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This is a blog post done on spec for the gardening niche.

Dreaming of a garden oasis in Alberta? 5 tried and true ways to get a zone 3 garden you love

It’s spring and you’ve been bitten by the gardening bug. You imagine sitting on your deck, gazing at a border of flowers blooming all summer long.

A fun trip to the greenhouse, a couple of Saturdays of work and you’re on your way, right?

But the truth is – and once we say it, it might seem obvious – the garden in your mind’s eye is probably the product of professional gardeners. Or very serious amateurs who spend every day… hours a day… in their gardens.

They love to garden. And they want everyone else to know the joy of it too.

You can have the garden you want, you’re told. All you have to do is get in there and do it. Right?


The first thing? Let’s gently toss that professionally created image out of your mind. The only way to bring your garden oasis to life is to deal in reality.

And here’s how you get there:

#1. Stick to plants that don’t mind Alberta’s -40 winters

This means you’re looking for trees, shrubs and perennials rated to zone 3. It needs to say so on their plant tags.

Yes, we do sell zone 4, and even zone 5 plants in the greenhouse. But you need to know where the microclimates are in your yard.

Microclimates are spots that may be warmer (some are colder!). But until you know exactly where those are, anything rated zone 4 or higher becomes an experiment. A fun experiment, but an experiment.

Stick with zones 1, 2 and 3 plants and you’re making a much safer bet that you’ll see your plants return each spring. Which means they really will get to that healthy and lush mature size you see pictured on the plant tag.

#2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew: 1 bed at a time

If you can see it from the deck, you want a flower bed there. Around the whole perimeter of your yard.

Don’t do it.

Stick to 1 bed. Pick the best spot where you’ll enjoy looking at it often and it’ll be enough.

Every garden bed requires good soil, bug control, weeding and watering. Conserve your energy.

Don’t lose your enthusiasm for gardening when you realize the only way to keep up with it is to spend hours on maintenance that you don’t have.

#3. Allow shrubs to do the heavy lifting

Even though we all dream of flowers, you’ll find it easier to achieve the backyard oasis you dream of with a strong backbone of shrubs.

Imagine a calm, leafy or evergreen backdrop filling in the space around your flowers. And it gets better. Shrubs and trees provide so much visual interest through the season, with spring blooms or berries or red and orange fall colour, there’ll always be something to delight your eye.

Although they grow slower than perennials, shrubs are easier to maintain and will ultimately give your garden the volume needed to create that oasis effect.

Don’t be afraid to allocate up to half of your garden bed to woody shrubs and even a feature tree to fill in your garden space. You won’t be disappointed.

#4. Picture a succession of blooms instead of non-stop flowers

Take the pressure off yourself that your garden needs to be in bloom every day of summer. It isn’t necessary to achieve your oasis.

It’s more realistic to think of your garden as a parade, or succession of blooms. Here’s an easy way to achieve that in your garden most of the season:

  • Spring-blooming groundcovers in the front of your bed (such as moss phlox or elephant ears).
  • Medium-sized perennials to bloom in early summer (such as Asiatic lillies and peonies).
  • Large-sized perennials to bloom late summer to fall (such as coneflower and black-eyed Susan).
  • Pockets of annuals for vibrant dashes of summer-long colour.

#5. Shortcut your garden maintenance with mulch

Master weeding by spreading mulch around your plants.

Hauling in bags of mulch in the spring is a lot of work. But you’ll reap the benefits by high summer when you’d prefer to sit in the shade with a lemonade in hand than to pull weeds growing in their prime.

Your mulch, done well, will squelch at least 80% of your weeds for you AND conserve moisture. Yes, you’ll still need to water but your mulch will keep your beds from drying out so quickly.

Save your time and energy to find more inspiration

Follow these reliable prairie garden practices and your garden will be off to a fabulous start. In time, as your plants reach maturity, you’ll have your oasis.

In the meantime, take a walk through Edmonton’s neighbourhoods and parks to see yards and green spaces that are landscaped to thrive in zone 3. You’ll be amazed at the possibilities for a garden oasis, even in our prairie climate where the summers are shorter and the winters are long.

Ask us to show you plants suited to your backyard. Even in zone 3, you have hundreds of plant choices. And a million possibilities for turning your dreams into reality.

Related: Zone 3 perennials that bloom all summer