1. Diervilla (Bush Honeysuckle)  This might be the only one on the list that you haven’t heard of.  Or perhaps the word honeysuckle makes you scream in horror.  I don’t blame you.  Diervilla is related to the honeysuckle you can’t seem to get rid of around your barn, but has a bush habit, isn’t invasive, and is just as easy to grow.  Newer varieties are incredibly versatile plants that have three seasons of interest, long summer bloom times, and attract hummingbirds.  Check out the Kodiak series from Proven Winners.  It’s native too!
  2. Twig Dogwood  Twig dogwoods are excellent filler-type shrubs that have that rare quality of having an interest in all four seasons.  They are fast-growing, take well to either sun or shade, and look great massed in the winter.  Newer varieties are more compact, but it’s no sweat to give them a haircut in the spring, and the branches make a nice display in a vase.  Or try your hand at rooting some cuttings, they are super easy.
  3. Flowering Quince  One of my personal favorite early spring bloomers.  These bloom right around the same time as forsythia but aren’t so wild and obnoxious.  The tradeoff is that the old-fashioned varieties have thorns, but that also helps keep the deer away.  Quince is a hardy suckering shrub and does great on slopes in full sun to part shade.  The fruit won’t win any awards but can be made into jam or pie if you’re hard up.
  4. Carolina Allspice  Another one of my favorites, this one a native.  Carolina allspice is a versatile plant with strangely fragrant blooms if you are up close, and almost tropical-looking foliage.  Blooms are a beautiful dark red and start in late spring and summer.  Check out ‘Aphrodite’, a larger variety that reblooms all summer long.  Allspice is a fantastic plant in full sun or part shade.
  5. Miss Kim Lilac  Lilacs in general grow very well in Western North Carolina, but Miss Kim is one of our favorites for lots of fragrant spring blooms and a nice compact habit.  There are TONS of different lilacs to explore if you get to be a connoisseur.  Check out Bloomerang for a reblooming variety, Pilabin for an even smaller plant, or Betsy Ross if you are looking for a larger, white blooming variety.  Lilacs like full sun to do their best, and a neutral, well-draining soil.  Once established and mulched, they are about as trouble-free as you could ask for.
  6. Weigela  Most people think of grandmas gangly old weigela florida they grew up with that burst at the seams with blooms in spring and looked like hell the rest of the year.  There are tons of newer varieties now that have everything from purple leaves to multiple different bloom times and a compact habit.  These are fun, trouble-free plants that still can’t be beat for flower power.  Grandma’s usually right when it comes to flowers.  Check out Wine and Roses, Sonic Bloom series, or Red Prince.


If you are looking for the easiest plants to grow in Asheville and Western North Carolina, look for plants that bloom later in the spring (or rebloom), are deer resistant, and tolerate heavy clay.  Start with the plants above, or look for natives, which tend to naturally do better for us in these hills.  Just don’t forget to mulch!

Hellebore or Lenten Rose

Most of us think of evergreens when we think of plants that give us landscape interest in the winter months.  Evergreens are great for adding definition and structure to your landscape, but it’s fun to add some flare, and these plants will give you some of that at a time of year when you need it most.

  1. Hellebores, or Lenten rose.  This fancy lady is undoubtedly the queen of winter blooming perennials.  There are all kinds of hybrids and colors that bloom at different times of the year.  The colors; muted pinks, purples, and whites, matter arguably less than what time it blooms.  They can be fussy if given too much sun or crowded, but with space and some afternoon shade, it’s a very easy plant to grow and slowly spreads to create a beautiful patch.  It’s deer resistant too!
  2. Pussywillow.  Willows are a love em’ or hate em’ kind of plant, but in February you remember why you planted them.  They produce long branches full of fuzzy silver or black catkins that last a long time inside in a vase, right about the time of year that we all need some cheering up.  They are also SUPER easy to grow, and can take wet areas in sun or shade.  Cut them way back to the ground in spring to keep them in check for the season.
  3. Red Twig and Yellow Twig Dogwood.  Twig dogwoods are excellent, easy natives that create lush growth and small white flowers in spring as well as colorful bark for the winter months.  There are many varieties to choose from but if you are looking for a compact plant, stick to newer patented versions like the Proven Winners Arctic series.  Or give it a good haircut in early spring.  Twig dogwoods are best planted en mass for a winter display of red or yellow.  There is a row of them planted in front of a retaining wall at the entrance of Sierra Nevada in south Asheville that helps make them pop.  Also, consider planting them in front of evergreens for a holiday look.
  4. Vernal Witchhazel.  This Ozark native has a shorter and wider habit than common witch hazel and blooms in late winter or very early spring.  As cool as it is that it blooms at such an odd time, vernal witchhazel is one of our favorite native plants for ease of growth, upright habit, foliage, and yellow fall color.  Check this one out, it’s worth having in every garden and thrives almost anywhere with at least a few hours of sun.
  5. Upright Sedum.  Sedums are some of our favorite perennials.  They are a versatile, diverse family of plants that are easy to grow and propagate.  Upright sedums (sedum spectabile) flower in the fall and keep their seed head through the winter months.  Will its beauty blow your mind in the winter?  Doubtful, but planted en mass it has a shrublike effect, looks neat in the snow, and provides food for the birds.  Autumn Joy is the classic, but we like Autumn Fire for its improved tolerance of our summer heat in Asheville.
  6. Golden Curls Willow.  If you like the look of yellow twig dogwood, consider this willow.  It has a yellow, almost bronze bark, upright habit, and twisty branches that look really cool in the winter.  It’s also very fast growing, and the long branches look great inside as a cut display in a pot near the fireplace.  Either let it get big n wild ( it gets 30’ or so) or ruthlessly cut it all the way back to the ground in the spring.  It won’t mind either way.  All willows like wet areas and will search out water, so plant 50’ or more away from any water pipes.  Full sun to part shade.
  7. Winterberry holly.  Most people think of hollies as evergreens, but the species Ilex verticillata is a deciduous native that drops its leaves right after producing colorful red or yellow berries.  They look beautiful in winter, especially after a snow.  This species needs a male pollinator within 50’ to produce berries, at a ratio of 1 male to up to 5 females.  It is an easy-growing plant in full sun to almost full shade.


Evergreens are great in the winter, but for a little extra color, check out the plants above, especially grouped with evergreens as a backdrop.  Also look into the really early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, quince, or Japanese magnolia.  Even if they don’t technically bloom in the winter, there is nothing more exciting than seeing the first blooms of spring.

Vernal Witchhazel

When in bloom, there is nothing like a lilac.  They are wonderful plants, full of fragrant blooms in the spring and tough as nails.  There are tons of varieties available, but most of us think of grama’s gangly old bush out back by the tool shed.  This is called an old-fashioned lilac, and many people struggle to get that old girl to bloom.

Don’t take any crap from your lilac.  If it’s not blooming, it’s time to be ruthless.  First, ask yourself these four things:

  1. How much shade is it getting?  Old lilac bushes often end up tucked away in the shade over time.  They are much happier in the sun, and it will show in their blooms.
  2. How old is it?  Lilac blooms will start to dwindle on really old plants.
  3. When is it getting pruned?  Lilacs bloom on old wood, so if it’s a small plant and you are pruning in fall or winter, you are probably chopping off the buds.
  4. Did it bloom well last year?  Old fashioned lilacs have an alternate blooming habit, especially if allowed to produce seed.

If it is located in the shade, old as dirt, or both, whack it all the way to the ground either after it blooms or in the winter.  You’ll have to wait a year or two to get blooms, but that should clean up the space and rejuvenate it.   If it’s a new plant and in full sun, make sure you wait to prune until after it blooms in early summer, and keep it to a minimum.

If you’d like to grow lilacs in the Asheville area, here are some suggestions:

  • Pick an interesting, compact variety.  There are a surprising amount of lilacs to choose from, especially living in the Asheville area (zone 6 or 7).  Don’t limit yourself to the gangly old fashioned version.  Miss Kim is great, Pilabin, or Bloomerang.
  • Lilacs like well-draining, neutral soil.  If you have that good ole’ heavy clay, amend it well with some soil conditioner or composted bark mulch when you plant, and some garden lime.   No need to fuss about amounts, just chuck a cup or two of lime in the hole and mix it in.
  • Mulch the top well after planting, 3 inches of triple ground bark will do.
  • Full sun, full sun, full sun.  They like space too, especially if the variety is prone to powdery mildew.
  • Deer don’t really bother them but rabbits can nibble some varieties.  If you have a lot of rabbits hangin’ around in spring, start with a larger plant or grow with carrots.
  • Lilacs tend to be slow-growing, especially the dwarf varieties.  Be patient the first couple of years.
  • Some can get leggy, especially when young.  To keep it full, prune back the blooms and tallest branches in late spring/early summer.

Here is a cool list of lilacs to check out.  Warning:  You just might want to start a collection!


Lilacs are excellent plants, especially when in bloom, but they need a little tough love sometimes.  Cut the old, sloppy specimens to the ground to rejuvenate them.  Or consider planting a newer, more compact variety.   And don’t forget the sun!

If you are interested in what lilacs we are growing this year click here!