USDA Zone 5: Where is it? What to Plant? Tips to Success
Are you wondering if you live in USDA Zone 5?
Maybe you just moved, and you want to beautify your yard. Or maybe you’ve never been interested in gardening before, but now it sounds like a challenge you are ready to take on.
Either way, gardening will be easier – and more successful – if you know what hardiness zone you are in.
So, where is Zone 5 and which states are in this Zone? What plants will be hardy enough to survive the winters there? We cover all that and more in this article.
What is Zone 5?
Zone 5 is one of the 13 USDA hardiness zones on the USDA Plant Hardiness Map, which outlines the minimum average winter temperatures of each region.
These zones run longitudinal across the United States, for the most part. Each zone is ten degrees warmer or cooler than the zone next to it.
The zone ratings reflect the coldest average temperature of that zone. A plant needs to be able to survive that temperature to be considered “hardy” for that region.
The colder the zone, the lower the zone number.
Zone 5 is not one of the coldest zones, but it is definitely not one of the warmest, either.
It starts in the northwestern part of the United States and sweeps down through central United States, before swooping back up to the northeast coast. It covers 35 states in all.
Like Zone 4 before it, Zone 5 has a northern, cold climate, with snowy winters and cooler summers.
It can get down to -20°F in Zone 5, and as warm as 90°F. Lebanon, New Hampshire, is in Zone 5a, where the summer highs average out around 82.7°F in July. The coldest average temperature is 9.3°F, in January.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, it usually gets as cold as 14.4°F in January, and around a mean maximum temperature of 89.4°F in July. Lincoln is in Zone 5b.
The growing season is short in Zone 5, lasting only from late spring to early fall.
This can make gardening challenging, but if you know what to consider, and find the plants that need what you can provide, you should do well.
Where is Zone 5?
Zone 5 starts on the northern border of Washington and runs through Idaho and Montana. It dips down into Wyoming, Colorado, and the tip of New Mexico, before going back up through Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and the eastern edge of Wisconsin.
It then picks up again in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, the northwest tip of Connecticut, and the southern edge of Maine.
Oregon, Nevada, Utah, South Dakota, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, California, Maryland, Arizona, Tennessee, and North Carolina all have small pockets of Zone 5 scattered throughout them as well.
And up in Alaska, the southern coast is in Zone 5.
Minimum Average Temperatures in Zone 5
Each zone is divided into two subzones. Zone 5’s subzones are Zone 5a and Zone 5b.
Each subzone is separated by five degrees, as follows:
- Zone 5: minimum average temperatures of -20°F to -10°F.
- Zone 5a: minimum average temperatures of -20°F to -15°F
- Zone 5b: minimum average temperatures of -15°F to -10°F
These are just the average coldest temperatures. It can get colder.
Frost Dates in Zone 5
Each zone’s frost date is slightly earlier or later than the zones next to it as well. In Zone 5, the frost dates usually fall in April and October.
- Last frost date: April 7 – 30
- First frost date: October 13 – 21
As you can see, it is a two-week range. But sometimes the frosts can set earlier or later. It all depends on the weather patterns of that specific year.
Zone 5 States
Every state has more than one type of climate, so each state has more than one hardiness zone, with the exception of Delaware which only has one climate zone. Most states represent just a few zones. Alaska, however, represents zones 1 – 8.
Zone 5 can be found in 35 states across the United States:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Some of these states only represent Zone 5a, and others just Zone 5b. Many represent both zones.
To find out exactly which zone your home is in, use our interactive hardiness zone map. You can enter your zip code to find out whether you are in Zone 5a or Zone 5b. This function is helpful if you are on the border of zones, for example you may live in Zone 5, right on the border of growing zone 6.
When to Plant in Zone 5
Typically, you should plant after the last frost date, and when your soil temperature is warm enough for your seeds to germinate. Not all plants follow these rules, however.
Since Zone 5 is cooler, cold weather crops do best. You can usually direct-sow beets, carrots, corn, green beans, onions, peas, radishes, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips, squash, and zucchini.
Your warm season crops should be stared indoors, though. Or you can buy starter plants.
Your seed packet will tell you when to start your plants. It should list how long it takes your plant to germinate; from seed to harvest.
It’ll also tell you what the soil temperature needs to be, and how many weeks before the last frost you should start your plants indoors.
Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cucumbers, egg plants, and celery should all be started indoors. Then, transfer these plants outside after the last frost date, which is usually around Memorial Day, in Zone 5.
Tips for Gardening in Zone 5
You can use the hardiness zone guide to learn which plants grow best in your environment. Many trees, flowers, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables all do well in Zone 5.
But if you are planting a vegetable garden, you don’t need to worry about the hardiness zones. Your garden vegetables won’t need to survive the winter months.
Instead, pay attention to your first and last frost dates, your soil temperatures, and how long it takes for your plant to mature.
- The maturation date should be listed on the back of the seed packet.
- Your warm seasoned crops won’t have time to fully grow outside, since the season is so short. You will need to start them indoors.
- If you want to transplant around May 27, you should start your seeds indoors between April 1 and April 15. Tomatoes should be started six to eight weeks before the last frost, cucumbers six to four weeks, peppers, and egg plants ten weeks before.
- Your cold weather crops can be directly planted after the last frost, when the soil warms up. This is usually around the end of May as well.
You can help your soil warm up faster with plastic, and you can plant earlier if you use green houses, cold frames, and hoop houses. They aren’t necessary, but they will extend your growing season.
Choosing Plants for Zone 5
Once you know what zone you live in, it’s time to choose out your plants! A trip to a local green house or nursery is a great way to start.
They usually offer what will grow in your region and give you countless ideas for your garden.
The nursery will have both, annuals, and perennials. You can plant annuals, but keep in mind that these plants are meant to die with the fall frost.
Perennials, on the other hand, are meant to come back year after year. They need to be hardy enough to survive the cold winters of Zone 5.
So, check the tag. Look for the hardiness zone. It should say Zone 5 or lower.
You can plant perennials meant for Zone 6 or higher, but they will die with the frost. You’ll need to replant them next spring, just like you would an annual.
You can also spend some time researching native plants in your area. If they are native, they’ll live in your garden as well.
Keep in mind, though, that the amount of sunlight, water, and soil nutrients you can offer all affect the growth of your plant.
What to Grow in Zone 5
Need a little more inspiration? Not a problem! Here are our recommendations for Zone 5 gardens. You can choose from a wide variety of trees, shrubs, perennials, herbs, and vegetables.
Trees for Zone 5
You should have no troubles choosing out a few trees that meet your needs for Zone 5. Many fruit trees, flowering trees, evergreen trees, and native trees all thrive in Zone 5. You are bound to find a few that you like!
Fruit trees can be tricky. Some need cooler temperatures to thrive, while others like it warmer. These trees all do great in Zone 5.
- Apple Trees: There are oh, so many apples to choose from! The Empire Apple is a beautiful dark red apple. It is a semi-dwarf cultivar, meaning it will grow only 15 feet tall and about 15 feet wide, so it is good for smaller lots. It is a cross between a Red Delicious and a McIntosh apple. It produces a juicy, firm, crunchy, sweet apple that is great for salads and fresh eating, and good for sauces, baking, and pie. The Gala Apple is also a semi-dwarf apple tree, growing just 12 to 15 feet tall. It produces a red apple over a yellow background. These apples are typically sweet and mild but can sometimes be tart. They are great for fresh eating, for salads, sauces, and for cooking with. The Ginger Gold apple is fun to plant because it ripens so much earlier than all other apples. You can get apples starting in July, all throughout August. It is pale green at first but ripens to a pale yellow. It too, is a semi-dwarf tree. Its apples are sweet, crisp, and tart. They hold their shape well when cooked and are great for fresh eating and for salads. Other apples that are hardy to Zone 5 include Golden Delicious, GoldRush, Jonagold, Mutsu, Red Delicious, Rome, and Stayman.
- Plum Trees: Plums do well in colder climates, and in general, are hardy from zones 3 to 8. Different varieties are hardy to different zones. Plums generally grow 15 to 25 feet tall, and 15 to 25 feet wide. They can be single or multi-stemmed. They are fast growing and live about 15 to 30 years. If you are interested in planting a plum tree, Brooks, Santa Rosa, and Blues Jam are great choices for Zone 5.
- Native Pawpaw: The Native Pawpaw is a fun fruit tree that you wouldn’t normally think of planting. It belongs to the custard apple family, which is widespread throughout the tropics. The fruit looks like mangos, and tastes like a cross between a mango, pineapple, and banana. The Native Pawpaw likes hot summers and cold winters, which makes Zone 5 planting perfect. It grows 12 to 25 feet tall, flowers in the spring, and produces its fruit after the apple trees and pears do.
- Other fruit trees: Autumn Brilliance Service Berry, Persimmon, Cherry Trees, such as Bing, Stella, and Rainier, Apricots, such as Goldstrike and Moorpark, and Peach Trees, such as Bailey Hardy Peach, Belle of Georgia, Elberta, Redhaven, Saturn, and Sugar Princess
There is nothing like the beauty of flowering trees after a long, cold winter. When you see those little pink, white, and purple trees dotting yards and lining fields and roads, you can’t help but smile because its spring!
- Snow Fountains Weeping Cherry: This weeping cherry tree grows 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide, making it a great choice for small city lots. It blooms white, showy flowers in April and May. It has cascading branches that dip all the way down to the ground, looking like a white fountain in the spring. Its leaves are dark green in the summer and gold and red in the fall. It does produce fruit, but it is not edible. The hummingbirds and butterflies love it though! The Snow Fountains Weeping Cherry is also called the Snofozam Weeping Cherry.
- Wisteria: The Wisteria produces an abundance of flowers. They are highly fragrant pink, purple, or white flowers that form in long, drooping clusters. Wisteria is a woody vine that grows to about 10 to 25 feet tall, but it requires pruning. It can be grown from seed but cutting is better. Wisteria is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.
- Bradford Pear: The Bradford Pear grows about 50 feet tall, and about 20 to 30 feet wide. It grows fast, and is tolerant to urban conditions, which makes it a great tree for city yards. It does require pruning and can be invasive. The Bradford Pear is one of the first to bloom in the spring, flowing with tons of white blossoms. They are gorgeous. But they smell like a decaying animal when they are done blooming, so plant at your own risk!
- Other flowering trees: Weeping Higan Cherry, Flowering Dogwood, Chinese Fringe Tree, Peegee Hydrangea, Saucer Magnolia, Goji Berry, and Golden Rain Tree
Flowering trees are a welcome site after a long, cold winter, but evergreen trees keep the winter gorgeous. It can often be cold and gray, but there is nothing quite like the stately beauty of snow or ice clinging to a tall evergreen. It’s magical.
- Mountain Hemlock: The Mountain Hemlock grows to 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It is a slow growing, pyramidal tree that is suitable for small lots. It has tight foliage and dense needles that range from dark green to blue green. The needles are all one length, which is one way to tell it apart from the Western Hemlock. The Mountain Hemlock has light purple to deep purple cones.
- Western Redcedar: The Western Redcedar grows to be 100 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It is a large forest tree that is prized for its wood, because it doesn’t decay easily and its nice and light. The Western Redcedar has yellow-green needles, but the older needles are shed in the fall. Female cones are woody and only a half inch long. It has a showy, reddish brown, furrowed bark. It can be peeled off in long strips and has been historically used for basket weaving and clothing.
- Douglas Fir: The Douglas Fir grows 200 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It is also valued for its timber. It is a pyramidal tree, with lower branches that droop and upper branches that point up. It has a thickish reddish brown bark, and both, male and female cones. The Douglas Fir produces red flowers in April and May.
- Other evergreen trees: Austrian Pine, Emerald Green Aborvitae, Alaska Cedar, Confucious Hinoki Cypress, and Dawn Redwood
You can’t go wrong with one of these trees, native to Zone 5.
- Black Cotton Wood: The Black Cotton Wood Tree is not native to every state in Zone 5, but it is native to Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, California, and Nevada. It grows 150 feet tall and 40 feet wide. It blooms white, fragrant flowers in April and May, and has good fall color. The leaves are dark green on top and silvery green underneath. The Black Cotton Wood is also known as the Balsam Poplar.
- Western Hemlock: The Western Hemlock is found along the coast, from Alaska to California. It’s also in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana. It grows 100 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It has soft, flat needles that turn a darker green as the tree matures, but unlike the Mountain Hemlock, the needles of the Western Hemlock are not equal length. The Western Hemlock is the Washington State Tree.
- Red Adler: The Red Adler is native to Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Montana. It grows 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It blooms yellow catkins in April and has a showy bark. The bark is smooth and light grey but turns white with age. It has a pyramidal or dome shaped crown with a straight tree trunk.
- Other native trees: Mountain Hemlock, Western Redcedar, Wisteria, Douglas Fir, Pawpaw, and American Sycamore
Vegetables for Zone 5
You can plant pretty much any vegetable you’d like in Zone 5, because the vegetables do not need to make it through the winter. Your growing season is short, however, so you may need to start vegetables indoors.
- Beets: Beets take 55 to 65 days to mature, which means you need to plant them around April 1 – 15, to harvest them in early summer, or August 1 – 25, for a fall harvest. You can direct sow beets, but the soil needs to be about 50°F for germination. It only takes 5 to 8 days for germination. Colder soil takes a couple more weeks, but you can start planting as soon as the ground is workable.
- Spinach: Spinach takes 40 to 45 days to mature, which means you should plant April 1 – 20 for a summer crop and August 10 – September 20 for a fall crop. Directly sow spinach as soon as the ground is 40°F. Spinach is tricky; it requires six weeks of cool weather, from planting to harvest. It cannot grow in mid-summer if it’s too hot. You can plant again, for a fall harvest, if it is not hotter than 70°F.
- Radish: Radish takes 25 to 30 days to mature. You can plant radishes anywhere from March 25 to May 1 for a summer crop and August 1 – 20 for a fall crop. It germinates in four to five days, so plant as soon as the soil is workable. You can keep on planting radishes throughout the growing season, every week or so.
- Other vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, kale, lettuce, string beans, carrots, corn, squash, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower
Perennial Flowers for Zone 5
So many flowers are hardy to Zone 5, it might be hard for you to choose. Here are some of our recommendations, to get you started.
- Penstemon: Penstemon is very tall, slender, and beautiful. There are many varieties. Huskar Red is one, and it has maroon foliage and light pink flowers. Dark Towers is another. Penstemon tends to attract songbirds. You can plant them in the late summer by seed, by cuttings, or you can divide them. The Penstemon is also called the Bearded Tongue.
- Sea Holly: The Sea Holly grows in stiff, erect clumps of one to three feet tall, and one to two feet wide. They have amazing, unusual spikey flower heads that resemble a thimble. They love full sun and bloom a lot, particularly June through September. Butterflies love these steely blue flowers. Sea Holly is great for cottage gardens, perennial border planting, and rock gardens. They are also called Blue Eryngo and Sea Star Thistle.
- Hyssop: Hyssop is a compact plant that has long-lasting blooms, from summer to fall. It smells like black licorice and repels deer. The hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies love the Hyssop, however. There are many varieties. A few that do well in Zone 5 include Coronado, Tango, Tutti Futti, and the Anise Hyssop Blue Fortune. Hyssops look great in raised flower beds and pots.
- Other perennial flowers: Forget-Me-Not, Greek Anemone, Japanese Anemone, Spanish Snapdragon, Russian Tarragon, some varieties of Sweet Flag, such as Ogon, Varigatus, and American Sweet Flag, and some varieties of Aster, such as Italian Aster and Happy End Aster
Herbs for Zone 5
Just like garden vegetables, your herbs do not necessarily need to survive the cold winters of Zone 5. Some herbs are annuals or biennials and need to be replanted every year or so.
But if you desire a perennial herb garden, then these herbs are all hardy to Zone 5, and will pop back up every spring.
- Lavender: Lavender is a woody, evergreen shrub. It grows 1 to 4 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. Spiked flowers grow on top of leafless stems. You should prune the flowers when they get old, to prevent the plant from becoming too woody. The entire plant is fragrant, and the bees love it. You can grow Lavender in a rock garden, pollinator garden, edible garden, or in containers. Lavender is used in perfumes, soaps, lotions, and teas. It is also used for flavoring and medicinal purposes.
- Oregano: Oregano grows to just ½ foot tall to 3 feet tall, and 1 to 2 feet wide. It may grow in bushy mounds, prostrate, or erect. It produces white, pink, or purple blooms in 1-inch spikes. Oregano can vary in species, flavor, aroma, size, and color. It is grown as both, an ornamental plant and for culinary purposes. You can plant Oregano in an herb garden, cottage garden, or rock garden. You can also use it as ground cover, for perennial borders, and as a container plant. Oregano is very versatile! No matter where you plant it, the bees and butterflies will love it.
- Thyme: Thyme is a woody, dwarf evergreen perennial. It forms a mound that is 6 to 12 inches tall and 6 to 12 inches wide. It is a very low maintenance plant, but it should be pruned back to keep it from getting leggy. Cutting it back in early spring will also keep it from getting too woody. Pinkish white or lavender flowers bloom in late spring to early summer, but you should harvest it just before it flowers. That is when the essential oils are at their peak. Thyme is used for culinary and medicinal purposes. It looks great in herb and vegetable gardens, rock gardens, borders, and containers. The bees and butterflies also love Thyme.
- Other herbs: Chives, Mint, Anise Hyssop, Catnip, Caraway, Fennel
The Zone is Only Part of the Story
Planting a garden can be fun, but it can also be challenging. You may have big ideas of what your garden or landscape will look like, but it doesn’t always turn out the way you envision it.
The most successful gardeners understand what their plants need, and how to optimize the landscape to meet those needs.
You can start by learning what zone you live in, and which plants will thrive there.
But you also need to know your plant’s needs. Every plant is different. They all need different amounts of sunlight, water, and different types of nutrients from the soil.
If you choose plants that are compatible with what your location can offer, then you will have a better chance of growing the garden of your dreams!