Our Guide to the USDA Gardening Zones—Plus, the Best Plants to Grow in Your Region

Identify your plant hardiness zone with some help from our garden experts.

Even if you're a gardening novice, you've likely heard about the United States Department of Agriculture's plant hardiness zones, which are based on your region's lowest extreme temperatures. Once you identify your zone, you'll have a better understanding of which plants will thrive in your yard. We tapped garden experts across the United States to break down each gardening zone—and get their suggestions for the best plants to grow in your area.

usda gardening zones map
Courtesy of Kailey Whitman

What Are Plant Hardiness Zones?

Plant hardiness zones are regions that have been labeled by their average minimum growing temperatures; they help gardeners understand which plants will grow in their zonal growing environment, say Jennifer and Adam O'Neal, the owners of PepperHarrow Farm and co-authors of Small Farm, Big Dreams: Turning A Flower-Growing Passion into a Successful Floral Business.

The hardiness zones defined by the USDA begin with zone 1, which is the coldest (it includes parts of Alaska) and end with zone 13, which encompasses the warmest growing areas, such as Hawaii and the Florida Keys. "When we're talking with new gardeners, this is a concept that is often confusing," say the O'Neals. "Remember that the lower number is colder and the larger number is warmer—that's a good mental trick to remember how they work."


Each hardiness zone differs by 10 degrees and is often split into two subzones, labeled "a" and "b," which differ by 5 degrees. For example, zone 7's freezing range is between 0 and 10 degrees. In Zone 7a, average freezing temperatures hit between 0 to 5 degrees; 7b's range is between 5 and 10 degrees. Understanding your subzone will ultimately help you make more precise decisions about your garden.

To determine your subzone, first source your overarching zone—then do a narrow location search with your zip code to find out whether you're "a" or "b;" experts at your local gardening store can also help.

woman rolling wheel barrow with garden plants and tools through blooming garden

Why It's Important to Know Your Plant Hardiness Zone

You need to understand your specific hardiness zone so you know which plants will—and will not—thrive in your garden. This will ultimately help you save time and money. The O'Neals' farm in Madison County, Iowa, falls into zone 5, where cold winters kill certain crops. "Examples of plants we'd like to grow, but aren't a match with our zone, would be certain cultivars of lavender, rosemary, camelias, or agonis," they say.

The Plant Hardiness Zones by Region

The USDA also breaks down gardening zones by region across the United States. These regions include North Central, North East, North West, South Central, South East, and South West. To better understand every one, look to these descriptions, which include the states in each region, the zones that run through them, and their typical climate conditions.

North Central

The North Central region includes zones 2 through 5, say the O'Neals. North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri are all a part of this region. Since these zones are lower on the gardening zone spectrum, the climates are generally cooler. The first frost typically begins in September and the last is in May.

North East

Gardening zones range from 1 to 7 in the North East, including Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island. Each zone has a specific degree and weather variance, says Teri Speight, a master gardener, writer, podcaster, blogger, and the author of Black Flora: Profiles of Inspiring Black Flower Farmers and Florists. In zones 1 to 5, the winter weather range from -10 to -50 degrees at the coldest. "The frost dates for these zones can range from September 1 to October 30 for average first frost dates and May 1 to April 30 as last spring frost dates," she says. "The first and last frost dates are important in deciding when it is safe to plant outdoors, as well as when to take tender plants indoors."

The final two zones in this region (6 and 7) see more moderate cold temperatures, which range from -5 to 15 degrees. "Due to seasonal adjustments, these zones receive mostly cold rain, freezing rain, sleet, and light dustings of snow," says Speight. "[These zones] offer gardeners more moderate temperatures, as well as a longer growing season." The first frost begins around mid- to late-October; the last hits in late March or April.

North West

Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Northern California encompass the North West gardening region, which spans zones 3 to 9. These conditions are typically wet in the winter seasons and dry during the summer. The first and last frost usually occur in September and April in this region.

South Central

Temperatures are warmer in this region, which runs dry and hot. "The South Central region is generally defined as the area from the southern Great Plains to the Gulf of Mexico, including parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama," say the O'Neals. "The South Central region includes zones 6 through 9, with some parts of Texas and Louisiana reaching into zone 10."

South East

Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida comprise the South East region. The average first frost date typically hits in mid-October in this region—however, Southern Florida does not experience a frost at all, says Justin Hancock, a horticulturist at Costa Farms. In the other states, the last frost typically takes place in early April.

South West

If you are in the South West, which includes the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, your zones range from 3 to 10. With the extreme heat in the South West, it's helpful to understand the high temperatures that peak during the summer in addition to the extreme lows in the winter, says John Clements, the director of gardens at the San Diego Botanic Gardens. "The Sunset zone maps, considered the standard gardening references in the West, are more precise than the USDA's, since they factor in not only winter minimum temperatures, but also summer highs, lengths of growing seasons, humidity, and rainfall patterns," he says.

Popular Plants to Grow in Your Region

There are a range of plants that will thrive in your region, depending on its climate conditions. Consider these ideas from the experts.

North Central (Zones 2 through 5)

Follow this guide from the O'Neals to plant in this hardiness zone.

Groundcover Creeping Thyme, Thymus serpyllum, is a low-maintenance groundcover that can grow in Zones 2 to 9. "It produces masses of small, fragrant flowers in spring with its evergreen foliage, also providing fragrance to the garden during the growing season," the O'Neals say. "Creeping thyme prefers well-draining soil and full sun."
Vine Clematis is a a versatile vine that can grow in varying conditions in this region. "Not only does it make a beautiful flower, its foliage is dainty and beautiful, as well," they say.
Perennial Coneflowers, Echinacea, are native perennials that are adapted to this region. "They produce large flowers in a variety of colors that attract pollinators," they say. "They prefer a well-drained soil and full sun." These thrive best in zones 3 to 9 when they are either planted in spring or fall.
Shrub Lilac, Syringa, is a heirloom shrub that grows best in zones 2 to 8. It produces fragrant flowers in the spring and prefers full sun and well-draining soil. It can be planted in the spring or fall.
Tree Red Maple, Acer rubrum, is a fast-growing tree that can grow well in a variety of soil types and light conditions. It can be planted in zones 3 to 9. It's also best planted in the spring or fall.

North East (Zones 1 through 7)

Consider Speight's recommendations for plants to grow in the North East.

Groundcover Sweet Woodruff, Gallium odoratum, grows best in part shade. "It usually grows 10 to 12 inches high with a spread of 18 to 20 inches," Speight says. This plant loves damp borders and grows tiny white flowers and green foliage. These are ideal for Zones 3b to 7. Another perk? It's easy to grow, no additional fertilizer required.
Vine Clematis can also be grown in the North East. "Great for zones 4 to 8, this vine loves a full to part sun environment," says Speight. "A little compost or aged manure in the spring will keep this plant well fed. Mulch, when placed at least 2 inches away from the vine, will keep the roots cool."
Perennial Hellebore is a dependable perennial, best grown in zones 3 to 8. It easily spreads, as it drops seeds from the nodding blooms. "One major reason I love this plant is the upkeep is minimal," she says. "When the previous season's foliage begins to look tattered, cut them back at the base. This allows the blooms to stand tall and the new leaves to emerge." This flower begins blooming in late January and continues through May.
Shrub Great for zones 3 to 8, the Osier dogwood, Corns servicea, can grow throughout all seasons in full sun to part shade. "The beauty of this shrub is revealed when pruning out the old growth," says Speight. "After a spring pruning, the new growth emerges in shades of red or coral. This color shows off in the winter garden, especially when there is snow or against an evergreen backdrop."
Tree The cercus canadensis, commonly known as a Redbud, is an easy-to-care-for native tree that grows in zones 4 to 9. "From the prolific pink blooms along the branches in the spring, to the heart shaped leaves, what is not to love?" says Speight. "It can grow in full sun or partly shaded environments. Redbuds can grow in less than perfect soils such as clay to loamy, well-drained soils."

North West (Zones 3 through 9)

Try growing these expert-approved suggestions, including a few from Martha, in the North West.

Groundcover The Black Scallop Bugleweed grows best in zones 3 to 9; Martha has grown this in her garden at her Bedford farm. "Also known as Black Scallop bugleweed, ground pine, carpet bugle, or just bugle, [this plant] has very glossy foliage and bright blue flowers in late spring," she says on her blog. This hardy plant grows best in full sun to full shade.
Vine Best grown between zones 4 to 8, a climbing hydrangea will thrive in the North West region. These plants need a rich soil and can live in full sun, partial shade, and deep shade.
Perennial Coneflowers, formally known as echinacea, provide intrigue well into autumn. "Thriving in zones 3 to 9, these perennials add beauty to the garden when in bloom over the summer months," says Speight. "In the fall, I leave the seed heads so they can drop and provide new seedlings, unless they are eaten by the birds over the winter."
Shrub Boxwood, one of Martha's favorite shrubs, grows in zones 5 to 9. These are both fragrant and deer-resistant, so you'll be able to admire the ornamental shrub's beauty without worrying about animals or pests feeding on them.
Tree Evergreen trees enjoy the cool, moist conditions in the North West region. Martha says that this tree maintains its green foliage throughout the cold-weather seasons.

South Central (Zones 6 through 10)

The O'Neals share their recommendations for plants to grow in the South Central region.

Groundcover Creeping phlox, Phlox subulata, is a low-maintenance groundcover plant that is well-suited to the South Central region. It prefers well-draining soil and full sun, and it can be planted in zones 7 to 10. Plant in the spring or fall.
Vine Carolina Jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens, is a fast-growing vine that produces fragrant yellow flowers in the spring. It prefers well-draining soil and full sun and can be planted in zones 7 to 9. It is best planted in the spring or fall.
Perennial Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, is a tough native perennial that produces masses of yellow flowers throughout the summer. It prefers well-draining soil and full sun and can be planted in Zones 3 to 9. It is best planted in the spring or fall.
Shrub Crepe myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, is an incredibly popular shrub or small tree that produces showy flowers in a variety of colors throughout the summer. It prefers well-draining soil and full sun and can be planted in zones 7 to 10. It is best planted in the spring.
Tree Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, is a native broadleaf evergreen tree that is noted for its attractive dark green leaves and its large, extremely fragrant flowers. It prefers well-draining soil and full sun and can be planted in zones 7 to 10. It is best planted in the spring or fall.

South East (Zones 5 through 10)

If you want to grow plants in the South East, consider these ideas from Hancock.

Groundcover The Liriope is a great groundcover in terms of its garden performance. "This drought-tolerant evergreen grows in sun or shade, and variegated leaf selections add a lovely note to the landscape," Hancock says.
Vine Jasmine, a powerfully fragrant vine with star-shaped flowers, thrives in this region.
Perennial In terms of perennials, salvia is an ideal species since there are selections you can grow throughout the region from Kentucky to the Florida Keys. Salvia black and blue are two of Hancock's favorites, as they bloom all year long in this region.
Shrub Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, is a landscape plant that grows throughout the South East. It is deer- and rabbit-resistant, drought tolerant, and fragrant.
Tree "One of my favorite trees that you see in much of the region is Red Maple, Acer rubrum," says Hancock. "It's native to the region and is a reliable source of bold autumn color."

South West (Zones 3 through 10)

These expert-approved plants thrive in the warm, dry conditions of this U.S. region.

Groundcover White clover is a groundcover that can grow in this region, as it thrives in temperatures ranging from 50 to 85 degrees in the spring. This is particularly ideal for this region (zones 3 to 10) since the conditions are dry and warm.
Vine In full sun and a well-draining soil, the crossvine will thrive, according to the Monrovia team. Once it is watered deeply during the first growing season, the plant will develop a sustainable root system.
Perennial Poppies grow best in zone 7 in areas with low moisture and full sun. They need frequent watering in the germination period, however, once they are set in their location, they need limited water.
Shrub The Plumbago likes full sun and light, well-draining soil, says the Monrovia team. The evergreen grows in zones 9 to 11 and needs deep watering in the first growing season.
Tree The avocado tree grows in hot, tropical conditions in zones 9 to 11. This tree needs four to six hours of sunlight, a well-draining soil, and deep watering. Once the roots are established in the first growing season, you can water it less and watch it thrive.
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