What Plants Can I Grow in Milwaukee?

By: Lively Root
October 25, 2021
What Plants Can I Grow in Milwaukee?
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Which Plants Can I Grow in Milwaukee?

With its lakeside location and welcoming demeanor, Milwaukee has lots to offer to anyone curious about the city. Whether resident or visitor, a trip to one of its many locales, such as the Milwaukee Public Museum, Harley Davidson Museum, or the European Village, there's always something to do and something to see! At the end of the day, there will be a cold one waiting for you at one of its many breweries if it strikes your fancy. Or maybe you can have a victory toast after your abundant growing season, because Milwaukee has one of the best climates in the U.S for the would-be gardener! Fruit, veggies, and so much more are ready to impress in this area, so let's take a closer look at what makes Milwaukee so great for gardeners:

Which Plants Grow Well in Milwaukee?

Despite some harsh winters, your options aren't limited when it comes to year-round plants for your Milwaukee garden. The primary growing months are particularly agreeable in this area, with spring and summer months offering warm and amenable conditions for several plants, particularly annuals. Be sure to check your specific area for prominent conditions such as temperature ranges and soil compositions, and if you need some help, one of your local parks or gardens is sure to have all the answers you're looking for! With plants that have already proven to thrive in the area, there are lots to be learned with just a few glances, and here are a few that you can try if you need some more guidance:


English Ivy Gold Child (Hedera helix 'Variegata'): With unique, star-shaped leaves of lush green and ringed in white, this plant is an exceptional climber, capable of reaching heights of up to 10 feet in the right conditions! Perfect for railings, trellises, ladders, and more, give it plenty of morning sun followed by dappled shade for the rest of the day, and be sure to bring it inside if temperatures drop below 35°F. English Ivy Glacier and English Ivy Green Ideal are two relatives of Gold Child, both of which are just as ambitious to climb as their aforementioned cousin and just as unique! They're great for patios, hanging baskets, and more with pleasant patterns and vibes of their own! 


Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale): Coming in a multitude of colors from reds, pinks, whites, and oranges, these plants are sure to bring vibrance to your garden. Be aware they'll need deadheading after they've finished blooming, and hotter temperatures can cause them to wilt despite their preference for full sun. Somewhat delicate, be sure not to jostle them too much as well. Otherwise, this one will make a great and colorful addition to your Milwaukee garden!

Peony (Paeonia): A classic that showcases a variety of beautiful colors like pink, red, yellow, and gold, their fluffy petals add visual flair and beauty to any garden. The window of their blooms is small, only about a week to be specific, but what a bloom it is with broad petals and bursting hues! They like sunny areas with well-draining soil and come in a number of wonderful varieties that also bloom at different times. Stagger your planting and you'll have gorgeous color and flowering throughout the season!

If you're hoping to grow vegetables this season, Milwaukee is ready to assist your endeavor! Many delicious vegetables can thrive here in the growing season. Take a look at these for a few places to start:

  • Soy Beans
  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Beets
  • Tomatoes

  • Best Landscaping Plants in Milwaukee?

    Finding plants durable enough to survive outside during some of the harsher freezes of the area might seem daunting at first, but fear not! With a wealth of native plants more than suited to taking on the cold, you'll have no shortage of options that will make your lawn and garden everything you're hoping for. Take a look at one of your local parks or gardens for insight into what plants work with a bit of help from gardeners like you, and be sure that whatever you select is compatible with your area's soil, humidity, and other unique conditions. Here are a few suggestions if you need somewhere to start:


    Juniper: This one comes in many varieties! Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), Floreant Junipers (Juniperus squamata 'Floreant'), and more, all thrive in the Milwaukee area, all coming in several shapes, sizes, and colors! Light green to blue-green hues adorn this plant, and its dusted blue berries are a favorite of local birds. The creeping variety also makes a hardy and beautiful ground cover, needing little water to thrive, making it a low-maintenance option for dynamic vibes in your garden!


    Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum aethiopicum): Able to survive bitter cold down to -10°F, this plant will not only bring a lush, spring vibe to your garden year round, but it'll also make your life easy as a gardener with its sheer resilience. Delicate and beautiful fronds take on a vivid green even through winter, making this one a standout if you need some color in the colder months. Give it an area with high humidity and lower light to watch it thrive!


    Fruit and nut trees are staunch survivors that readily give back to any gardener tending to them in the Milwaukee area. Ready to take on the cold, consider a few of these for your lawn or garden this year:


  • Hazelnut Trees
  • Harrow Delight Pear Trees
  • Walnut Trees
  • Superior and Emerald Beauty Plum Trees
  • Pink Lady and Honeycrisp Apple Trees
  • Chestnut Trees

  • Which Plants are Native to Milwaukee?

    Implementing native plants for your lawn and garden not only makes your life easier with low-maintenance, self-sufficient, and hardy plants, but it also contributes key elements to the local ecosystem. Lending a hand to the local birds, bees, butterflies, and all manner of pollinators by giving them reliable food and habitat sources encourages growth on a broader scale, ensuring the region's biodiversity is maintained in several ways! This includes preventing soil erosion, as native plants are uniquely suited to do so with their adapted roots. See if you can incorporate any endangered plant species in your growing plans as well, as bolstering their numbers will be just as crucial to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. If you're looking for some ideas, look no further. Here are a few to get you started:


    Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum): Named for its cinnamon-colored fronds that grow from the plant's center in early spring, this delicate fern likes moist, boggy areas where it can grow as tall as 6 feet! With a preference for full shade, be ready for this one to hang around for a long time in the right conditions, bringing you reliable color and character for a number of years!


    Cream False Indigo (Baptisia bracteata): A native perennial that blooms in spring and named for its white coloring, this plant is the perfect addition for your native garden with how well-suited it is to survive the region. Drought resistant, a lover of full sun to partial shade, it's the perfect plant for colorful contrast and minimal maintenance that pollinators will love!


    Juneberry (Amelanchier laevis): Seen over much of Wisconsin, this plant loves full sun to light shade. It also goes by the moniker Serviceberry and can grow from 15 to 40 feet! It often blooms in early spring with fragrant, white flowers in droop clusters, and its edible, purple berries are great for jams, preserves, pies, and cobblers!

    Other Plants That Grow Best In Milwaukee


    Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium): Resembling a pearl from a distance, this perennial and member of the Aster family showcases lovely white flowers when it blooms from small round buds in spring. Its leaves also take on a lush green shade, making it a beautiful addition to colorful displays in any native garden. Give it full sun and a little water and watch it thrive!


    Primrose: There are several varieties of Primrose. Riparian Primrose (Oenothera elata), Stemless Evening-Primrose (Oenothera triloba), and Pale Evening Primrose (Oenothera pallida) are just a few. With delicate flowers, seen most often in shades of yellow and white, they're tolerant of drought conditions, and some varieties thrive in full sun to partial shade. Grow them from seeds in spring, and know they're great when utilized as edging plants! 

    Milwaukee Gardening Tips


    Going with annuals in this region is a great way to add variety to your garden, as they'll make growing easier in the spring and summer months, and there are plenty that are hardy enough to survive in the Milwaukee area. The same goes for landscaping options such as bushes and trees! Just be sure to mind your conditions, especially the weather and frosts. As such, it's never a bad idea to consult your local Farmer's Almanac to prepare for your growing season thoroughly. Also, remember to start new seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost date, and don't be afraid to help your plants with raised beds, hoop tunnels, or mulch to get through the colder months!


    When Should I Plant My Garden in Milwaukee?

    It's all about timing in the Milwaukee area, and by paying attention to the first and last frost dates of the year, you'll find your stride in no time. The first frost of the region usually occurs in mid-October, and the last sometime in mid-May, but stay vigilant, as this will differ from region to region, so be sure to check your area in particular! And as mentioned, starting your seeds at least six weeks before the last frost date can help you give plants a better chance at maturing before the first frost of the season!

    Planting in Zone 5b & 6a

    Milwaukee falls in Zones 5 and 6 of the USDA Hardiness scale, and is divided into two subzones, 5b and 6a respectively. Both are categorized by their average winter temperature range, 6a with a range of -10°F to -5°F, and 5b with a range -10°F to -15°F. Because of these harsher colds, overwintering is a common practice to help many plants survive. Other options to encourage growth and survival are winter mulching, hoop tunnels, and cold boxing. Stay mindful and choose your plants carefully, but with due diligence, you'll be enjoying your dream garden in no time!