Guide to Planting Zones

Large area perennial garden

Do you know how to find hardy plants for your landscape? 

If you’re a first-time gardener, it can be hard to tell what types of plants would best fit in your backyard’s environmental conditions. Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created a planting zone map to help gardeners new and old discover plants suitable for their landscape. 

Read on to learn about zones for planting, how they’re defined, and how to use them when planning your next trip to your local garden center. 

What are planting zones?

Plant hardiness zones help gardeners learn which perennial plants can survive throughout the year in their region. 

Also called “planting zones” and “growing zones,” plant hardiness zones are 13 defined zones across the United States, including Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska. Each zone represents a 10-degree range determined by the average lowest temperature during the winter. Zone 1 is the coldest, and Zone 13 is the hottest. They are further broken down into 5-degree subzones, designated by adding “a” or “b” after the zone number. 

These zones were designated by the USDA and are widely used across the country by gardeners, nurseries, universities, researchers, and publications. 

Planting zones aren’t perfect. Designated zones for planting typically cover a large geographic region, which leaves some room for error. If the conditions in your yard don’t match the description of your hardiness zone, you could be living in a microclimate (a small area in which the climate differs from that of the wider region).

Why are plant hardiness zones important?

All plants have a certain degree of “hardiness,” or the range of conditions they can survive in. Hardiness zones help gardeners understand cold hardiness, or where specific plants can thrive, survive, or perish during winter across the United States. 

Planting zones help determine whether or not your new perennial plant will survive outside through harsh seasonal weather. 

Some plants might act differently depending on their environmental conditions, which is why you need to be aware of your planting zone. Most plants are classified as either annual or perennial: 

  • Annuals: Plants that die after one growing season and need to be replaced every year 
  • Perennials: Plants that survive through winter and come back year after year on their own

A flower that’s typically classified as a perennial may act as an annual if planted outside of the planting zone in regions with too-harsh winters, meaning it will not survive through the winter. Knowing your planting zone will allow you to pick out the best plants for your garden that will survive your climate. 

How to find your USDA planting zone

Look up your area’s hardiness zone using the official USDA Hardiness Zone Map.

The map divides the United States into 13 zones, with each zone determined by an area’s yearly average lowest temperature in winter. Many states vary in climate by region, therefore having multiple hardiness zones for different parts of the state. For instance, Alaska has a range from Zone 1 to Zone 8. So, be sure to put in your ZIP code or address when determining your hardiness zone. 

Note: The averages used for the map don’t reflect unusual temperatures or spontaneous weather events. The coldest temperature in any given year might be lower or higher than the one listed on the map. 

Find your zone on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and read on to learn more about the 13 different zones.

Zone 1

This is the coldest zone in the United States, representing the Alaskan tundra. Extreme weather makes this a difficult region for gardening. Plants must be tolerant of cold temperatures and droughts. You won’t have much luck keeping non-native perennials alive in this zone.

Average minimum temperature: -60 to -50 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 1a has an average minimum temperature of -60 to -55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 1b has an average minimum temperature of -55 to -50 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 1: Alaska

Popular plants: Netleaf willow, quaking aspen, Lapland rhododendron

Zone 2

Regions in Zone 2 often experience high winds and freezing temperatures. Gardeners in this zone are better off building a greenhouse or planting native plants

Average minimum temperature: -50 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 2a has an average minimum temperature of -50 to -45 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 2b has an average minimum temperature of -45 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 2: Alaska

Popular plants: Northern Jacob’s ladder, American cranberry bush, Iceland poppy

Zone 3

Some areas in Zone 3 have severe winds, low temperatures, and low levels of moisture. Zone 3 experiences harsh winters, so it’s best to plant winter-hardy plants. 

Average minimum temperature: -40 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 3a has an average minimum temperature of -35 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 3b has an average minimum temperature of -30 to -35 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 3: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Popular plants: Hostas, creeping phlox, delphiniums, yellow marsh marigold

Zone 4

Zone 4 has freezing winters and distinct seasonal changes, with one of the shortest growing seasons out of all the zones.

Average minimum temperature: -30 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 4a has an average minimum temperature of -25 to -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 4b has an average minimum temperature of -20 to -25 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 4: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Popular plants: Sour cherry trees, foxglove, peonies, bee balm, bleeding heart, aster

Zone 5

Zone 5 has a medium-length growing season, experiencing cold winters and warm summers. Most vegetables can be grown during the spring and summer in this zone. 

Average minimum temperature: -20 to -10 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 5a has an average minimum temperature of -15 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 5b has an average minimum temperature of -10 to -15 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 5: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Popular plants: Pink lady apples, hazelnut trees, ferns, lavender, hollyhock, lilies

Zone 6

Zone 6 can experience various kinds of winter weather, from mild temperatures to severe snowstorms. If you live in Zone 6, you can grow cold-hardy nut and fruit trees. 

Average minimum temperature: -10 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 6a has an average minimum temperature of -10 to -5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 6b has an average minimum temperature of -5 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 6: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming

Popular plants: Peach trees, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis, strawberries

Zone 7

A variety of vegetables, flowers, trees, and plants can grow in Zone 7, including cold-hardy citrus trees.

Average minimum temperature: 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 7a has an average minimum temperature of 0 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 7b has an average minimum temperature of 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 7: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington

Popular plants: Rosemary, walnut trees, blackberries, long-season apple trees, apricot trees

Zone 8

This zone has a long growing season with hot summers and mild winters, giving gardeners abundant options, from fruits and vegetables to flowers and trees. In Zone 8, the temperature rarely dips below freezing. 

Average minimum temperature: 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 8a has an average minimum temperature of 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 8b has an average minimum temperature of 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 8: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C. 

Popular plants: Berries, bananas, parsley, figs, spider lily, purple coneflower

Zone 9

Zone 9 is recognized as a year-round planting zone, which is great for farmers and expert gardeners. However, it can be challenging for less-experienced gardeners to take care of their plants due to the hot weather in the summer. 

Average minimum temperature: 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 9a has an average minimum temperature of 20 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 9b has an average minimum temperature of 25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 9: Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington

Popular plants: Butterfly bush, scarlet sage, hibiscus, citrus trees

Zone 10

Gardens don’t need to sleep in Zone 10. These are tropical regions with year-round growing seasons. This zone gets a “second summer,” with enough warm months to plant, grow, and reap two full summer harvests. 

Average minimum temperature: 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 10a has an average minimum temperature of 30 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 10b has an average minimum temperature of 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 10: California, Florida, Hawaii

Popular plants: Soursop trees, geraniums, lantana, bougainvillea, verbena

Zone 11

Temperatures don’t cool much in Zone 11, where gardening happens year-round. However, you’ll need to look for primarily tropical, heat-tolerant plants in these areas due to the sweltering temperatures. 

Average minimum temperature: 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 11a has an average minimum temperature of 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 11b has an average minimum temperature of 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 11: Hawaii, Florida, Puerto Rico

Popular plants: Macadamia trees, mango trees, begonias, flamingo flower

Zone 12

Zone 12 is a tropical region not found in the continental United States. Here, the climate conditions are best suited for heat-loving tropical plants. 

Average minimum temperature: 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 12a has an average minimum temperature of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 12b has an average minimum temperature of 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 12: Hawaii, Puerto Rico

Popular plants: Olive trees, pineapple, black pepper, African violet, African breadfruit, aloe

Zone 13

Zone 13 is the warmest climate zone in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Like Zone 12, this zone is tropical with conditions that are best suited for heat-loving tropical plants. 

Average minimum temperature: 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Zone 13a has an average minimum temperature of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Zone 13b has an average minimum temperature of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

States located in Zone 13: Hawaii, Puerto Rico

Popular plants: Heliconia, throatwort, blue vanda

How to use gardening zones

Use your zone to find out which perennials can survive year-round in your region. Every plant has its own “comfort zone,” a range of hardiness zones in which it can thrive. If you want your plants to survive outdoors in winter, only bring home plants whose comfort zone matches your area’s hardiness zone. 

You can usually find a specific plant’s comfort zone with a quick Google search. 

How to choose plants for your landscape

The fun begins after you’ve researched your plant hardiness zone. Now, you can start picking out plants! 

When researching plants, pay attention to their care requirements:

  • What are the plant’s hardiness zones?
  • How much sunlight will it need?
  • How often will you need to water it?
  • Will it be overwhelmed by the amount of natural rainfall? 
  • What kind of soil does it need to grow? 
  • What temperature range can it survive in? Be sure to account for all seasons. 
  • Is it an annual or perennial in my zone?

In most cases, it’s best to look for native species or other plants that fall within your hardiness zone and fit your backyard environment. 

Hardiness zones aren’t perfect

While planting zones are a helpful guide for many gardeners, the map itself is not perfect. Freeze-thaw cycles, soil quality, and drainage, and precipitation levels can greatly affect how a plant acclimates to your backyard’s conditions. 

The hardiness zone map lets you know what the average annual minimum temperature is, helping you understand which perennial plants will make it through the winter. However, there are other factors you need to consider when choosing plants. 

What hardiness zones don’t tell you:

  • The average annual maximum temperature
  • Levels of sunlight
  • Average rainfall and precipitation levels
  • Soil type, nutrients, drainage, and moisture
  • Levels of humidity
  • Duration of extreme cold or hot conditions
  • Freeze-thaw cycles

The USDA map cannot account for everything. For the best results in your garden, pay attention to your local climate and weather conditions and take notes on how they affect your landscape. 

Be sure to track your local weather and stay alert for any signs of an upcoming frost

FAQ about planting zones

1. Can I plant things that aren’t recommended for my planting zone?

We don’t recommend planting things from outside your planting zone. Plants that aren’t winter-hardy for your region will likely be damaged by winter weather, and heat-sensitive plants can dry out and perish in hot temperatures. Some perennial plants may not survive through harsh winter weather. 

If you want to plant something outside your zone, you can avoid seasonal damage by planting in containers. Simply bring the containers indoors during winter. Alternatively, you can accept that the plant will die in winter and buy a new one to replace it every year.

Common winter-related plant damage looks like:
Poor growth
Reduced flowering
Brown or silvery leaves (indicating root damage)
Wilted, crispy, or dead leaves
Black, soft roots

Keep in mind that gardening involves a lot of experimentation. You never know how well a plant can grow with informed, attentive care until you try to grow it. 

2. How can I protect my plants from winter weather?

Not everyone has the time or funds to build their own greenhouse. Thankfully, there are a few tricks to protect your plants when temperatures start to drop

Help keep the soil warm using: 

Raised beds — putting your plants in containers that are above the ground 
Hoop tunnels — temporary structures made of wire or pipes and fabric that acts like a mini-greenhouse when put over your plants
Cold frames — a transparent outdoor frame that can be built over plants or even dug into the ground, like a more permanent miniature greenhouse for your plants compared to hoop tunnels
Mulch — add mulch to garden beds in the fall to keep the soil more insulated and warm

3. How can I tell if summer temperatures are too hot for my plants?

Since hardiness zones only indicate whether or not a plant is likely to survive through cold temperatures, it can be hard to tell whether a plant will survive through the summer in hot regions. 

Most plants come with a tag indicating the temperature range in which they will thrive. Before you go to the store, become familiar with average high summer temperatures in your area. You also can use the American Horticultural Society’s Plant Heat-Zone Map, which indicates the number of days per year in a region that reach temperatures higher than 86 degrees Fahrenheit. 

If you experience an unexpected heatwave, you can keep your plants cool by:

Watering deeply (in well-drained containers, after the sun sets)
Covering them with a shade
Leaving brown and dead leaves alone until temperatures return to normal

Need a hand taking care of the plants around your landscape? Lawn Love’s local lawn care experts can help with all your lawn care and landscaping needs. 

Main Photo Credit: Sarah Stierch | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a recent graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.