New England’s rocky shores and cold winters require hardy plants as well as resilient gardeners. With a mild USDA zone 6a climate along the Atlantic coast, the environment changes quickly to zone 3b in northern Maine and in New Hampshire and Vermont along the St. Lawrence river. Native plants have adapted to their New England climates; they are pest and disease-resistant and need less care in general than imported varieties.
The Populous South
Massachusetts and Connecticut are at the center of the bulk of New England population. Thanks to the warm Atlantic currents, most of Connecticut enjoys a milder climate than the rest of New England; Massachusetts' eastern third shares the benefits of living along the shore. Native plants hardy to zone 6a along the shores and zone 5 on the interiors include white wood aster, Solomon’s plume and barren strawberry. Trumpet honeysuckle vines and cinnamon ferns provide foliar interest. Little bluestem grass is a native grass that thrives in rocky soil where it grows in neat, ornamental bunches. Jack in the pulpit, wild ginger and lady fern all prosper in woodlands.
According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, American beachgrass is the most common dune plant along the Atlantic coast; it grows all along New England's shores. Switchgrass, saltmeadow hay and Indian grass will also grow in sand. The green ash tree is hardy throughout New England and tolerant of almost any soil. Hackberry is hardy to zone 4. Eastern red cedar, black cherry, pitch pine and varieties of oak are also good candidates for the seashore. Coneflower and black-eyed Susans are salt-tolerant. Seacoast angelica, maritime saltbush, marsh marigold and New England asters are hardy along the Atlantic to the coast of Maine.
The North and West
The Allegheny Mountains end in the New England Berkshires, the gently rolling old Green Mountains of Vermont and White Mountains of New Hampshire. All through this area and the western half of Maine, glaciers dropped rocky materials and scoured out lakes. Most of the area is located in hardiness zone 4 or, in northernmost sections, in zone 3. Mountain maple and paper birch all grow throughout the area. Balsam fir and sugar maples are vital to local industries. Boreal yarrow, common fiddle neck, round leaf orchid and purple leaf angelica are hardy and Eastern red columbines nod in chilly spring breezes. Goat’s beard is one native plant that grows in moist, fertile woodland soils from the interior of Maine south to the Berkshires. Hardy butterfly weed, a favorite garden plant, grows throughout New England in well-drained sandy soil.