What Rising Zones Are in New York?

The Empire State may be known for the big city, but its natural ecosystems and abundant native plant communities offer tremendous edible and ornamental value. From Niagara Falls to NYC to the Adirondacks, there are over 54,000 square miles of diverse landscapes. New York state includes four unique growing zones with winter temperatures ranging from frigid -30°F to a milder 10°F (-34° to -12°C). 

Growing zones are determined using the average extreme annual low temperatures based on historical weather data. Gardeners can use the USDA Plant Hardiness Map to help choose perennial trees and shrubs that can reliably overwinter in different parts of New York and to better understand the limitations of their growing season.

After the 2023 updates to the USDA Growing Zones, it’s important to know what plants can grow in your garden’s hardiness zone. The state has slightly warmed overall, and some areas have shifted to a warmer zone. The state no longer includes zone 3.

Whether you want to grow apples in the Big Apple or tap sugar maples in Upstate, here is everything you need to know about the growing zones in New York State.

What Growing Zones Are in New York?

Diverse zones range from frigid mountains to coastal regions with hot summers.

The Empire State includes four different growing zones and eight sub-zones. The Adirondack Mountains reside in frigid zones 3 and 4, while the center of the state is mostly zone 5. Buffalo and Rochester reside in zone 6, and the urban and coastal regions of NYC are predominately zone 7. 

New York is undeniably known for bitterly cold winters. The extreme annual lows range from -30°F to 10°F (-34° to -12°C). Frigid, windy winter weather is common, so it is important to select plants that can handle the intense cold and hold their own against extreme storms. While Rochester and Buffalo are some of the snowiest winter cities in the U.S., many parts of the state can also experience hot summers with high humidity. 

Zone 4

Close-up of a large red maple tree in the garden. Its leaves are palmate with three to seven lobes and they are arranged oppositely along the branches. Leaves display fiery red, orange, and yellow hues.Upstate, now mostly in zone 4a, has short growing seasons and extreme winter conditions.

Upstate is home to the Adirondack Mountains, which used to be considered zone 3b. Since the 2023 updates to the USDA Plant Hardiness Map, most of this area has shifted into zone 4a. Zone 4a has average annual extreme lows of -30°F to -25°F (-34°C to -32°C). Lake Placid is the only major city in this region.

This frigid growing zone has a very short frost-free growing season from approximately mid-June to late August. High-elevation areas like Whiteface Mountain are prone to extreme snowpack up to 30 inches deep! Lower elevation parts of zone 4, such as Massena, NY have about a month longer of frost-free weather and experience extreme lows from -25°F to -20°F (-32°C to -29°C).

Zone 4a encompasses the mountainous parts of Franklin, Saint Lawrence, Lewis, Herkimer, Hamilton, and Essex counties. The rest of these counties reside in zone 4b, which has slightly higher winter temperatures but still experiences bitter cold and intense snowstorms.

Perennial species in these zones are limited but still diverse! Sugar maples, red maples, balsam fir, aspens, eastern hemlocks, paper birch, and tamaracks are beautiful native trees. They are all well-adapted to the extreme conditions of Upstate. These species provide dazzling autumn colors, and some can be harvested for syrup, sap, resins, or firewood. 

Native landscape shrub options include honeysuckle, red elderberry, leatherleaf, hobblebush, and meadowsweet. Great blue lobelia, wild bergamot, beardtongue, New England aster, butterfly weed, woodland iris, and coneflower are great herbaceous perennials for Upstate gardens!

Zone 5

Close-up of clusters of ripe cherries hanging on the branches of a cherry tree in an orchard. The leaves of the cherry tree are oval or lance-shaped and bright green. The tree produces small, round fruits of bright red color.This zone has a frost-free season from late May to mid-September, with diverse plant options.

Zone 5 includes the Adirondacks, central New York, Thousand Islands, and northern parts of the Catskills. These areas typically have seasonal frost-free growing seasons from late May to mid-September. Zone 5a has extreme annual lows of -20°F to -15°F (-29°C to -26°C), and zone 5b lows range from -15°F to -10°F (-26°C to -23°C). 

This humid continental climate is characterized by significant winter snow and humid summers with warm temperatures. Cloudiness throughout the year can be an issue for growing, but many plants are still eager to thrive in zone 5. 

Oak, red maple, honey locust, saucer magnolias, Japanese maples, and redbuds are excellent tree selections for this zone. Fruit orchards are common in this region, and gardeners can grow delicious apples, plums, pears, cherries, blueberries, and cold-hardy grapes. Robust perennials like artemisia, bee balm, catnip, chives, black-eyed Susans, blanket flowers, and hollyhocks reliably regrow every year. 

Zone 6

Close-up of ripe Gala apple fruits on a tree among green foliage. Gala apples are renowned for their vibrant and enticing appearance, characterized by a smooth, thin skin that showcases a striking blend of bright red and golden yellow hues, with subtle striping or mottling. These apples have a round to slightly oblong shape and a medium size.Western and Southern New York are primarily in zone 6.

Zone 6 covers most of western and southern New York, including the Finger Lakes, Buffalo, Rochester, and the northern part of the Hudson Valley. With a frost-free growing season from early May to late October, vegetables are easy to cultivate in several successions. The extreme lows vary from -10°F to 0°F (-23°C to -18°C), so it’s still important for perennial plants to be cold hardy. 

The cold, snowy winters are actually beneficial to meet the chill hours for some crops like blueberries, apples, pears, and cherries. Chilling requirements describe the exposure time to cold temperatures that many fruit shrubs and trees need in order to set fruit. Chill hours are a measurement of cumulative exposure to cold below 45°F (7°C). The plant is exposed to this cold while dormant, triggering stronger bud formation and fruiting in the spring. For example, highbush blueberries like ‘Bluecrop’ need over 1000 chill hours and are well-suited to zone 6.

This area is particularly great for gardening and farming because rains are scattered throughout the year, and the summers are fairly mild. Oakleaf or bigleaf hydrangeas, elderberries, Russian sage, peonies, lavender, and astilbe are great shrub options for a Hudson Valley landscape. Classic herbaceous perennials like catnip, mint, yarrow, sedum, and sage grow well here. Fruit tree options include cold-hardy pears, Italian plums, cherries, and even cold-hardy almonds like ‘Javid’s Iranian’ almond trees.  

We can’t forget the vast array of apple varieties available to zone 6 gardeners! It’s called the Big Apple for a reason! Some of the most popular trees include ‘Gala,’ ‘Mcintosh,’ ‘Cortland,’ ‘Golden Delicious,’ and ‘Honeycrisp.’

Zone 7

Close-up of a blooming purple clematis flower in a sunny garden. The flower is a stunning sight, boasting large, velvety petals arranged in a star-like formation. The flower's center is adorned with a cluster of contrasting white and purple stamens, creating a striking focal point. Surrounding the blooms are lush green leaves that are palmate or compound in shape, featuring multiple leaflets arranged along delicate, trailing vines.The warmest zone in the state features a long growing season with diverse growing opportunities.

Zone 7 is the warmest zone in the Empire State, including New York City, Long Island, Westchester, and the southern parts of the Hudson Valley. This is a rich agricultural area with amazing possibilities for gardening! Although the winters are snowy, the summers are warm and moist! With a longer frost-free growing season from around April to November, the vegetable growing possibilities are practically endless! Fall and winter cultivation are also possible with greenhouses and frost protection.

Urban Heat Island Effect

Remember that much of New York City has unique microclimates due to the urban heat island effect and the large bodies of water. Urban heat islands occur due to large amounts of concrete, buildings, and impervious cover that raise the city’s temperatures higher than surrounding vegetated or rural land. For example, Central Park is up to 10°F (-12°C) cooler than the highly urbanized neighborhoods surrounding it because there are many trees and grassy areas.

Many of the apple, pear, and fruit tree varieties described for zone 6 are also suitable in this region. You can also plant vibrant crops of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, and even fig trees! Ornamental flowers like roses, azaleas, peonies, and clematis bloom abundantly in zone 7 summers.

Urban Gardening

Rooftop and balcony growing is an amazing opportunity to produce food in the city. Rooftop farms have created ways to grow massive amounts of food on the top of skyrise buildings! Urban gardening poses many challenges, but it’s also a great way to get creative in a small space. Epic Gardening founder Kevin Espiritu wrote Field Guide to Urban Gardening to help conquer the basics of growing lots of delicious, fresh food in a small city space.

Grow bags are particularly useful for producing food in a city where you have minimal space and/or rent your home. Epic Grow Bags are made of woven geotextile fabric that allows air and water into the root zone while containing plants in a lightweight, portable container. I once grew over 50 species of plants on a small apartment balcony using grow bags, vertical trellises, hanging baskets, and railing planters. 

Final Thoughts

Although northern New York state used to reside in zone 3b, it has warmed to zone 4. Zones 5 and 6 cover the Adirondacks, central New York, the Catskills, and the Finger Lakes regions. Zone 7 includes the Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island. From iconic apples to juicy cherries to dazzling azaleas, thousands of species of trees and perennial plants can overwinter in the Empire State! Be sure to check the updated 2023 USDA Plant Hardiness Map to see if your area has shifted into a warmer zone.

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