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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!