Cold-Climate Gardening

Written by April Reinhardt (last updated March 29, 2023)

If you are an avid gardener, then you are most likely familiar with the Cold Hardiness Zone Map, detailing the zone in which you live. Zones 2, 3, and 4 are cold-climate zones, where the growing season is only 110 frost-free days, and the soil is a combination of clay and sand.

Cold-climate gardening can be challenging, but many gardeners grow plants successfully in their cold zones. Perform research before turning that first shovel of dirt. Here are some things to consider before you turn that first shovel of dirt in your back yard:

  • Subscribe to several mail-order nursery catalogs. A good plant catalog will contain a zone map and indicate which plants are cold-hardy. There are also specialized catalogs for different zones.
  • Know your zone and chose zone-specific plants. If you live in zone 2, don't purchase a plant labeled hardy for zone 4.
  • If you can shop at a nursery in person, ask questions about how much winter protection your plants need. A good nursery can recommend a wide variety of cold-hardy plants for your garden, with instructions about planting, the growing season, and winter protection.

The short growing season, early frosts, heavy snows, and arctic winds are not the only challenges for cold-climate gardeners. High altitudes are also an obstacle. In order for plants to thrive, they must establish a good root system that will provide enough air, nutrients, and moisture. Lack of soil in high altitudes is a severe limitation. Bedrock is common in high altitudes, so it is imperative to create enough soil above the bedrock when planting in cold climate areas.

Cold-climate gardening zones have recently been further classified as microclimates, where growing conditions and weather patterns differ. Take a look at natural plants in your area, and where they grow and thrive in your microclimates. Some typical cold-climate microclimates are:

  • Sunny but sheltered. Plants that are in constant sunlight, but sheltered from wind, usually grow best in the warmest of the cold zones.
  • Deep shaded. Plants that grow naturally in shady areas need extra moisture, but also risk early freezing since the moisture in the ground freezes faster than in sunny areas.
  • Canopied. Plants in covered, canopied areas like protection from wind and sun, and the soil is deeper.
  • Exposed to wind and sun. Plants that are constantly in the open wind and sun usually have small leaves and flowers, preventing leaf burn.

Meeting the challenge of cold-climate gardening can be very satisfying. Remember to look at the plants that grow naturally in your habitat, research why and how they thrive in harsh conditions, and then choose plants that are zone-specific, and your garden will lend beauty during the entire growing season.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...


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