USDA Zone 6: Where is it? What to Plant? Tips to Success
Many gardeners living in the central United States will find that their region falls under USDA zone 6. Zone 6 is comprised of largely temperate climates, with four distinct seasons.
For this reason, there is a wide range of trees, fruits, vegetables, and herbs that can thrive in areas that fall under this hardiness zone. People residing in zone 6 have an excellent selection of plants with which to establish their desired gardens.
Zone 6 is one of the 13 Plant Hardiness Zones as set out by the United States Department of Agriculture. The US Hardiness Zones map indicates the minimum average temperatures in every region of the continental United States and Puerto Rico. These zones help US gardeners and growers to surmise which plants will grow and thrive in any given location.
Each zone is divided into two subzones – a and b, and the lower the zone number is, the lower those temperatures will be.
No surprise then that zone 6, which sits comfortably near the middle of this range, is one of the more temperate zones to live and garden in. Its seasons are made up of warm and consistent summers and contrasting cold winters.
For those who want to avoid extreme weather patterns, both hot and cold, zone 6 can make a good choice. Just keep in mind that winters in this zone can still be very cold, with average minimum temperatures falling between 0 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
In states like Ohio and Kentucky which both exist almost entirely in zones 6a and 6b, the warm weather periods are long and enjoyable. Ohio’s average high temperatures sit at around 80 to 100 degrees F and in Kentucky around 70 to 85 degrees F.
Zone 6 spans across the central United States, latitudinally from the Pacific Northwest to the mid-Atlantic and further down into the Southwest.
It begins northernmost in Washington and Idaho, spanning down through parts of Oregon, Nevada, and Utah and reaching its southernmost points in small pockets of New Mexico, Arizona, and the very northernmost parts of Texas.
Zone 6 then spreads across a good portion of Middle America, covering much of Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia and snaking into the regions of many other states. It also stretches into parts of the Northern states of Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, and most of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
You will also find USDA zone 6 along the southern coastline of Alaska.
USDA growing zones are all divided into two subzones, A and B, which are in turn divided by 5 degrees F.
Growing Zone 6 is divided into 6a and 6b, which can be broken down into three temperature ranges.
- Zone 6: covers minimum average temperature spanning from -10 degrees to -0 degrees F.
- Zone 6a: consists of minimum average temperatures from -10 to -5 degrees F.
- Zone 6b: consists of minimum average temperatures from -5 to 0 degrees F.
These average minimum temperatures determine the zone, but they are only an estimate of what populations in these regions and subzones can expect for winter months. It is possible for colder temperatures to occur in Zone 6.
Frost dates tell you when to begin planting for the season, and when to stop. While each zone has expected frost dates, these are also average estimates and should not be taken as a rule, but as a guideline. Atypical seasons and unpredictable weather can result in later or earlier frost dates than usual.
- Last Frost Date: April 1-21st
- First Frost Date: October 17th – 31st
While certain states may fall largely under one growing zone, all states are contained under at least 2 or 3 growing zones, as every state has a varying climate throughout the year.
Take Nevada, for example, which falls under every zone from 4a to 10a.
The states covered by zone 6 include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Zone 6 is by far one of the most prominent zones in the continental United States, spanning from the Pacific Northwest, across much of the Midwest, and down to the Southwest, along the East coast and ending in the Northeast. It encompasses a whopping 37 states.
Keep in mind that in many of these states only small pockets of land fall under this zone, such as Montana and Wyoming, which fall under subzone 6a, and Texas and Arkansas, which fall under zone 6b, etc.
Planting in zone 6 should take place after the last frost in late March to April. It’s important to remember that these are just estimates, and frost dates can fluctuate by a couple of weeks in either direction. But generally speaking, April is the first month that gardeners in zone 6 can begin planting outside and the soil will be warm enough for seeds to germinate.
Many varieties of zone 6 vegetables can be planted indoors prior to and after the last frost date until the weather is suited to their needs.
Cold-weather crops such as kale, onions, broccoli, radish, and more can be sowed in March, and then carrots, lettuce, and beets can be sowed in April and May. Warm-weather crops such as beans, beets, tomatoes, okra, corn, squash, and peppers can be planted in early to mid-summer.
Of course, these are not all the vegetables you are able to grow in zone 6. When you choose your seedlings and starter plants make sure to read their packets and labels, which should tell you when to plant indoors, when to germinate, and when to harvest.
Our hardiness zone guide will help you to understand which trees, vegetables, flowers, and herbs will grow best in the zone you live in. As we’ve established, gardeners who live in zone 6 have a wealth of wonderful plants that will survive and thrive throughout the growing period. And there are a number of things you can do to plan and prepare your garden:
- Check the maturation dates on the backs of all of your seed packets. This will tell you how much time you have to grow your plants and whether you should start them indoors before the first frosts.
- The growing season for warm-weather plants in zone 6 is long enough that you may not have to start all of your warm crops indoors. However, plants that are given that extra time are likely to produce more and for longer.
- Maturation dates will tell you which seedlings should be started indoors.
- While zone 6 consists of temperate climates and weather patterns, its winters are still undeniably cold, and it is best to winterize your perennial vegetables and herbs, flower beds, and fruit trees, by mulching and feeding before the thaw cycles and wrapping your trees and saplings in burlap and chicken wire for extra winter protection.
Cold-weather crops can be planted immediately after the last crops in April, as the soil begins to warm.
We’ve covered the details of the zone 6 climate, now it’s time to choose the plants and trees you want to grow! Local garden centers and plant nurseries are the best places to start, as they will stock most plants that are suitable for your growing zone, and may inspire you with species you may not have otherwise considered.
Seed companies are another great option, as their tags and packets will detail information on plant hardiness zones and temperature ranges. Ask local friends and family too, as every community has groups of expert gardeners who can impart zone-specific wisdom, particularly concerning microclimates and local weather patterns that affect what you can grow.
Otherwise, you can do your own research both online and in gardening books and brochures. There is plenty of information out there to ensure you have everything you need to prepare and grow a vibrant zone 6 garden.
You will be looking at perennials, which need to survive -10 degrees Fahrenheit when zone 5 winters are at their coldest, and annuals, which die off in winter and need to be replanted.
Native species are worth considering too, as they tend to be very low maintenance and able to thrive in most weather patterns and soil conditions in zone 6.
Now that you understand more about the climate and locations of this zone, you can choose the kinds of plants that will work for your Zone 6 property.
Zone 6 has one of the widest ranges of trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, and vegetables that can be grown in the United States.
Take a look down below at some of the excellent planting options available to you in Zone 6.
Zone 6 contains an incredibly diverse range of trees across all of its states, from colorful fruit trees and flowering trees, to mighty evergreens and useful natives.
Abundant fruit trees can be grown throughout zone 6. Here are some of the many types of fruit trees you may want to plant.
- Apple trees: One of the most common and popular fruit tree types in the US, the apple tree grows well in Zone 6, for the most part. Not all apple trees can be grown in this zone, but some of the most popular varieties will thrive. This includes but is not limited to the creamy, crunchy Honeycrisp, the humble McIntosh which is excellent fresh or cooked, the wildly popular Gala, the tart Haralred, and the smooth green Lodi.
- Plum trees: Plum trees are an excellent choice for the zone 6 landscape. Plenty of European and Japanese varieties will grow well, producing abundant fruit for years to come. If you are looking for a plum variety for your zone 6 garden, consider the Damson for making jellies and preserves, the rich, sweet Stanley, pink, tangy Santa Rosa’s, or the ‘all-purpose’ Premier. Many varieties of plum trees are not self-pollinating, so take this into consideration when planning your fruit tree planting.
- Cherry trees: If you love cherries, you’re living in the right place. Most varieties and cultivars of cherry trees will survive and thrive in the temperate zone 6 climate. You can plant sweet cherries to eat fresh from the tree, sour cherries that are excellent for cooking, or hybrids that can do both! When looking for cherry trees for zone 6, consider the Montgomery, Danube, and North Star for sour varieties, and the Richmond, Stella, and Sweetheart for sweet, among other varieties.
- Other fruit trees: Moongold and Sungold apricots, Bosc, Anjou and Bartlett European pears, Kosui, Atago, and Shinseiki Asian pears, Elberta peaches, Halehaven peaches, Redhaven peaches, Madison peaches, Candor peaches, Reliance peaches, Royal Blenheim apricots, Harlgow apricots, Chinese Sweet Pit apricots. Several varieties of figs are also hardy to zone 6.
When spring arrives after the cold snap of a zone 6 winter, flowering trees go a long way in brightening and beautifying landscapes around the country. Here are some of the loveliest flowering trees that grow well in zone 6.
- Tulip Tree: Also known as the Tulip Poplar, this majestic tree is named for its tri-color orange, green, and yellow flowers that resemble the tulip flower. These trees can grow as high as 150 feet or more (70-90 feet in cultivation) and are stunning in spring when their flowers bloom against their unique bright green leaves. It is most commonly grown as a shade tree in zone 6 and lining for driveways and walkways. Beginner gardeners will appreciate its adaptability and resistance to pests and disease.
- Eastern Redbud: Those who want a bright, showstopping flowering tree to plant in zone 6 should look no further than the Eastern Redbud. In spring these small ornamental trees yield enormous clusters of pink flowers that cover every branch, which blooms for weeks at a time. They are a very attractive landscaping choice with plenty of uses, including as a specimen, paired with a water feature, and even as a small shade tree in summer. As native trees, they can thrive in the majority of soil conditions.
- Saucer Magnolia: The Saucer Magnolia gets its name from its large pink blossoms that are as big as saucers! This ornamental tree is an admirable, fast-growing addition to your zone 6 landscape, with its showy spring display, sweet fragrance, and rounded, symmetrical form. They offer four seasons of appeal and plenty of practical uses as potential specimen plants, accent plants, privacy screens, and windbreaks.
- Other flowering trees: Mimosa, White Fringe Tree, Northern Catalpa, Goldenchain Tree, Judas Tree, Amur Chokecherry, Flowering Cherry, Meldar, Chitalpa, Flowering Ash, Florida Anise, Althea, European Mountain Ash, Crabapple
With four distinct seasons, evergreens are a staple in zone 6, offering a pop of color to the landscape in those cold winter months.
- Leyland Cypress: A hybrid of the Monterey Cypress and Nootka Cypress, the Leyland Cypress is one of the most effective zone 6 evergreens for privacy screening. The Leyland grows fast, reaching heights of around 60-70 feet on average, and is tolerant to urban pollution, salt spray, high humidity, and high rainfall. These dense trees grow narrow and uniform but can easily be trimmed and pruned into the size and shape that you want.
- Austrian Pine: Another effective evergreen hedge plant, the attractive Austrian Pine is a fast-growing conifer with strong branches and thick needles that do an excellent job of brightening up the winter landscape and acting as an effective windbreak, sound barrier, and privacy tree. They are also one of the best choices for urban environments in zone 6 due to their moderate pollution tolerance.
- Norway Spruce: Everyone’s favorite Christmas tree, the ornamental Norway Spruce isn’t just a staple of holiday decorations – it’s also an attractive accent tree, windbreak, and specimen tree. With enough space and the right conditions this spruce is very easy to grow and maintain, and for gardeners who prefer a smaller spruce, the Pumila Glauca and Nidiformis cultivars are a great choice too.
- Other evergreen trees: White Spruce, Eastern White Pine, Japanese White Pine, Arborvitae, Japanese Cryptomeria, Canadian Hemlock, Hinoki Cypress, Silver Korean Firs, Dwarf Blue Spruce, Red-Tipped Photinia, Taylor Juniper, American Holly, Fraser Fir, Bristlecone Pine, Golden Korean Fir, Contorted White Pine, Giant Sequoia, Dwarf Blue Spruce, Umbrella Pine, Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar
The zone 6 climate is also home to its fair share of beautiful and useful native trees.
- River Birch: The River Birch is the most planted birch in the US for a reason. Its graceful form, textured, peeling bark, and bright foliage with tri-seasonal interest makes it a stunning addition to any property. They reach around 25-50 feet tall so they don’t dominate the landscape, and look stunning as an accent tree, near a water feature, or in open public spaces. They are fast-growing and relatively easy to maintain.
- Northern Red Oak: This handsome red oak tree is a beloved classic of American landscape gardening, renowned for its rich red foliage in fall and its use as an effective summer shade tree. Like many reliable natives, the northern red oak requires minimal care once it has been established, and can span up to 50-60 feet tall on average. They are very adaptable for use in landscape gardening and are often planted in public spaces to line streets, boulevards, parks, and golf courses.
- Black Walnut: If you are looking for nut trees to grow in zone 6, consider the Black Walnut. Black Walnut trees may be one of the most commercially useful natives in the US, highly prized for their nutritional nuts and timber which is valued by furniture makers, woodworkers, and all manner of product manufacturers. It is also a useful shade tree and appealing ornamental. Gardeners should be wary, however – despite their value and popularity these trees can inhibit the growth of plants around them, due to their production of the chemical juglone.
- Other native trees: Northern Pin Oak, Serviceberry, Common Hackberry, Ironwood, River Birch, Quaking Aspen, American Hornbeam, Butternut, Bur Oak, Marsh Marigolds, Cardinal Flower, Flowering Dogwood, Red Maple, Shagbark Hickory
Zone 6 can accommodate both warm and cold weather plants, meaning that gardeners in these regions can choose from virtually every vegetable excluding those that rely on hot weather. Most can be planted immediately after the last frost, while some hot-weather plants should be started indoors a few weeks prior, and moved outside when the weather heats up.
- Parsnips: Parsnips are a cool-weather long-growing plant that takes 120 to 180 days to mature. Sow your seeds outside in May, and they can be harvested in late autumn, around August or September. Do not worry about the first frosts in late September – because they are frost-hardy, parsnips can actually benefit from frost exposure. Seeds should be germinated in soil temperatures between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Eggplant: While they grow best in hotter climates, eggplant lovers can grow these delicious vegetables in zone 6 too. Their seeds should be started indoors for approximately 8 weeks before being transplanted outside. So in zone 6 start your eggplant seeds indoors in March, during the last frosts, and plant them outdoors in May just prior to the beginning of the hot summer. Eggplants can be transplanted outside when temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees F.
- Asparagus: If you’re looking for a hardy perennial for your zone 6 garden, asparagus makes a great choice. They can be planted indoors approximately four weeks before the last frost, so sometime in February or March, then transplanted outside in April. Their shoots should appear once soil temperatures reach around 40 degrees. Keep in mind that it can take up to 3 years before your asparagus shoots are worth harvesting, so these perennials are best suited for the patient gardener.
- Other vegetables: Brussel sprouts, eggplant, onions, peas, beans, peppers, lettuce, okra, tomatoes, spinach, asparagus, celery, cabbage, cauliflowers, cucumbers, squash, turnip, radish, rutabaga, pumpkin, corn, collards, endive, arugula, carrots, kohlrabi, parsnips, chard
You’ll have your pick of the bunch when it comes to finding perfect perennials for spring to fall in zone 6.
- Rhododendron: The delicate, rose-like rhododendron comes in many evergreen varieties of size and color, all of which provide a vibrant pop of color to any garden. Beginner flower gardeners can’t go wrong with the large, hardy Catawbiense, and the PJM rhododendron is an easy-growing dwarf perfect to fill space in smaller gardens. The Gibraltar is another excellent choice, with its brilliant orange flowers that will brighten any garden.
- Yarrow: This classic perennial blooms for months at a time, from spring through to fall, and is very easy to grow. It can come in a variety of colors including white, yellow, pink, orange, and red, and is offset by delicate fern-like fronds that provide their own unique appeal. These plants grow up to 12 inches in height and are treasured around the world for their medicinal properties, from pain relief to inflammation reduction.
- Delphinium: Blooming in the summertime, the delphinium is best known for its incredible 20-foot tall towers of stunning sapphire blue flowers, though some varieties will also produce pink, white, yellow, and red blooms. They add height and volume to any garden and provide dramatic effect for herbaceous borders. They grow well with roses, peonies, and other vertical-growing flowers. These plants can be cut back after their first flowering to encourage a second flush.
- Other perennial flowers: Desert Globemallow, Yarrow, Aster, White Texas Star Hibiscus, Lithodora, Leatherleaf Viburnum, Firethorn, Marsh Marigolds, Cardinal Flower, Astilbe, Daylily, Beebalm, Bellflower, Echinacea, Peonies, Catmint, Tickseed, Phlox, Geranium, Bleeding Heart, Russian Sage, Salvia
Hardy herbs, especially perennials, are an excellent addition to your garden and your pantry! Thankfully there is no shortage of flavorful and aromatic herbs you can grow in your zone 6 landscape.
- Rosemary: Rosemary is a favorite for its culinary potential, and while it leans toward warmer temperatures it can grow in zone 6 with enough winter protection. These aromatic perennial shrubs should be planted in March at the earliest and preferably later to give them the best opportunity to thrive – though be careful not to plant them too late, so they have enough time to mature. Considering potting your rosemary plant so you can move it indoors before the first frosts.
- Chives: Both a useful culinary herb and ornamental plant for gardens or borders, chives are perennial herbs hardy from zone 3 to 9. They taste like onions and bear beautiful purple flowers in spring. Be mindful when planting chives in zone 6 – you don’t want to plant them too early or too late. Plant seeds indoors approximately 2 months before the last frost. Once the weather warms you can plant them outdoors.
- Basil: While basil can thrive in zone 6, ensure that the last frosts have passed completely before planting them outside. The earliest you can plant sage in this zone is April, but May is ideal. The latest you can plant basil and expect a bountiful harvest is in August. Be mindful that they will not thrive in temperatures of 35 degrees F or lower, and will become stunted and possibly die. Otherwise, they are relatively easy to grow and can be pruned and harvested as early as 60 days after seeding.
- Other herbs: Chamomile, Catnip, Mint, Cilantro, Dill, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Sage, Thyme, Tarragon, St Johns Wort, Valerian, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Feverfew, Chervil
USDA hardiness zones are useful for gardeners who want to familiarize themselves with the climate of the area they live in. However, these zones only tell part of the story. They are only designed to tell you the average minimum temperatures of the zone that you live in, so you can better choose plants and trees that will survive winter weather in your landscape.
What these growing zones cannot tell you is all of the other important factors that you need to know to prepare your garden: including local weather patterns and micro-climates that can affect the land you garden on, and the soil, sun, and water requirements that every plant needs to survive and thrive.
Every plant and tree has different needs no matter what hardiness zone they are planted in, and it’s up to you to learn about these unique requirements. You must also get to know the area you are gardening in: what kind of soil are you using, and how much sunlight do you get per day? Are you exposed to salt spray or urban pollution? And much more.
When all of these things are taken into account you will be able to choose the best plants possible, bringing you one step closer to the perfect zone 6 garden.