How To Garden In Ohio, With Cold Climate Tips

Ilona Erwin

a cold climate garden
spring blooming tree
early summer
autumn lake and woods

Ohio Is A Cold Climate Garden

First of all, when gardening in Ohio, there is no such thing as one size fits all. The State itself has a stretch of differing climate zones, soil types, and terrains that are quite dissimilar.

Still, we have enough in common in our gardens, as well as with those in other “Corn Belt” states of the Midwest, to provide a good profile for avoiding garden mistakes and maximizing our success at growing things.

The most basic skill a gardener attains is the ability to grow things.

Ohio Weather



The weather goes to the top of the list when talking about Ohio. Exposed to equal effects from both Tropic and Canadian air currents, we get some of the extreme and sometimes the clash of these two wind forces.

If you are looking at the Zones on a plant guide be aware that the designations have changed and brought Ohio into a warmer zone. Officially, that is.

As a gardener, those numbers could easily lead to disappointment. Remember, this State is subject to extremes at times. You will be generally safe if you plant for Zone 5, but there is that occasional winter that will kill the trees, roses, and plants that were questionably hardy for our State. Nothing on the tags will warn you about this, so I am giving you an alert.

My Advice About Hardiness

I would go ahead and take the chance that your perennials will survive, but when it comes to the longer term investment of planting a tree, be conservative.

cherry tree

Arbor view of Cherry tree and Texas Scarlet quince

Choosing A Tree

  • Buy a tree grown originally in a Northern nursery.
  • Generally, don’t plant trees that are not fully hardy, at least Zone 5 hardy, and maybe just Zone 4 hardy.
  • If you do choose a less hardy tree, use microclimates to your advantage.

What’s at stake? If you purchase a tree, spend effort planting and caring for it, time waiting for it to mature… only to lose it in a very cold year, it is not worth the off chance that they will survive.

With perennials and shrubs, it is slightly less important to be so cautious. They are easily replaced, and being shorter, they more easily protected with mulches, etc. There is not much you can do to protect a tree from being killed by extreme cold, but shrubs often resprout vigorously from being cut back hard.

Moderating Ohio’s Climate Effect

microclimate illustration

Showing leeward side of building

Once you have considered choosing the plants for hardiness, there are methods of protecting your garden from the prevailing winds and the effects of frost.

Throughout Ohio, the prevailing winds come from the Southwest. That is generally where to place a windbreak, or to keep in mind when using the leeward side of a building for protection. Why is wind important? More plants are lost to desiccation from wind than the actual degree of cold.

The other concern for the welfare of many plants in a cold climate is soil drainage, so read the section here on soil for tips to preserve our plants through an Ohio winter.

soil regions of Ohio


Tips for growing well in Ohio soils
Know Thy Soil

The wide range of soils make it impossible to give detailed advice. Get soil samples and have them analyzed, learn specific techniques and advice from your county extension agent. Here are the general things to remember as a gardener.

Clay soils
You may well have some form of clay soil. In the central western area I have a loamy clay, but you may have more of a clay profile or a sandy clay near the Lake. The more clay, the more important adding humus and avoiding working the soil while wet.
Improve a clay soil
Soil pH
Generally the eastern part of Ohio has more acidic soil and the western areas have more neutral soils. The limestone outcropping of the North predicts some alkalinity.
Your soil pH
Room For Improvement
Soils are in constant state of needing attention. There is always room for improving fertility and increasing humus in a well worked garden. Ohio has some areas of deep soils, but most are woodland uplands on shale and have lost much of their organic matter over time.


soil amendments

soil amendments

Cold Climate Gardening

Is there such a thing as moderate extremes?

So what is Ohio, in a nutshell?

  • A cold climate: the zones range from Zone 5 to Zone 6
  • The northern region borders on Lake Erie with the “Lake Effect” to consider.
  • It is temperate, within the humid continental zone
  • It has hot, humid summers; occasionally suffering droughts

There is a standing joke about the high rate of change in our weather. Within the general patterns, expect a lot of exceptions.

Quicklist: hints and tips

Garden awareness
  • Pay attention to zone hardiness when planting perennials and trees
  • Use mulches to moderate soil conditions for your plantings
  • Because of rainfall, regularly increase soil fertility
  • Most Ohio Gardens need additional humus
  • Most roses need protection in Ohio
  • Stay aware of new insect problems: Japanese Beetes, Emerald Borer, etc.

Tracy DiSabato-Aust has her own garden in Ohio, but as a world class garden expert she writes for a wide range of gardens. I consider her one of the top garden authorities for Ohio when it comes to adding books to your gardening bookshelf.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.