Welcome to Grow Your Own Food, an informative series on gardening and growing your own food in Canada. Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to guide you through a year of growing your own food - planning, planting, maintaining, harvesting and putting your garden to bed for winter.  Today she demystifies the critical first step in having a successful garden: knowing your Canadian gardening zone.

Grow Your Own Food: Know Your Canadian Garden Zone | Food Bloggers of Canada

Whether it's a backyard garden, a community garden plot or a balcony container garden, you've decided that 2017 is the year you want to start gardening. The idea of growing your own food is something most people envision and it’s easier than you think. With a bit of information you’ll have a basis to start planning for spring.

Canadian Hardiness Zones

The first thing you need to know to grow a successful garden is what Canadian gardening zone or hardiness zone you live in. Hardiness zones are based on temperature and climate, and are numbered from 0 to 9, 0 being the coldest and 9 the hottest. You’ll also see the designation of a or b.

The purpose of hardiness zones is to identify how well plants will withstand the cold in these areas, as well as the hardiness and heat tolerance for growing. Knowing your zone gives you helpful information about what you can and can’t grow for a successful harvest. It’ll save you time and money and is an important number that you need to know.

The hardiness map for Canada shows you exactly the zone you’re in. That number gives you valuable information about gardening in your area such as:

  • what plants such as perennials, trees and shrubs are hearty in your area
  • what types of seeds you should buy
  • when to start your seeds
  • how long your growing season is
Grow Your Own Food: Know Your Canadian Garden Zone | Food Bloggers of Canada

It’s important to know this number when you start planning your yard and garden. Fruit trees, shrubs like blueberries and perennials such as raspberries can be expensive, so you want to be sure to purchase plants that will survive winter in your area.

It’s also important because our goal is to pick plants that will also thrive and be able to survive not only the cold but the heat. It’s disappointing to have a plant freeze, but heat waves can kill plants as well. The next time you’re at the garden centre, take a look at the tag on a tree, shrub or perennial. You’ll find information about that specific plant, its sun and water needs, and its hardiness zone number.

Now you’ve looked at the hardiness zone map and found that you live in a zone 4b. Great, but what does that mean? It means you should be looking for plants that grow in zone 4b or lower. A tree, shrub or perennial that’s marked anything over a 4b will die over the winter from freezing temperatures — the higher the hardiness zone number, the less cold tolerant it is.

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Your Garden Master Plan!

Grow Your Own Food: Know Your Canadian Garden Zone | Food Bloggers of Canada

This is a good time to create a master plan for your yard, balcony, rooftop or community garden plot or planters. I like to use a binder and loose leaf paper for my garden plans. It’s handy for taking notes and making drawings of your yard or garden plot. And it’ll become a great resource for you to look back at year after year, not only to see the evolution of your garden but to look at the notes to see what did or didn’t work.

A garden binder or master garden plan is especially handy if you have long-term plans for the space. Perhaps yor’re starting from scratch and are looking at tree placement or adding structural elements; a master plan makes the vision manageable and helps you identify what projects you want to tackle in the first year.

While it’s too early in the season to purchase plants, you can sit down now to start planning for the season. If there are trees, shrubs or perennials you’ve seen and thought would be great for your space, you now have the tools to do a bit of research to see if they’re viable options for your zone!

And if you have no idea what you want, pick up a garden magazine. They don’t always offer a lot in the way of information but they showcase gorgeous gardens and are a great resource for ideas and inspiration. It’s a great way to beat the winter blues and get you excited about gardening season!

More Reading

Through the Garden Gate: Know Your Zone was written by Redawna Kalynchuk. Redawna is the writer, photographer and content creator at Nutmeg Disrupted. She has over 20 years of gardening experience and has gardened from indoors under high-powered lights to frosty zone 2b gardens in northern Alberta. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional gardening and loves empowering others to grow their own food. You can follow her at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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This is such great information! I’m in 3B so some plants that are oh so pretty unfortunately won’t last the winter. I hate spending money of perennial plants that don’t survive longer than the summer.
Luckily our backyard is full of perennials that bloom at different times. It is a steady change of colour from flowers (including edible ones), fruit trees, hops, herbs and our planted vegetables.
The tiered vegetable boxes is great for lettuce, beans, peas, kale and the items you want on hand.
Our second city garden location houses the bigger items like potatoes, zucchini and squash.
it is so nice to have fresh produce on hand.


Melissa, love the idea of tiered vegetable boxes, that sounds like a fantastic use of space! My very first garden was in zone 3B and it was amazing how much I could grow. Though it was about 4000 square feet so I had a lot of room to play with. Now I am container gardening here at the house and then have room out at my sister in laws, she has an amazing garden. The housemate from downstairs claimed the garden here last year and I took over the plum trees. We had a spectacular plum harvest so I didn’t mind too much.

I would love to know what kind of edible flowers you grow, that is something I would love to learn more about!

Samantha | My Kitchen Love

Great post! I’m hoping to get more growth out of my garden this year. My heartiness zone looks like a 7b or 8 a … I couldn’t get the map to zoom in, which is likely to be a user issue 😉 Fingers crossed the snow stops out west and I can get planting some early spring fruits and veg soon.


Samantha, I totally have zone envy……oh the things I could grow!!!
The next article we talk about seeds and what one needs to get an early start by planting seeds indoors. It is a great option for a bit of a head start when the weather doesn’t want to cooperate. Fingers crossed that it stops snowing out your way!


This is great info – I really want to grow herbs this year! I am in 4a (Calgary) by the looks of it. I took a container gardening course about 15 years ago and was told that we have 6 different gardening zones in Calgary alone! You can grow cedars in city centre, but not up in the far NW where I am.


Hi Terri! It is amazing that the zones can vary so much in one city. In my first garden I had a micro climate in certain areas of my yard that would not get frost when other areas would. If a person can find those sweet spots you can really maximize the season.

Growing herbs is always great, it is nice to have a fresh supply on hand and it is an easy way to get a nice stockpile of dried herbs for the winter months.


I am gardening in zone 3b as well Nicole. There are some spectacular perennials that would be fantastic for your zone. And you can also to fruit trees, I have the most spectacular plum trees in the backyard that produce very well. Let me know if you have any questions.


Great info, thanks! 😀
I am in zone 4b, and would love to have some small potted “christmassy” type smaller trees (about 1 foot), to put by my front door. Are there any tree varieties that can survive living in a pot outside during winter months? …we do get tenperatures down to -35°c… and I am worried about root damage 🤔
Thanks in advance 😊


Nina, that is a great question. I have done some research and though there are a few options I can not say with 100% assurance that they will survive the cold winter temperatures we experience. Though I like to gamble and enjoy pushing plants to see how they perform under different situations. If you want to give it a try this winter here are a few of the plants I suggest you try. Do plant them in the ground in spring if they make it through the winter. When shopping do select dwarf or smaller statured varieties. You can grow cedars, small pines, small spruces, and junipers. Of course do check the growing zones on each type and choose accordingly. Another recommendation is to double pot it for added insulation. Take the container it is in and add a layer of dirt inside the decorative container you are using for double the protection for the roots.

I hope this has been helpful and I would love to hear your results next spring!

Happy Gardening!

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