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USDA Zone 4

USDA Zone 4: Where is it? What to Plant? Tips to Success

If you live in the northern part of the United States, there’s a good chance you live in USDA Zone 4.

Zone 4 is one of the coldest hardiness zones in the conterminous United States, with only Zone 3 being colder. So, if you are going to plant in Zone 4, you will need to choose cold hardy trees and flowers.

You can plant outside of your hardiness zone, but the outcome won’t be typical for that plant. You may get late blooms, and vegetables may not have time to mature.

There are many flowers, trees, herbs, and vegetables that thrive in Zone 4, however. If you know what to look for, you can enjoy a gorgeous home landscape all year long.

What is Zone 4?

Zone 4 is one of the thirteen climate zones on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. These zones are based on the lowest regional average temperatures and the frost dates of these regions.

USDA Hardiness Zone Map

Each zone is ten degrees warmer or colder than the adjacent zone. The colder the zone, the lower the number, and the hardier your plants must be.

Zone 4 covers a good portion of the northern United States and the coastline of Alaska.

Planting in Zone 4 can be a bit challenging, though. The growing season is short, lasting from early spring to early fall. To extend your season, you may need to start some plants indoors.

Zone 4 has long, cold, snowy winters and short, hot, muggy summers. Summer highs are typically in the 70’s and 80’s but can get as hot as 90°F.

The average high for July in Bismarck, North Dakota, which is in Zone 4A, is 84.7°F.

Bismark ND Climate
Monthly Climate Temperatures of Bismarck, ND – Source: weather.gov

Bismarck typically drops to 2.4°F in January, however.

Minneapolis, MN, which is in Zone 4B, usually reaches 83.4°F in July and dips down to 8.8°F in January.

Minneapolis, MN Climate
Monthly Climate Temperatures of Minneapolis, MN – Source: weather.gov

The average minimum temperatures can fall between 30 and 20 degrees below zero (-30 and -20°F) in the winter months in these regions.

The last frost occurs anywhere from the middle of April to the middle of May, and the first frost falls sometime around the end of September or the beginning of October.

Where is Zone 4?

USDA Zone 4 Map

Zone 4 starts on the Northwest border of Montana and travels mostly through the northern states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

There are a few states in the Central United States that also have areas in Zone 4. These regions tend to have higher elevations than the rest of the state, resulting in colder temperatures.

Zone 4 picks up again along the Northern border of Michigan, traveling through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and finally, ending in Maine. Of course, the southern coast of Alaska is also in Zone 4.

Glacier National park
Fireweed in Glacier National Park, Montana – image by Bernd Thaller via Flickr

Minimum Average Temperatures in Zone 4

Each gardening zone is divided into two subsets. Zone 4 is divided into 4A and 4B.

Each subzone is separated by five degrees.

  • Zone 4: This zone has a minimum average temperature of -30° to -20°F.
  • Zone 4A: This subzone has a minimum average temperature of -30° to -25°F.
  • Zone 4B: This subzone has a minimum average temperature of -25° to -20°F.

The average minimum temperature for the winter months determines the zone and subset ranges. The temperatures don’t always fall in this range, though, since colder temperatures can occur.

USDA Zone 4 Temperature, Frost Dates and States

Frost Dates in Zone 4

The first and last frost date for each zone can vary, depending on the weather patterns.

Occasionally an area will experience an atypical season. Unusual droughts, heavy rainfall, cold snaps, or heat spells can all affect the first and last frost date.

Frost dates for Zone 4 are usually:

  • Last frost date: April 24th to May 12th
  • First frost date: September 21st to October 7th

But, depending on the year, they can vary by a couple of weeks. It is always best to pay attention to your local weather when planting and harvesting your garden.

Zone 4 States

Every state has more than one zone, because each state has more than one climate. Minnesota, for example, is half Zone 3 and half Zone 4, and Alaska consists of zones one through eight.

You can find Zone 4 in:

If you live in any of these states, you just might live in Zone 4. Use our interactive hardiness zone map to see exactly which zone you live in.

When to Plant in Zone 4

Gardening in USDA Zone 4 is both fun, and very rewarding, because so many plants thrive there.

The growing season is short, but you can extend it by starting some plants indoors. Start your warm season crops inside around March or April, depending on the vegetable.

Seedling plugs on indoor window shelf
Starting seedlings indoors – Image by Blake Johnson, via Flickr

After the last frost, and once the soil temperature warms up, you can transplant these seedlings outside. This is usually around the end of May or the beginning of June.

You can plant your cold weather crops directly into the ground, however. Plant your lettuce, radishes, peas, spinach, kohlrabi, beans, beets, carrots, potatoes, swiss chard, cucumbers, corn, squash, and onions after the last freeze.

Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, peppers, and tomatoes can be transplanted outside at that time as well.

Tips for Gardening in Zone 4

You can use the USA hardiness zone guide to decide which plants grow best in your region. There is a wide variety of vegetables, flowers, and trees that thrive in Zone 4. The best plan for most gardeners is to start seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost date.

Or you can buy starter plants at your local garden center or nursery.

  • These include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and other plants that are easy to transplant.
  • Direct sow vegetables, such as beans, corn, cucumber, squash, peas, carrots, and others, can be planted early to mid-May.

Check the maturation days on the seed packet. This is the number of days it takes from the time you sow the seeds to the time the vegetable is ready for harvesting.

Planting a garden
(Planting a garden – Image by Jo Ann Deasy via Flickr)

Choosing Plants for Zone 4

Zone 4 features many plants that are perfect for gardening and landscaping.

Start by browsing your local nursery or garden center; they tend to sell plants that will thrive in your zone. You can get a good idea of what will work for your landscape.

Looking at Plants in a Garden Center

When planting a vegetable garden, you really don’t need to worry about the hardiness zone. Vegetables are meant to die at the end of the growing season.

And annuals are also meant to die out with the frost, so if you are choosing annuals, you don’t need to worry about the zone number either.

But your hardiness zone is incredibly important when choosing out perennials, shrubs, and trees. Look for the hardiness zone on the tag of your plant. This will tell you the absolute coldest area your plant will survive the winter in.

If it is Zone 4 or below, you should be good to go.

You can also plant warmer-zoned perennials and treat them as annuals. If you are willing to buy every year, this can extend your gardening options in Zone 4.

What to Grow in Zone 4

Once you understand your climate and landscape, it’s time to choose the appropriate plants that will match your needs. You can choose from a wide variety of plants, trees, and shrubs in Zone 4.

Below are just a few that we recommend planting:

Trees for Zone 4

There are so many gorgeous trees that thrive in Zone 4! You can plant fruit trees, flowering trees, evergreen trees, shrubs, and even native trees to Zone 4.

Fruit Trees

BlackIce Plums on Tree and in Bowl
BlackIce™ Plums – Images by Fast Growing Trees

Fruit trees can be a beautiful – and flavorful – addition to your home and garden landscape.

  • Apple Trees: So many varieties of apples are cold hardy enough for Zone 4, that it’s difficult to list them all. Honey Gold, Honeycrisp™ and Sweet Sixteen are all great choices for fresh eating. Honey Gold is a golden apple that is sweet, crisp, and juicy. The tree is easy to manage and ripens in late September. The apples store for two to three months. Sweet Sixteen have an exotic yellow flesh and are very sweet. Their taste resembles that of sugar cane or a spicy cherry candy. But the Honey Crisp was named the Minnesota State Fruit in 2006, because it is one of the most popular. It is both sweet and tart, juicy, and explosively crisp. You can pick the Honey Crisp apple anytime in mid-September through October and keep it for up to seven months. Other great apple choices include Gravenstein, McIntosh, Red Baron, SnowSweet®, Wolf River, Firestorm™, Ruby Mac, Norland, Haralson, and Red Duchess.

  • Plum Trees: You won’t have quite as many varieties of plums to choose from for Zone 4 as you do apples, but there are still plenty that can thrive in these colder climates. The Superior Plum produces large fruit with bright red skin and yellow flesh. It has rich, super sweet flavor. The tree grows up to 15 feet tall. You can also plant Alderman, La Crescent, Mount Royal, and BlackIce™ plums.

  • Pear Trees: Some pears are hardy enough to grow in colder climates as well. Juicy Jewel™ is awesome for fresh eating. This Asian-type pear tree produces attractive fruit with an orange-pink blush. It’s best picked when it is yellow-green and crisp. Other great pear trees to plant in Zone 4 include the Gourmet, Lucious, Patten, Seckel, MN121, and Tawara Asian Pear trees.

  • Other fruit trees: You definitely do not need to limit yourself to just apples, plums, and pears. Some varieties of peaches, currants, and blackberries also do well in Zone 4.

Flowering Trees

Mayday Blossom
Mayday Blossom – image by Sam Saunders via Flickr

The winters are long, cold, and harsh in Zone 4. There’s usually not a lot to see. So, when spring hits, and the trees bloom, it can be breathtaking. If you want to enjoy the beauty of spring, plant a few flowering trees in your garden.

  • Japanese Tree Lilac: This small flowering deciduous can be planted as a tree or as a large shrub. It grows 25 to 30 feet tall and has an oval or rounded habit. It can be singular or multi-stemmed, with reddish brown bark. The leaves are dark green and droopy. The flowers bloom in June, and they are a creamy, scented flower. They only last for two weeks though, before they give way to green capsules that turn yellow and hang on through the winter. The Japanese Tree Lilac is one of the most trouble-free lilacs you can plant.

  • Tulip Tree: The Tulip Tree gets its name from its tulip-like flowers. These are yellow-green flowers that bloom in late spring. The Tulip Tree grows 90 to 120 feet tall, so it needs a lot of space. You can prune it back to the ground every few years, however, to keep it shrub sized, if you’d like. Its leaves turn a pretty yellow in the fall. The Tulip Tree is also called the Yellow Poplar and the Tulip Poplar.

  • Mayday Tree: The Mayday tree grows 15 to 20 feet tall and has dull green oval leaves. Small, white, fragrant flowers bloom in late April or early May. The leaves turn yellow or bronze in the fall. The Mayday Tree produces a little berry that is loved by birds, but too bitter for people to eat. It is also known as the European Bird Cherry, the Maybush, the Hackberry, and the Hagberry Tree.

  • Other flowering trees: Crabapple Tree, North Star Dwarf Cherry, Purple Robe Locus, Prairifire Crabapple, Royal Star Magnolia, Eastern Redbud, Purple Leaf Sandcherry, HorseChestnut, and Black Locust.

Evergreen Trees

Korean Fir Cones
Korean Fir Cones – image by S. Rae via Flickr

If you plant a few zone 4 evergreen trees, you can enjoy a natural windbreak or privacy screen, but you can also pretty up your winter landscape. Many evergreens offer timeless beauty when all other trees have shed their leaves.

  • Concolor Fir: The Concolor Fir is a narrow, pyramidal evergreen with horizontal branches and drooping lower branches. This densely branched tree is a favorite for coverage and for nesting birds. It grows up to 70 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It is often used as Christmas trees. The Concolor Fir goes by many names, such as the Balsam Fir, the Colorado Fir, the Colorado White Fir, the Pino Real Blanco, the Abeto del Colorado, the Rocky Mountain White Fir, the Western White Fir, and the White Balsam.

  • Eastern Redcedar: The Eastern Redcedar grows 30 to 40 feet tall and has scale-like glandular leaves and a reddish-brown bark. Small clusters of light blue-green flowers bloom in late winter or early spring. The female tree produces a blue fruit in the fall, as well. The Eastern Redcedar repels insects, which is why its wood is used for pet bedding and cedar chests. It is also sometimes used as a Christmas tree.

  • Silver Show: The Silver Show is an attractive evergreen with a silver underside. It is often used as an ornamental yard tree, and a Christmas tree. The Silver Show grows just 30 feet tall and 12 feet wide. It is a very slow growing evergreen, so keep that in mind when planting. The Silver Show is also called the Korean Fir.

  • Other evergreen trees: Piccolo, Colorado Blue Spruce, Canaan Fir, Fraser Fir, Rocky Mountain Juniper, and Ponderosa Pine

Native Trees

Northern Pin Oak Tree
(Northern Pin Oak Tree – Image by Loz Pycock via Flickr)

If you want to be assured of your tree’s survival, you may consider planting native trees to Zone 4.

Many things affect the health of your trees, such as the amount of sunlight they receive and the type of soil they are planted in. But if you know a tree grows “wild” in your area, then you know it has the best chances for survival in your yard.

  • Northern Pin Oak: The Northern Pin Oak is native to North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It is a small to medium-sized tree, as it only grows to be about 50 to 75 feet tall and 40 to 70 feet wide. It has an irregularly shaped crown and low-hanging branches. The Northern Pin Oak is also known as the Hill’s Oak, Yellow Oak, and Jack Oak.

  • Rocky Mountain Juniper: The Rocky Mountain Juniper is native to North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado. It is a slow-growing cypress evergreen, with a narrow pyramidal or rounded habit. The Rocky Mountain Juniper grows just 40 feet tall. It has a reddish-brown bark that sheds, and beautiful dark green, silvery blue foliage. It produces blue cones that are waxy and almost berry-like. The birds love them.

  • Ponderosa Pine: The Ponderosa Pine is native to North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. This evergreen grows 60 to 125 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide. It has a pyramidal or conical habit and dark, yellowish-green needles that grow in clumps of three. It produces pointed, prickly cones. The Ponderosa Pine is the dominant pine tree in the Western United States and is mostly used for timber.

  • Other native trees: Green Ash, American Elm, Quaking Aspen, Common Hackberry, Rocky Mountain Maple, and Bur Oak

If you want to plant one of these trees, but it is not native to your Zone 4 state, you can still try it! These trees are all hardy to Zone 4.

Vegetables for Zone 4

Cucumber plant growing in the garden
Cucumber – Image by Fern Berg for Tree Vitalize

Luckily, you don’t really need to worry about the zone you live in, when planting vegetables. Most vegetables are meant to die after the harvest, with the frost, so they do not need to be hardy enough to survive the winter.

However, depending on what you choose, you may start your plants indoors and then transplant them outdoors after the last frost.

  • Cucumbers: Cucumbers grow best in warm weather, which works for Zone 4, because the summers get hot. It is best to directly sow your cucumber seeds, but the soil needs to be around 70°F for the seeds to germinate. This is usually around late May, although you can warm your soil up faster by covering it with black plastic mulch. Plant your cucumbers in a row, two inches apart, or plant three to four seeds close together in a mound. You will need to thin your seeds once they come up. Some varieties form long vines and may need a trellis to climb.

  • Peas: Peas grow best in cooler weather, which can make planting them a bit more challenging, since cool springs quickly turn to hot summers in Zone 4. Peas like about 60 days to grow, and grow best in 55° to 65°F. They will stop growing and producing flowers if the temperature rises above 85°F, which can easily happen in June. To give your peas a longer growing season, directly sow them into the ground as soon as it has thawed. They can withstand a light frost, but when they start flowering, watch for frost, and cover the peas if necessary. Peas, too, need a trellis for climbing, but if you plant the rows closely together, they can also lean on each other for support.

  • Lettuce: You can start lettuce both indoors and outdoors.Sometimes, starting them indoors is easiest, because the seeds are very small, and hard to handle. You can control your environment better if you plant them indoors. But if you decide to plant your lettuce directly outside, pelleted seed is good, because it is easier to plant sparingly, and with better accuracy. Pelleted seed also has a seed coating that can help with germination. Plant your seeds evenly, two to four inches apart, and ¼ to ½ inch deep.

  • Other vegetables: Asparagus, beets, carrot, swiss chard, onion, parsnip, potato, radish, spinach, turnip, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, peppers, tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, and corn

Growing a vegetable garden in Zone 4 is very rewarding.

Perennial Flowers for Zone 4

A clump of Ferns growing in the garden
Ferns – image by Sharon and Peter Komidar via Flickr

If you like to see your flowers come up, year after year, then perennial flowers are a great choice. A perennial flower will survive the winter in its hardiness zone, whereas an annual will die with the frost.

  • Fern: Ferns do not flower, but their thick, lush foliage is so beautiful, they really don’t need a flower. Fern leaves are called fronds and consist of a leafy blade and a leaf stalk. The shape, size, and texture vary from species to species. When a Fern’s frond unrolls in the spring, this is called a fiddlehead. Fiddleheads are edible. The Lady Fern and the Japanese Painted Fern are great choices for Zone 4 climates.

  • Yarrow: The Yarrow is a perennial herb that looks great in flower beds. It is perfect for borders, ground cover, and open meadows. The yarrow has clusters of ferny foliage and produces showy flower heads comprised of many tiny, tightly packed flowers. These flowers can be yellow, red, or pink, and butterflies love them. Yarrow is great for cut flower arrangements and for drying, as well. Some good varieties for Zone 4 include Little Moonshine, Milly Rock, and New Vintage.

  • Anise Hyssop: An Anise Hyssop is in the mint family and has a minty licorice scent. Both its leaves and flowers are fragrant. Plant the Anise Hyssop in a perennial border, along a walkway, or by a patio, especially if you want to enjoy the fragrance. It has tiny lavender-blue flowers that grow in a spiked tower, and they bloom all summer long. Blue Fortune is a great variety that is cold hardy to Zone 4.

  • Other perennials: Monkshood, Sweet Flag, Bugbane, Hollyhock, Ornamental Onion, Astilbe, Chrysanthemum, Dianthus, Geranium, Hibiscus, Iris, Salvia, Lilium, Hello Yellow, Blackberry Lily, Calamint, Cherry Bells, Trumpet Creeper, Purple Coneflower, and Coral Bells

These are just a few perennials you can plant in Zone 4. The options are nearly endless!

Herbs for Zone 4

Lemon Balm plant in the garden
Lemon Balm – image by Udo Schröter via Flickr

Herbs can add beauty and fragrance to a flower bed or compliment a vegetable garden quite nicely.

  • Bee Balm: Bee Balm is a perennial herb that grows two to four feet tall. It blooms in the spring and summer, in a variety of colors. The flowers are fragrant, edible, and used for medicinal purposes. They are also used in teas, jellies, stews, and soups. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds all love Bee Balm as well.

  • Garden Sage: Garden Sage is an aromatic, edible, bushy perennial shrub. It grows to be two feet tall and two to three feet wide. It too, is part of the mint family. Garden Sage produces bluish lavender or pinkish lavender flowers in upright spikes, in early summer. The leaves can be used fresh, dried, or for cooking. It is also used for medicinal purposes. Bees and butterflies love Garden Sage too.

  • Lemon Balm: Lemon Balm is also in the mint family, but it has lemon scented leaves. It is a bushy perennial with edible leaves and flowers. It’s white flowers bloom in both the summer and fall and attract bees. Lemon Balm is used in potpourri and for medicinal purposes.

  • Other herbs: Mountain Mint, Chives, Catnip, Chamomile, Hello Yellow, and Hyssop

These are just a few perennial herbs you can plant in Zone 4. You can also grow many varieties of annual herbs. Just be ready to replace them every spring or bring them indoors in the fall.

The Zone is Only Part of the Story

The USDA Hardiness Zone Map is a great place to start, when choosing plants for your garden.

The map is designed to give you the coldest average temperatures for a particular region, so that you can choose plants that will survive the winters where you live. There are other factors that affect the health of your plants, though, that these zones do not note.

Things like the pH balance of your soil, how much rain you receive, and how often the sun shines during the day, all influence the growth of your plants.

Creating the yard of your dreams is fun, but it’s helpful to know what plants grow best where, so that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Use our hardiness zone map to determine which zone you are in and give some of our recommendations a try. You’ll be happy you did!

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