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Comparative Analysis of Plant Hardiness Zones in North America and Europe: An Agronomic Perspective

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Comparative Analysis of Plant Hardiness Zones in North America and Europe: An Agronomic Perspective (Farmer Jer Gets All ‘Sciencey’ On The Thing)


This paper explores the concept of plant hardiness zones in North America and Europe and discusses the key crops typically grown in each region’s specific hardiness zones. By leveraging trusted sources of information and relevant data, the study aims to enhance understanding of how these zones impact crop cultivation and contribute to agricultural productivity.


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Plant hardiness zones, often referred to as “growing zones,” are geographical areas defined by their climatic conditions, particularly their average minimum temperature. They are critical for determining the types of crops that can be cultivated in a given area (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2012).

Hardiness Zones in North America:

North America boasts a wide range of climate zones, from the freezing Arctic to the tropical jungles of Central America, and this diversity contributes to the variety of its agricultural industries. Farmers harvest oranges, sugar cane, coffee, cocoa, and bananas in the tropical zones, while cotton and hemp are cultivated in the warmer and drier intermediate climate zone. The warm, subtropical zones of northern Mexico and the United States are known for fruits, vegetables, cotton, and tobacco. Hardy fruits such as apples and peaches thrive in the continent’s cool temperate zones, and the Dairy Belt, Corn Belt, and Wheat Belt are significant agricultural areas within these zones. Dry zones, standard in the southwestern US and northern Mexico, are ideally suited for livestock ranching1​.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established North America’s most widely accepted hardiness zone system. This system categorizes regions into 13 primary zones, each differing by 10°F and subdivided into “a” and “b” for an additional 5°F differentiation (USDA, 2012).

  • Zones 1-3: These are the coldest regions found primarily in Alaska, Northern U.S., and Canada. Hardy crops such as kale, spinach, and rhubarb are typical in these zones (McKenney et al., 2006).
  • Zones 4-5: Crops like apple, cherry, beetroot, and cabbage thrive in these zones, which include the northern US and southern Canada (Hemery et al., 2008).
  • Zones 6-8: Most of the U.S.’s mainland falls within these zones. Various crops can be grown, including corn, wheat, soybean, peaches, and strawberries (Hemery et al., 2008).
  • Zones 9-11: These warmer zones are primarily found in the southern US, and various crops like citrus fruits, rice, sugarcane, and sweet potatoes thrive here (Hemery et al., 2008).
  • Zones 12-13: These are tropical and subtropical regions, including parts of Hawaii and Puerto Rico, where crops such as coffee, pineapple, and sugarcane are grown (McKenney et al., 2006).

Hardiness Zones in Europe:

Europe has 11 hardiness zones based on the minimum ten-year average winter temperatures, ranging from -51°C to 10°C​2​. However, Europe’s agricultural sector is currently facing challenges due to climate change. Crop and livestock production is projected to decrease, particularly in Europe’s southern and Mediterranean regions, due to extreme events such as droughts, heatwaves, and floods​3​. While climate change could improve crop-growing conditions in parts of northern and central Europe, the negative effects of increased extreme events in southern Europe are likely to outweigh these benefits​3​.


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A significant development is the observed northward migration of European agro-climate zones due to climate change, particularly in Eastern Europe. These agro-climate zones have migrated northwards by 100 km every ten years, a rate projected to double in the coming decades​3​. As a result, some Mediterranean regions are becoming unsuitable for growing specific crops, which will move to northern European regions. Even though global warming is causing the growing season to lengthen in Northern and Eastern Europe, the increased risk of early spring and summer heat waves may negate crop gains​3​.

Adaptation at the farm level is vital, and practices will need to adjust to changing climate conditions. The introduction of adapted crops, improved irrigation techniques, field margins and agroforestry, crop diversification, and precision farming could help​3​. It’s essential to note that the agricultural sector accounts for about 10% of all greenhouse gasses (GHGs) in the EU, and it needs to make concerted efforts to reduce its GHGs if EU greenhouse gas emission reduction targets are to be reached by 2030 and 2050​3​.

The German Weather Service established the hardiness zone system in Europe. The zones range from 1 to 10, each differentiated by 5°C (Deutscher Wetterdienst, 2018).

  • Zones 1-3: These zones represent the coldest regions of Northern Europe, and crops such as kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts are common (Haylock et al., 2007).
  • Zones 4-6: These zones cover a significant part of Central Europe, where crops like apples, pears, potatoes, and cabbage thrive (Haylock et al., 2007).
  • Zones 7-9: Covering Southern Europe and parts of Western Europe, these zones grow various crops, including grapes, olives, wheat, and citrus fruits (Haylock et al., 2007).
  • Zone 10: This warmest European zone, mainly in Mediterranean coastal areas, hosts crops like dates, figs, and various citrus fruits (Deutscher Wetterdienst, 2018).


Understanding plant hardiness zones is essential for successful agriculture as it guides what crops can be cultivated in a given region. Comparative analysis reveals distinct similarities and differences between North American and European hardiness zones, primarily driven by variations in climate and geographical positioning.


  1. North America: Resources, National Geographic.
  2. Hardiness Zones of Europe, Gardenia.
  3. Climate change to impact European agriculture as climate zones migrate north, EU Science Hub, European Commission.
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture (2012). USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. USDA Agricultural Research Service.
  5. McKenney, D. W., Pedlar, J. H., Lawrence, K., Campbell, K., & Hutchinson, M. F. (2006). Potential impacts of climate change on the distribution of North American trees. BioScience, 56(11), 939-948.
  6. Hemery, G. E., Savill, P. S., & Pryor, S. N. (2008). Applications of the crown diameter–stem diameter relationship for different species of broadleaved trees. Forest Ecology and Management, 256(11), 1930-1940.
  7. Deutscher Wetterdienst (2018). Climate and Environment. Deutscher Wetterdienst.
  8. Haylock, M. R., Hofstra, N., Klein Tank, A. M., Klok, E. J., Jones, P. D., & New, M. (2008). A European daily high-resolution gridded data set of surface temperature and precipitation for 1950–2006. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 113(D20).


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