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Do you live in climate zone 6? How to tell if your plants will last

With cool winters and long summers, climate zone 6 offers a lovely and agreeable environment to grow a range of flowers, shrubs, fruits, and vegetables. Its mildly freezing winters make it ideal for plants that need a cooling period to thrive come the growing season, but you may occasionally want to overwinter some plants or cover them in frost blankets. If you live in zone 6 and want to know which plants will last in your garden throughout the year, here’s what you need to know.

Plant hardiness map
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Where is zone 6?

Wondering what climate zones actually are? The United States Department of Agriculture has developed the handy Plant Hardiness Zone Map to divide the country into areas based on annual minimum temperature ranges. Today, the map consists of 13 different zones. Specific regions will have unique climates, but hardiness zones are a reliable general guideline for gardening. When a plant is “hardy” to a zone, it means that it will usually survive there over the wintertime. A perennial plant in a particular climate zone will last more than just one growing season in it, while an annual will die out after one growing season. When browsing for plants, check the labels to see the hardiness zone—this will let you know if that plant will last in your region.

Zone 6 stretches across the middle of the country in an upside-down arc shape. It runs down from the northwest from Washington to Utah, stretches across Midwest states such as Kansas and Missouri, and goes back up to northeast states such as Delaware and Massachusetts. Lows in zone 6 usually fall between -10° to 0°F; this range is somewhat in the middle of the road for annual minimum temperatures, with zone 1 having -60°F as its lowest and zone 13 having 60°F as its lowest. Zone 6 is characterized by a long growing season with cool autumns and winters which can support cold-weather crops.

Tulips from the Smithsonian garden
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Zone 6 flowers and foliage

Zone 6’s cool winters and long growing seasons make it ideal for a range of different flowers and shrubs. Flowers especially appreciate the cold winters—bulbs such as tulips, irises, and hyacinths thrive in this region. Shrubs such as azaleas and crepe myrtle also benefit from a cooling period in the winter for robust growth in the spring and summer.

A hand reaching up to pick a ripe red apple
JP Chret/Shutterstock

Zone 6 fruit trees

Because zone 6 features slightly freezing winters, it’s an excellent environment for fruits that need a cold period to flower and develop fruit. Though some fruit can only handle being annuals in zone 6, there’s still a lot you can plant. Suitable cold-hardy fruit trees include apples, European pears, and some peach varieties. Berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, can also do well in zone 6. To keep them warm throughout the winter, however, you’ll definitely want to do a bit of mulching.

In general, you can’t grow citrus fruit such as lemons and oranges in zone 6 since these plants prefer temperatures between 60 and 70°F in the winter and can freeze once your thermometer hits the 20s. If you want to grow citrus plants, consider more cold-hardy varieties such as satsuma oranges and tangerines.

Seed starters
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When to start seeds in zone 6 and which vegetables to grow

Start your seeds indoors about six weeks before the last frost date. For zone 6, this last frost date usually hits some time at the beginning of April. A couple weeks before this date, you can slowly start cold-weather crops such as lettuce and peas. Your plants should keep thriving until the first frost date, which usually falls around mid-October. Once autumn rolls around, you can still grow cold-hardy plants such as garlic and perennial onions. In cooler weather, it’s also possible to overwinter leafy greens (such as kale and collards) with protective frost covers. Just be aware that you won’t see much growth until spring.

With a climate zone 6 garden, you can grow many plants as hardy perennials as well as annuals. For a beautiful flower bed, you can’t go wrong with tulips and irises. Craving delicious fruit? Crisp apples and pears happily thrive in this region. While you may need to take out the frost blankets and row covers from time to time, strategically planting your seeds and selecting cold-hardy flowers and trees will ensure that your garden thrives throughout the year.

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Stacey Nguyen
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