Zone 4 Seed Starting: Learn When To Start Seeds In Zone 4
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By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Winter can quickly lose its charm after Christmas, especially in frigid areas like U.S. The endless gray days of January and February can make it seem like winter will last forever. Filled with the hopeless, barrenness of winter, you may wander into a home improvement or big box store and find delight in their early displays of garden seeds. Continue reading to learn when to start seeds in zone 4.
Zone 4 Seed Starting Indoors
In zone 4, we can experience frost sometimes as late as May 31 and as early as October 1. This short growing season can mean that some plants will need to be started from seed indoors several weeks before the last expected frost date in order to reach their full potential before autumn. When to start these seeds indoors depends on the plant. Below are different plants and their typical planting times indoors.
10-12 Weeks Before Last Frost
- Brussel Sprouts
6-9 Weeks Before Last Frost
- Swiss Chard
- Lemon Balm
- Bachelor’s Button
- Sweet Pea
3-5 Weeks Before Last Frost
- Morning Glory
When to Start Seeds in Zone 4 Outdoors
Outdoor seed planting time in zone 4 is usually between April 15 and May 15, depending on the specific plant. Since spring in zone 4 can be unpredictable, pay attention to frost advisories in your area and cover plants as needed. Keeping a seed journal or seed calendar can help you learn from your mistakes or successes year after year. Below are some plant seeds that can be sown directly in the garden from mid-April to mid-May in zone 4.
- Bush Beans
- Pole Beans
- Chinese Cabbage
- Sweet Corn
- Morning Glory
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Mary's Heirloom Seeds
Zone 4 has one of the shortest growing window for gardening in the US, With a last frost date of approx May 15th and first frost date of approx September 15. First and last frost days may vary by 2 weeks (or more depending on the weather).
Since the growing period for Zone 4 is so short, it is possible to extend your season by starting seeds indoors. A simple setup might be a shop light over a table or as elaborate as a heated greenhouse or multiple racks with lights.
We hope that our USDA Zone Specific SEED planting guide with be a helpful tool in your garden planning and planting!
Start seeds indoors for a greenhouse: Asparagus, Celery and Onion
Start seeds indoors: Arugula, Asparagus, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Eggplant, Lettuce, Okra, Onion, Peppers and Rosemary
Start Seeds indoors: Arugula, Cabbage, Eggplant, Okra, Peppers, Rosemary and Tomatoes
Start Seeds outside: Arugula, Basil, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cilantro, Collards, Dill, Endive, Horseradish, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Onion, Oregano, Parsley, Peas, Radish, Rhubarb, Spinach and Turnips
Plant all herb and flower seeds outside
Transplant: Asparagus, Celery and Onion
Start Seeds indoors: Cabbage (late)
Start Seeds outside: Arugula, Beans: bush, pole, snap and lima, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Collards, Corn: dent, field, popcorn & sweet, Cucumber, Endive, Horseradish, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Melons, Muskmelon, Parsley, Parsnips, Peas, Pumpkin, Radish, Rhubarb, Rutabaga, Spinach, Summer Squash & Winter Squash, Tomato, Turnip and Watermelon
Plant all herb and flower seeds outside
Transplant: all remaining indoor seedlings
Start Seeds outside: Arugula, Beans: bush, pole, snap and lima, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Chard, Corn: dent, field, popcorn & sweet, Cucumber, Eggplant, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Melons, Muskmelon, Okra, Peas, Peppers, Pumpkin, Radish, Rutabaga, Summer Spinach (malabar), Summer Squash & Winter Squash, Tomato and Watermelon
Start Seeds outside: Beans: bush, pole, snap and lima, Beets, Chard, Corn: dent, field, popcorn & sweet, Kale and Okra
Plant Seeds outside: Arugula, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Radish, Spinach and Turnips
Last Expected Frost Dates by Zone
- Zone 1: June 1 - June 30
- Zone 2: May 1 - May 31
- Zone 3: May 1 - May 31
- Zone 4: May 1 - May 31
- Zone 5: March 30 - April 30
- Zone 6: March 30 - April 30
- Zone 7: March 30 - April 30
- Zone 8: February 28 - March 30
- Zone 9: January 30 - February 28
- Zone 10: January 1 - January 31
- Zone 11: Frost Free Year Round
On the next page is a list of commonly planted flowers, vegetables, and herbs and how many weeks before your areas Last Frost Date to start them.
If you are not sure of your Zone, plug in your zip code here.
If you want more specifics on your Frost-Free Date, check the USDA Hardiness Zone Map or contact your local Cooperative Extension.
Now that you know your last expected frost date, count back from the last expected frost date for each type of seed you are planting and you'll have a planting schedule. If your plant is not listed here, check the back of your seed package for seed starting recommendations.
Fruits and Vegetables to Grow in Zone Four
There are a variety of fruits and vegetables which will grow well in zone four throughout the growing season. Here are the plants you should consider for zone four gardening:
If you have a cherry tree in your yard, you know what a gorgeous addition they are to any landscaping design.
But they also produce delicious cherries which are great for making cherry jam, cherry pies, and also for easy snacking.
We have multiple apple trees in our yard. They’re also a nice addition to our landscape, but they produce an abundance of delicious apples too.
If you enjoy apple pies, fresh applesauce, or a crisp apple as an afternoon snack, you should consider growing your own apple trees. Keep in mind, they take approximately three to five years to begin producing.
When we moved to our new property, there was an abundance of blueberry bushes already established. They’re gorgeous to see in the side yard, but they also produce a bountiful harvest.
Picking blueberries can be a tedious task during harvest season, but it’s a great problem to have. If you’re a fan of blueberry syrup or fresh blueberry pie, consider growing your own blueberries.
Cantaloupe is a delicious melon variety which is made mainly of water. Therefore, realize when you plant cantaloupe, the more you water and care for them the larger the melons are.
Also, cantaloupe is produced on a vine. This should be taken into consideration if growing in a raised bed. You may want to consider adding a trellis to keep the vine under control.
Another wonderful addition to our property is a gorgeous vineyard filled with a variety of grapes. Though grapes take a few years to begin producing, they’re easy plants to care for.
Also, they make delicious wine, grape juice, and jelly. If you enjoy any of these items, it may be worth investing your efforts into growing grapes.
If you’re looking for other edible landscaping ideas, consider growing a pear tree. There are different varieties of pear trees (some which are only decorative and some which are edible.)
Be sure to do your research before investing in any pear tree variety and realize they do take time before they begin producing as well.
You guessed it, I have a couple of plum trees in my front yard too. They’re pretty little trees and produce an abundant harvest.
If you enjoy plums to snack on, to make pudding out of, or to make jams or jellies, you may be interested in growing them yourself.
Raspberries are sometimes overlooked when growing a berry patch because they have a tarter flavor to them than other berry varieties.
However, if you don’t mind a lip-puckering fruit in your garden, this could be a great option for you to grow in zone four.
If you’re looking for a versatile fruit which will come back stronger with each passing year, you should consider strawberries.
They can be grown in containers, in the ground, or in raised beds. If you choose a perennial variety and cover them with mulch at the end of each season, they should be waiting for you after the spring thaw.
If you’re working with limited space, watermelons may not be the best option for you. Yet, if you have a corner of your yard you’d like to avoid mowing this summer, consider planting watermelons and letting them run.
Because they grow on a vine, they like to sprawl out. Keep in mind, they also come in smaller varieties. You could match a smaller variety with a trellis and still raise them in a raised bed, but it would take up valuable growing space.
Turnips have a very distinct flavor to them. In my experience, you either love them or hate them. Whether you grow turnips for the actual turnip, or you only like the greens, it’s still a great vegetable to grow.
In my case, I only like the greens. Therefore, I harvest a great deal of greens, can them, and feed the turnips to my chickens.
You may assume you must have a large area to grow corn. This may be true if you’re looking to preserve corn.
However, if you only want a few ears to nibble on during the warmer months, you can grow corn in containers. It could be a great fit for someone who has a larger greenhouse in zone four, or you could add them to a small container garden.
Chives have become one of my favorite herbs because of how hardy they are. If you enjoy using chives as a garnish to soups and other dishes, you must consider raising it.
In my experience, if you properly mulch your chives, they return bountifully in the spring. If for some reason this doesn’t work out for you, chives are easy to grow in containers, and they can be moved around to be protected from the elements.
I enjoy growing pumpkins because they’re good for many things. You can have pumpkins for making pumpkin puree or pumpkin pie.
Pumpkins can be sold or used as decorations during fall. You can make your own Jack-o-lanterns for a fun experience.
Living in a cold area, you may not realize how spinach could be such a vital part of your garden. In all actuality, spinach is extremely hardy.
Therefore, you should seriously consider adding spinach to your mix this year. It can be grown in a greenhouse, in the garden, or in containers.
When living in colder climates, you may assume tomatoes are off the table for you, but they aren’t. If you start the seeds indoors, they should have plenty of time to grow and produce in your garden.
If a cold snap hits, be sure you have a way to protect the tomatoes from frost, such as a greenhouse. You could also use a row cover for fast protection too.
Peppers fall into the same thought process as tomatoes when most gardeners consider raising them in a colder climate.
Again, as long as you start the seeds indoors a few months prior to planting, they should have plenty of time before the frost to produce a bountiful harvest.
Eggplant goes along with tomatoes and peppers. They require warmer temperatures to grow and produce a nice harvest.
Therefore, the seeds must be started indoors a few months before the frost ends. When the threat of frost has passed, you should be safe to move them outdoors.
If you have a small raised bed you could give to growing garlic, you should have enough to store and use throughout the year.
Garlic is easy to grow because it prefers to be left alone while it grows. As long as your soil is thawed enough to plant and has the proper nutrients, you should be good to go.
Radishes are a wonderful plant to grow in a cooler climate. They’re a root vegetable and are therefore protected from the elements underground.
Plus, they require only 45 days to go from seed to harvest. They can be grown well in containers or in a greenhouse too.
The first time I planted arugula it was by accident. It was the best mistake of my gardening life, as far as I’m concerned.
Arugula is a great addition to a salad mix. It grows easily, is hardy, and adds a nice peppery flavor to the traditional salad.
If you live in a cold climate, consider yourself fortunate when it comes to celery. Many people realize they can’t grow celery in their area because it becomes too warm.
By living in a cold climate, you should have a greater chance at success with celery.
I love growing zucchini and squash. It’s because you can plant only one or two plants and have enough zucchini and squash to feed an army.
If you’re needing hardy plants which will give you an abundant harvest, add this option to your list. They can be grown well in containers which is great for moving them in and out of a greenhouse as needed.
Vegetables grown beneath the ground are great options for colder climates. They miss some of the harsh elements because of being insulated by the soil.
Therefore, consider planting potatoes in zone four. You can plant only a few seed potatoes and end up with a great harvest which can be easily stored in a root cellar or a make-shift root cellar.
25. Sweet Potatoes
The great thing about producing your own vegetables is you can decide which vegetables you grow and why.
Sweet potatoes should be added to your list because they’re full of vitamins and nutrients your body will gladly take. They’re also tasty!
Carrots are another root vegetable option which is great for growing in a colder climate. They can even be overwintered in the garden under mulch and protected by the soil.
You can also harvest them and store them in your root cellar. When growing carrots, they’re a wonderful option for raised beds and container gardens as well.
Parsnips are a close relative to carrots. They’re a wonderful addition to zone four gardening for this reason.
Therefore, they’ll grow well in containers or raised beds, are well protected by the soil as root vegetables, and can even be overwintered in your garden with a thorough layer of mulch.
Are you looking for an easy vegetable to grow underneath your feet? Onions could be what you need.
You can start them from seed before the ground thaws, transplant when the soil is workable, and fertilize as needed until harvest. They’re easy to grow and store for later use.
If you’re looking for a versatile vegetable, consider cabbage. It’s able to handle cooler weather because this will help keep the bugs at bay.
But once it’s been harvested, you can use cabbage in a variety of ways such as coleslaw, in cooked recipes, or even fermented which will produce sauerkraut.
Broccoli is another vegetable which enjoys cold weather. The only thing to consider with broccoli is you must plant a decent amount to get much of a harvest.
Though there are multiple parts of the broccoli head which can be harvested to make it go further, it requires a good deal of work for the amount of product you receive.
31. Brussels Sprouts
When your mind goes to Brussels sprouts, you might face children sticking their noses up at them because they’ve been overcooked.
In reality, there’s a variety of delicious recipes using Brussels sprouts. They’re also a cold-friendly vegetable making them perfect to be grown in zone four.
Beets, in my mind, are like turnips. You either love them or you don’t. My husband adores beets but only when they’ve been pickled.
I don’t mind pickling them for him because they’re easy to grow. They’re hardy in cold temperatures because they’re a root vegetable and protected by the earth around it. If you’re looking for a durable vegetable to easily grow, beets could be what you’ve been searching for.
I love raising beans. They handle the colder temperatures well, and they also give you a humdinger of a harvest from few plants.
Whether you’re growing a traditional style garden, a container garden, or a raised bed garden you can grow a few bean plants and have a quality harvest from them.
Peas are delicious, but they’re much like broccoli in my mind. You must plant a large quantity to get a decent harvest.
If this doesn’t deter you from planting fresh peas, go for it! They produce well in a cold climate but will require a reasonable amount of space.
If you enjoy cucumbers in your fresh salads, cucumber sandwiches, or homemade pickles, you must consider growing your own cucumbers.
They’re a variety of options which make them a great choice for any size garden. Also, you don’t need many plants because each plant provides a bountiful harvest.
The last vegetable which grows well in zone four is asparagus. Though it takes some time for asparagus to begin producing, it’s a great addition to your property.
You can make asparagus beds and have a nice harvest for years to come. It’s easy to grow and great for you too.
If you stick with this list, you should have a full garden. The great news is much of the vegetables mentioned are perennials.
Though this may take some time before you get a harvest from them, with a little care, they should come back to produce year after year.
Hopefully, you’ll find a few items here you’ll enjoy and will grow for years to come, and we hope the zone four gardening tips will help you have greater success in your area with gardening as well.