Pollution Tolerant Plants: Perennials and Annuals for Smoggy Urban Gardens

Pollution Tolerant Plants: Perennials and Annuals for Smoggy Urban Gardens

Last Updated on March 17, 2024 by Kimberly Crawford

Until we solve many of our current pollution problems some urban gardens will suffer. Here are smog tolerant options for gardens in dirty cities.

Sometimes plants in large, smoggy cities suffer because of the air and rain pollution. Tender plants, some tropicals and edible plants can all do poorly, show stunted growth and decreased flowering as a result. Here are a few plants that tolerate higher pollution levels but still look good and grow well.

Pollution Tolerant Plants: Perennials and Annuals for Smoggy Urban Gardens

#1. Darwin’s Barberry (Berberis darwinii)

darwin barberry
Darwin’s Barberry (Berberis darwinii) – Source

Hardy to Zone 7. One of the beautiful species barberry plants, the Darwin barberry is native to Chile. Expect this flowering shrub to grow anywhere between 5-10′ tall and 4-7′ wide and display bright orange or yellow-orange flowers each spring.

Barberries have gently arching, thorny stems that make a great natural habitat for birds and wildlife which also enjoy the fall berries.

#2. Canary Island Ivy (Hedera canariensis)

Canary Island Ivy (Hedera canariensis)

Zones 7-10. Also known as Algerian Ivy this plant is considered a pest by some people and a God-send by other gardeners. Kept well in-bounds this ivy can be an excellent evergreen ground cover or climbing vine perfect for small garden spaces by adding a vertical accent.

The ivy is often variegated and will spread through runners or it can be propagated through semi-hardwood cuttings. Provide moist, fertile soil and train over a raised bed, out of a hanging basket or up a wall or fence for quick, easy color. Variegated ivy will easily tolerate semi-shade and part shade conditions.

Related: Small or dwarf evergreen shrubs

#3. Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima)

iris foetidissima

Zones 6-9. This iris is often grown for its ornamental seeds in addition to the beautiful iris flowers; this Iris doesn’t have stinking flowers as you might think, but rather the foliage has a lightly unpleasant smell when bruised, cut or crushed.

These irises are easier to grow from seeds than many other iris plants and also propagate through division. In cold climates the foliage dies but the upright, grass-like leaves remain evergreen even through the winter.

The stinking iris seed stalks are valued to include in flower arrangements.

#4. Hellebores

Hellebores – Source

Beautiful evergreen perennial plants. There is no reason not to plant a Hellebore, also known as Christmas Rose or Lenton Rose. These hardy plants offer year-round color, attractive foliage, winter flowers and blooms for shady spots.

Tolerant of air and water pollution, they still look good – even in a big city and will provide much needed color for your concrete jungle. 

#5. Hostas 

Hosta – Source

Another fantastic foliage plant for part to full shade conditions, the hosta will grow well in large city areas with high pollution.

Available in a variety of colors, hostas come in blue, green, white, yellow, gold and variegated combinations. Some dwarf forms grow only 12 inches tall while others grow up to 3′ tall and wide with large, bold leaves.

Many gardeners find that many Hosta varieties contrast nicely with each other and create subtle interest by combining several forms in one planter.