Growing Season Length – Hardiness Zone Map – First Last Frost Dates

Growing season length is basically determined by your local climate zone. Factors include your specific geographical location, elevation, temperature range, first and last frost dates, daylight hours, seasonal rainfall, and other variables…

Growing season length is often summarized as the days between first and last frost. This in itself is variable too. Regardless of what you see on a growing season map (hardiness zone map), mother nature might shorten your season, or even lengthen it! And sometimes that can be fairly significant!

In parts of the northern United States the growing season length might be roughly April/May to about October. In milder regions it might even be (roughly) February/March to November or longer. I live in northern New Hampshire and my growing season can be pretty short depending on actual first and last frost dates. I’ve seen last frost in late May, and have also experienced it during early June. Similar variability for first frost date. A number of times during first week of September, while also many times getting much further through the month. You never know for sure!

Here are a few online tools to help determine finer details of your growing season.

Growing Season Planting Zones

The USDA Agricultural Research Service updated and revised their Hardiness Zone Map for the United States during 2012. It’s now more specific with finer resolution and specific interactive information with granularity to your local region. It’s pretty amazing. You can even simply select your zip code to discover your zone.

The Plant Hardiness Zone Map can be used as a tool to determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location.

Plant Hardiness Zones Map KEY

hardiness-zones.

While looking at the map ‘key’, you can see how the zone numbers are scaled to finer detail with the alpha subsets (e.g. 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, etc.). The temperature represent the extreme minimums for that given zone – kind of a worst-case scenario. For example, I’m in zone 4a. Been here for about 8 years. Coldest it’s been during that time was -32°F. So their zone maps seem pretty accurate.

You can select State, Regional, or National views, in various resolutions. You can view, download and save, and even print the maps:

Interactive Hardiness Zone Map

Growing Season First and Last Frost Date

Your planting zone is a good guide, but more information is better. Knowing the first and last frost date for your region will help you narrow down the time of your growing season. Important!

A frost date is the average date of the last light freeze in spring or the first light freeze in fall.

  • A light freeze will kill tender plants, and is considered 29° to 32°F.
  • A moderate freeze is widely destructive to most vegetation, and is considered 25° to 28°F.
  • Below 24°F, severe damage to most all garden plants.

Simply enter your zip code (or city, state) into the frost dates calculator. The results will also include the number of growing days available (based on average frost dates).

Frost dates are only an estimate based on historical climate data and are not set in stone! The probability of a frost occurring after the spring frost date or before the fall frost date is 30%, which means that there is still a chance of frost occurring before or after the given dates!

 For example, the frost date calculator is being pretty generous for my zone. But I know from experience that my growing season is sometimes shorter. I plan for that, and grow vegetables with quicker time-to-harvest. I envy you who live further south and can grow food with a much longer growing season!

From the Old Farmers Almanac…

Online Frost Dates Calculator

Speaking of temperatures and first last frost dates…

Soil Thermometer
(amzn)

[ Read: Gardening Hat – Features That Matter Most When Choosing One ]

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36 Comments

  1. Was looking at the artwork on the top of the Almanac,
    Can you imagine plowing with a team? Stacking hay out of the field onto a cart then again stacking it up into a loft in a barn?
    I wonder if we will have to revert to the old ways? The world is wonky these days, even if everything does not come completely unglued, there remains the very real possibility for many that things we could once afford or were available to us may no longer be available.
    If we are reliant solely on our ability to grow and put back crops can we do it to a reasonable level that we could survive?
    Its going to be tough,
    Things to ponder

    1. Kulafarmer,

      I spend quite a bit of time thinking on such as we see the possibility of society devolving back to our beginnings…thinking of how things have changed over time from the lives of my grandparents.

      My fraternal grandfather was a blacksmith by trade. He indentured himself to a master blacksmith as a teenager…spent 7 years mastering his trade.

      My Dad worked in Pappy’s shop…learning that trade, but also became what we consider a mechanic working on Model-T’s and later, Model-A’s that owners of those new fangle horseless carriages gravitated to blacksmiths to fabricate broken parts and repair their vehicles. The new Army Air Corps recognized those skills, shipping Dad to the S. Pacific to do emergency repair on shot-up aircraft during WWII.

      My point is that during the lives of family I grew up knowing, we have moved from agrarian, animal powered transportation and equipment to robotics and electronic driven society. My granddad was born in 1896, died 1970. Think of all that he saw during his lifetime…and we fear our own ability to survive under conditions that were just how life was during his younger years.

      1. @Dennis – +1 on knowing the “old” trades that made the prior generations self-sufficient. My grandmother was born in 1879 and they homesteaded on the northern prairie. There was NO electricity till the late 1930’s, buildings were all hand built and wells were hand dug. My dad was a late life baby who grew up in the depression. He knew how to ranch, farm, raise livestock, make / mend leather goods, repair all kinds of equipment and machinery, both motorized and the 1896 hayrake that was in use on the ranch through WWII, as well as rudimentary health care. When he came home after the war, he became a nuclear engineer, but he made sure that his kids knew SOME of this but certainly not as much as he and my grandparents. I wish I had had more time with my grandmother, she was elderly by the time I can along, but she still cooked from scratch over a wood heated stove and canned every season. About 99% of the people I know would never work as hard as they did, just to provide for themselves and their families. I sometimes think it is “hard” and I am spoiled by all the modern conveniences. LOL!

      2. Dennis,
        You said,
        “and we fear our own ability to survive under conditions that were just how life was during his younger years.”

        Most im sure are worried,
        Honestly, living under those conditions doesnt worry me, the people who wont be able to adapt are what concerns me, unfortunately, those 2 legged Nancies will be the biggest issue

        1. KF,
          “Honestly, living under those conditions doesnt worry me, the people who wont be able to adapt are what concerns me, unfortunately, those 2 legged Nancies will be the biggest issue”….

          Spot on… If the lights go out tomorrow, I’m not worried about living without modern conveniences or even the government. I live in a very rural mountain area and still our greatest threats will come from within a 5 mile radius within the first week or so. Better have a plan in place to deal with them quickly and quietly.

        2. The comment from back when…… “that an enemy is anyone who endangers my life no matter what side they are on”. I wonder truly what a aftermath would be like with godless, spoiled, me first types decide you are just another food source. Myself, I hope that God has installed in me the type of strength and resilience it is going to take to stand up to not zombies but to a mass of unleashed narcissistic Nancy’s.

    2. One of the things that we could instantly go back to and hardly miss a beat (but still have great wailing and gnashing of teeth) is seasonal fruits and vegetables. If the international part of the supply chain fails/slows down mightily we can do without Fs an Vs from Chile or Peru or wherever during the ‘off’ season.

      You get Blueberries, Watermelons, Cantaloupes, Peppers, Sweet Corn, Okra etc. in the Summer, and many are going to be locally grown – and everything is more expensive. Just like I remember as a child about 65 years ago.

      Remember that we have about 900 Million acres of Farmland in the USA with a few hundred Million Acres more we could press into service. This doesn’t even include the more marginal, loamy clay based land like I have here in N.E. GA that I grow lots of different stuff on.

      Bill Gates only owns 250K acres….that is 0.250 million/900 million = 0.03 %

      Right now I think about 80%+ ?? of our domestic produce comes from CA. We can’t grow everything they grow there (lots of climate related specialty items for sure) in other parts of the USA, but we can grow a lot of it, if necessary, at a higher Price to you and me.

      <bb

      1. bb in GA,
        When I was a kid we only got oranges and tangerines at Christmas, peaches & watermelons during the Summer and apples in the Fall. Still to this day, every time I peel an orange or tangerine the smell makes me think of Christmas time.

      2. bb_in_GA.
        i have several laminated topo maps of our area. one is marked with the fruit trees and plants in our area that i have found. many are on old homesteads that have been forgotten about. long walks vs. short rides will reveal a lot of resources close to home. plus it clears the mind.

    3. Don’t have to imagine plowing with a mule and harnessing her.. Dad in his wisdom taught us by example, and we made several gardens with Ida.. the harness and needed stuff to do that is not cheap nor common now… I think i could harness again, I was better at it than my dear brother.
      He got in on baling hay ,driving the tractor @ young age,and stacking bales, as part of a crew… I did not grieve over the missed opportunity.LOL

  2. zone 8b here. a long growing season, very mild winters and brutal summers. we planted 6 Creole Tomato plants with our others this year to try them out, should be more heat tolerant, we’ll see how they do.
    plants that are not heat tolerant will not make it here but we have good luck with the basics. it’s all about rain, late July through early September tend to get dry around here most years. i have 600 ft of garden hose JIC.
    we got the last of our garden planted this weekend, 2 acres, row crops take up a lot of room. potatoes and peanuts have been in the ground since Feb. and are doing well, i’ll have to hill them up this week.
    now we wait.
    good luck all

  3. Kulafarmer:
    Honestly “No”.
    This new Generation has ZERO idea of what “Hard Work” is, or could they provide for themselves or their families, communities.
    Why does anyone think the Schools are closed in summer? So they can go on Vacation? HAHAHA NO!!!! was so the children could work the Farm, Garden, and thousands of other “Lifestyle” things that HAD to be done to prepare for the Winters.
    Most people now could not even raise a Garden or Food Animals if their lives depended on it. Nor do they have the skills to preserve what Food they could get.
    My Parents and Grandparents were all Depression People, They knew when it was time to Plant, or let that Bull out to breed livestock for next years Bounty, when to butcher the “Old Chickens” and let that Brooder Hen sit on those Eggs for new generation of Chickens.
    They KNEW how to preserve food in hundreds of ways that now-a-days people and the Feds say is dangerous and unhealthy. I wonder how many folks have a “Smoke-House and actually use it? A “Root-Cellar” or even how to “Air-Dry” meat. (Biltong).
    So to answer your questions, No. the “New Generations will starve, even millions of these new “Preppers” wont make it long after all that Deep Pantry runs out. Storing Food is a GREAT Idea, for short term SHTF (a few weeks, a month, maybe?), what happens when the world goes back 200 300 years?
    Think it can’t happen? Ohhhhh-K
    Can folks raise their own food 100% and please do NOT give me that Hunting and Foraging stuff (320 million people Hunting? wonder how that will go?), can they protect themselves from the Elements (Storms, Cold, Hurricanes, Wildfires, Wars?).
    Will you know when it’s time to plant those irreplaceable seeds this coming Spring or lose them to that Frost that Ken is talking about? Without checking the Internet will YOU know how to preserve food without using U-Tube or online searches? Remember it is predicted a 90-95% death rate if “Lights Out”.

    1. NRP & Blue,Romeo Charlie,AZoffgrid,
      we have always put enough up in jars to last for several years. we had a very nice garden one year and in june it came a hailstorm and beat it into the ground.
      the weather will make you or break you, and there is nothing we can do about it, we always plan ahead and the stuff that we can up lasts a long time. we are comfortable eating stuff 3yrs old, but we are very careful about how we put it up and to keep it rotated.
      people should never, ever plan on a successful garden to feed themselves for one year. we plant enough for 3yrs. cause ya never know what will be thrown at you. hail, drought or sickness and the inability to go out and do it.
      i know i’m preaching to the choir, but i put this out here for others.
      ya’ll take care

    2. Wellp, at least i aint going to freeze, might be having a salad of nasturtiam and clover some days but will figure it out.

      Everything going on sorta makes ya go hmmmm

      So many folks oblivious

  4. I’m amazed at the people that think when the SHTF they are going to dig up the grass in the backyard, throw out a bunch of seeds from their #10 can “Survival Seed Bank” and in 90 years harvest a cornucopia of bountiful produce. Just digging up the grass with a rake, shovel and hoe will probably cause 80% to die from dehydration or cardiac arrest not to mention the caloric burn that will be used. And if they manage to stay alive for 3 months, what happens when the insects, drought, pest and nutrient depleted soil results in a total crop failure?

    I was down at the garden this morning watering and checking on things and the green beans (both bush and pole), turnips, beets, asparagus have all come up, the strawberries are starting to turn red, squash and zucchini are blooming, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers are growing but for some reason the collards are starting to bolt early. I picked the seed stalk and hopefully they will put the energy back into growing leaves not seeds. Gardening requires a lot of work, a lot of knowledge, a constant awareness and a whole lot of luck.

    1. RC
      A WHOLE LOT OF LUCK!

      An animal can destroy a garden in just a hour or maybe even less,

      A flock of wild hogs?

      A heard of wild geese?

      A few cows?

  5. Spring in the mountains…sigh. We got slammed this year. A couple weeks ago the pear orchard was in full bloom, plum and peach had already set tiny fruit, and the apple orchard was budded out and ready to blossom. The forecast was for temps to be well below freezing so we covered the brambles, grapes, roses, and other plants. It dropped to below 18 degrees and everything froze, everything.
    Apples have been grown here for over 100 years and we have a bunch of old smudge pots. I guess the old-timers would burn used motor oil creating a thick blanket of smoke that would fill our little valley, trapping the ground heat. We used them once in the mid ‘70s. I think we would get in huge EPA trouble if we tried to use them now.
    The damaged leaves will regrow this spring, but not the flower buds. It’s not a total loss, however. Coddling moth is endemic in our area and a year without fruit greatly reduces the number of pests for a few years afterward. This week we will start a major prune and orchard clean up; something we wouldn’t do if the trees were carrying a full crop of fruit.
    Some years we sail straight through April and May without a problem and some years we get dinged to various degrees. I’ll miss the fresh fruit, but we have a stash of cider in the freezer and the pantry is already full of sauce, pie filling, and FD fruit.

    1. AZoffgrid:
      Excellent example of what “can” happen to a Garden/Farm/Orchard.
      Just imagine’ if’ you or the 100+ million out there were saying to themselves “Oh I have a Garden planted, I’m going to be just fine ‘If/When’ TSHTF and the food supplies are in a disaster”.
      I’m betting a dozen Glazed Donuts you have this loss covered…..
      Thanks for sharing the Disasters and the Successes.

        1. Apple cider doughnuts on a cool Fall morning with a cup of hot coffee….pure Heaven!

    2. @AZoffgrid – I was in the foothills of the Central Valley of CA last week and the bad news for the farmers / vintners was the late frost that rolled through and destroyed and damaged many crops, vines and trees. Several I spoke to said that their crop was a complete loss as the severity of the frost was unexpected and they were not adequately prepared. Translates to more issues for the food supply chain.

  6. @Ken – GREAT interactive map! Thank you!!! I had generally known my growing zone but this map allows one to pinpoint the location.

  7. Up here in North Idaho, we just had the fifth coldest April on record. Looks like I’ll be getting things in a little late this year. Maybe in two or three weeks. That’s O.K. though, gives me a little more time to fish. I’ll probably freeze some of them up too.

  8. Saw on ZH yesterday that because of the “Build Back Bogus” government we got many of the nation’s food pantries feeding the poor among us are emptying out. So, what are these people doing to do when they are empty?

    Food riots? Flash mob attacks on grocery stores? Our gardens and fruit trees? Oh, I’m certain Joey/Jill/Hunter won’t starve.

    The Mrs. told her sister that I have turned our ranch “into a farm”. Dang right! and proud of it too!!

    1. The Atlanta news showed a food bank handing out groceries to “the needy with food insecurity” and 99% of the vehicles in the line were newer late model cars and SUVs. Many of “those in need” are already getting EBT SNAP (food stamps), their kids are getting free lunch at school so they line up to get free food from people then trade their EBT government handout for .50 cents on the dollar for cash.

      If the government is giving them monthly EBT to buy food and the schools are feeding their offspring then why in the hell do these churches and civic groups think it’s a good idea to give them more? I guess these so-called good Samaritans think they are buying their way into heaven and it soothes their conscience when in fact their actions have a detrimental impact on the people they are supposedly trying to help.

      These food banks are opening at the same time when the Bureau of Labor statistics says there are over 11.5 million job openings that aren’t being filled. Maybe a deep, prolonged and devastating food shortage/famine/depression is exactly what this country needs to get rid of the garbage and give those that survive an appreciation for work and becoming self-sufficient.

  9. – Wednesday evening brought us a hailstorm with hailstones, “…up to three inches, or baseball size,”
    Just a reminder.
    – Papa S.

    1. Papa Smurf, Wednesday evening??? It’s only Wednesday afternoon here in TX. Are you in Hawaii visiting Kulafarmer??

  10. I have been ordering shelf stable foods on line from wallyworld for about ten years now, because orders 35 plus are sent to you Free, in the last 15 months their availability has dropped way back, the quantity is limited, and the prices have doubled. I live a hundred miles round trip to the nearest big box type stores….and it’s been a gas saver to order online..but we are headed to a dark place and even for those of us who prepared…the dark times, are going to be the unknown challenge and until it hits….fun times ahead as my gunny used to say

    1. NW Gal,
      The PTB are one thing. But… what about the rank and file that are destroying the farm animals, etc.?
      “I was just obeying orders!”
      “I was just doing my job!”
      REALLY! REALLY!
      How long do they think they and their families will last without the food they are destroying!
      “The powers that be promised my family will have plenty to eat…”
      Do these rank and file go to work wearing a disguise, or otherwise keep their identity hidden?

  11. NW Gal.
    this is nothing new. farmers and growers of livestock have seen this coming for several years.
    the prices of feed, fertilizer and seed has gone up over 300% in the last 3 yrs and the commercial seed that they buy now has a germination rate of 50%. GMO’s coming back to haunt us?
    it’s all part of the plan. will Bill Gates and the ChiComs use all of the farmland that they have bought over the years to feed us in exchange for our obedience?
    but this not new news to the large farmers. they have been living with it for a while now.
    the whole situation is really sad, farming for a living is hard enough as it is and i fear many will just give up.

  12. People not knowing what hard work is. I’m thinking in a certain way they know but choose not to do it…?
    I worked heavy construction all my life. Roads, bridges and when I had to — commercial buildings.
    Far too many coming into the trades do not have a work ethic, or know which end of a screwdriver to pick up. Maybe some know which end, to pick up, but feign not knowing to get out of having to do so…?
    In a way, it kind of worked out for me. As I neared retirement, and okay, past retirement age. I should have been put out to pasture. But with the current workforce as it is. I remained a viable entity and continued working longer than I should have.

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