Growing Zones Guide: Zone 4

Sarah Logie — Dec 10, 2021

Do you live in Zone 4 and need some planting and care tips for your trees and shrubs? Check out our planting considerations and specific plant recommendations for your area below so you can grow confidently!

Where is Zone 4?

The USDA Hardiness Zone 4 comprises some of the coldest and northernmost areas of the continental United States. It stretches in a crescent shape from northern Idaho to northern New York and New England, and from the Canadian border south into parts of the Colorado Rockies.

USDA Map

Zone 4 covers a broad and diverse geological region of the country. Some common characteristics are four distinct seasons, relatively dry climates bordering on arid, and sharp temperature variations within short periods. Although these areas usually receive heavy snowfall in winter, the snow is generally fluffy and low moisture. Zone 4 has a shorter growing season compared to warmer growing zones.

What to Consider When Planting in Zone 4

Each zone has 10 degrees of minimum average temperature difference. Warm, tropical Zone 11’s minimum temperature rarely falls below 40°F, giving it a nearly year-round growing season. By the time you reach Zone 4, low temperatures can range from -30°F to -20°F, with mid-May as the ideal outdoor planting time.

Annual flowers will do well in the summer regardless of zone, but when you purchase perennials, shrubs, grasses, and trees, they must be hardy to Zone 4. This characteristic means that they can withstand the minimum average temperature well enough to thrive each year.

Wherever you live, you should also understand your soil conditions before you buy, as soil type will affect the success of your new plants. Soil types can range from sandy to clay and have varying drainage levels, so it’s important to know what you have and how to prepare it for your new plants.

Soil Graphic

Choosing Plants for Zone 4

You may be surprised at the variety of plants that do well in Zone 4. From Evergreens to Fruit Trees to Shrubs & Hedges, a wide variety of beautiful and cold-hardy species not only withstand cold temperatures but thrive in the shorter growing season, as well. Here’s a look at some options:

Shade Trees

The wide-open spaces in Zone 4 can get warm in the summer, despite their northern latitudes. Sometimes, planting a lovely, large shade tree is the answer to keep yards and gardens cooler. Here’s some varieties that do well in Zone 4:

  • White Oak Tree: The quintessential shade tree, the White Oak is a beautiful and timeless tree that grows well nearly everywhere and in any soil. These trees grow from 40 to 100 feet tall and produce a classic canopy that enhances your property and beautifies the landscape.
  • Autumn Blaze Maple Tree (pictured below): Growing up to 50 feet tall, this fast-growing Maple branches beautifully, is pest- and disease-resistant, and turns a bright red-orange color in the autumn. It tolerates poor soil and is hardy in Zones 3-8.
  • Heritage® River Birch Tree: As its name implies, this tree grows from 40-50 feet and thrives in dense, wet soil but will tolerate many soil conditions. Its peeling bark adds texture and interest to your landscape, and it’s hardy in Zones 4-9.

Autumn Blaze Maple

Evergreens

There’s a reason that northern climates seem full of beautiful evergreens that make the air smell fresh. Whether you want a large tree to fill a space or a smaller species for privacy, these evergreens do well in Zone 4:

  • Canadian Hemlock: At its mature height of 45 feet, this popular choice is a quick grower that does well even in Zone 3 temperatures. This variety can withstand high winds, poor soil, and hot sun, making it a versatile and easy-to-care-for choice.
  • Blue Wonder Spruce Tree (pictured below): This cold-hardy beauty features eye-catching, blue-gray foliage and grows to 5-6 feet tall. Excellent for framing doorways, this tree adds variation and interest to any garden or landscape and is hardy in Zones 3-8.

Blue Wonder Spruce

Fruit Trees and Plants

Outdoor citrus trees won’t withstand the cold temperatures of Zone 4, but several species of fruit trees thrive in that climate. So, if you’re interested in growing fruit, here’s a few that are cold-hardy and satisfying to own:

  • Apple Trees: Apples are the most cold-hardy fruit trees out there, but not all varieties grow well in Zone 4. Honeycrisp™, Northern Spy, Mutsu and Cortland are some of the hardiest cultivars that do well even in Zone 3.

  • Plum Trees & Cherry Trees: American plum cultivars thrive in Zone 4 and include Black Ice, Bubblegum Toka and Superior varieties. Sweet cherries don’t tend to fare well, but sour cherries such as the Meteor and North Star varieties thrive as fruit trees in Zone 4.

Pink Lemonade Blueberry

Flowering Trees & Shrubs

Living in a cold climate with a short growing season doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy beautiful flowering trees and shrubs. Here’s some varieties that’ll add interest, color, and fragrance to your garden and landscape:

  • Lilacs: Lilacs flourish in cold climates, and there’s several varieties available to plant. Choose from cultivars such as Bloomerang®, Japanese, White, Miss Kim, and others that offer colorful blooms with enticing fragrances. Make sure that you keep them away from high nitrogen fertilizer to ensure many blooms for years to come.
  • Hydrangeas: Some of the best Hydrangeas for cold climates are panicle types that grow 6-10 feet tall and include varieties such as Grandiflora, Limelight (pictured below), Fire Light®, and Pink Diamond. Hydrangeas bloom from new wood, so they can take deep pruning and still produce flowers.
  • Roses: If you do your homework, you can grow roses successfully in Zone 4. Rose varieties like these cold-hardy ones are ideal for Zone 4 and will thrive with the proper care and attention.

Limelight Hydrangea

Perennials

Cold weather doesn’t have to mean a boring garden. Many perennials thrive in Zone 4, including Hostas, Phlox, Irises, Coneflowers, Lilies and more. Peonies and Asters also do well, and Bee Balm will attract hummingbirds when they come to the north to breed. Here’s a few of our top picks for cold-weather perennials:

Emerald Blue Creeping Phlox

Planting in Zone 4

Generally, you want to plant after the last frost date in spring, and well before the first frost date in fall. Depending on where you’re located in Zone 4, the first and last frost dates can fluctuate by a couple of weeks, but in general, September 1st to September 30th is when the first frost date occurs, and May 1st to May 31st is when the last frost date occurs.

These dates should be used as a baseline, but weather conditions can change quickly and from year to year. Keep an eye on weather forecasts and overnight temperatures in your area as you begin to think about planting.

Final Considerations

As gardeners, we take pride in making our plants thrive. So, when it comes to choosing varieties and planting in Zone 4, ensure that you research your soil type and any amendments that you need to make, and purchase plants that will do well in your area, knowing the care they require.

Then, be sure to plant after the last frost, choose from the wide selection of shrubs and trees that flourish in Zone 4 (or even 3), and enjoy! The most successful gardeners are those who arm themselves with knowledge and use it to their advantage.

Other Helpful Resources:

Sarah Logie

As Content Strategist at FastGrowingTrees.com, Sarah is smitten with words and a fanatic for flowers, particularly cut florals and house plants. With a love for curating compelling content, she also enjoys furthering her plant knowledge along the way! A few of her favorite flowers include hibiscus, hydrangeas, peonies and dahlias.

Sarah’s fondness for plants was cultivated through many childhood trips to Longwood Gardens in southeastern Pennsylvania, as well as through her first job out of college at a floral event design company. In her free time, catch her snapping photos of anything and everything, day-dreaming about interior decor, and enjoying the outdoors any chance she gets.

Questions? Contact Sarah at information@fastgrowingtrees.com.

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