The definition of “northern-zone gardening” tends to vary depending on who is doing the talking. I know many people who think zone 5 is a cold climate – and they’re not wrong, it does get cold! – but the challenges of gardening in zone 5 are compounded by the colder weather in zone 4… and once you hit zone 3, you’ve reached a line of demarcation that many fruit trees simply can’t cross.

Zone three fruit gardening is very challenging. Although you can baby many zone 5 trees for survival in zone 4, the frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall of zone 3 is a hard combination to beat. Many of the stone fruits (peaches and cherries) simply refuse to cross that line, and many other species aren’t tough enough for the winters either.

Finding fruit trees, shrubs, canes and vines cold-hardy enough to survive in zone three can be a challenge, so I’ve started keeping a list for my own reference – and for your reference as well, here’s my own personal list of species that have at least one super cold-hardy cultivar tough enough to survive in zone 3.

  1. Apple: Dependable and incredibly versatile, the apple is an incredibly cold-hardy fruit tree that can withstand zone 3 winters and still perform like a champ. There’s a strong showing of cold-hardy cultivars within the apple world, so shopping for a zone 3 hardy apple tree offers more choices than some of the other cold-hardy fruits do. 
  2. Plum: You can find this fruit in many different shapes and sizes. A “native plum” is an insanely tough, shrubby tree that suckers profusely and produces a small fruit. However, if you’re looking for full-size plums, you can find a decent variety of cultivars hardy to zone 3; personally, I recommend checking out the selection of zone 3 plum trees from Jung Seed. In my opinion, Jung’s quality is hard to beat!
  3. Honeyberry: I love the honeyberry. In my area, it’s one of the first plants to leaf out in the spring – not just in my fruit garden, either. It even beats the weeds! This blueberry-like fruit blossoms and fruits first thing every spring. You may see it advertised as a haskap or yezberry. Read more about growing the honeyberry.
  4. Elderberry: Most varieties of elderberry that I see are only advertised as cold-hardy to zone 4, but here and there you will run into a specific cultivar advertised to zone 3. Do be aware that elderberries almost always need a cross-pollinator, so you will have to find two varieties hardy to zone 3, not just one! I usually start looking for elderberries with Indiana Berry, one of my favorite small-fruit nurseries, but as of 2023 when I last checked they were only advertising one elderberry variety to zone 3.
  5. Gooseberry: I really appreciate my gooseberry bushes. They survive with minimal care, reproduce easily, and provide a decent amount of fruit with limited intervention from me! The only thing I find mildly annoying is the tails on the berries; the seeds aren’t big enough to be a problem. Just make sure that your locale hasn’t banned growing gooseberries!
  6. Strawberry: Strawberries are hard to beat. They’re quick to produce, quick to reproduce, and they’re tough enough to survive a frigid winter with a minimum of fussing (although if you garden in cold climates, mulch will definitely help beat back the frost!). There are many strawberry varieties hardy enough to survive zone 3, so you have plenty of options to choose from.
  7. Grape: Do be aware that the further north you plant, the less likely a seedless variety will survive (even for zone 4 it is hard to find a seedless variety, although it is possible!). For zone 3, just assume you will probably have to tolerate seeds in the fruit, but you can find varieties that nurseries guarantee to survive a zone 3 winter.
  8. Red Raspberries: I know, I’m a little biased, but the red raspberry has got a lot going for it. The red raspberry is one of my favorite cold-hardy fruits; you can find many cultivars capable of surviving in zone 3. My personal favorite the Caroline red raspberry isn’t really a good pick for zone 3, but there are other options out there!
  9. Cloudberry: It’s hard to find a nursery that carries some of the more unusual or native fruits, so don’t expect the cloudberry to pop up without some dedicated searching. However, if you can find it, this is an insanely cold-hardy fruit that is basically like a creeping gold raspberry.
  10. Salmonberry: This is NOT the same as a cloudberry. I don’t care what anyone tells you. There are distinct differences, but these two golden berry plants are often confused, so make sure you know which one you are getting before you plunk down your money.
  11. Aronia: I’m fairly new to the aronia world, but I’ve already learned that this fruiting shrub is tolerant of both extremely cold temperatures and gardener’s neglect (oops. I really did mean to weed that area). Although deserving of its own post, I only have a short write-up about the characteristics of the aronia shrub. For cold-zone gardeners looking for a small, winter-hardy canning berry, aronia is definitely worth a look.
  12. Red Currant: Once highly popular, now fairly rare, the red currant is extremely cold-hardy, fairly versatile, and productive. The berries are a little small in my opinion, but I love the flavor, and the seeds don’t bother me like they do with blackberries. Be aware that like the gooseberry, growing red currants is banned in certain locations.
  13. Bush cherry: Bush cherries (commonly sold as nanking cherries or part of the Romance series, such as Carmine Jewel Dwarf, the Romeo, and other valentine-type names) are extremely resilient, and are typically guaranteed down to zone 3 (although you should check the nursery you’re buying from, just to be sure!). Although very versatile, the bush cherry has a totally different taste from a sweet cherry. Depending on what variety you get, don’t expect a burst of sweetness when you bite down… but still, bush cherries are among the most reliable fruits to grow in zone 3.
  14. *Sweet Cherry: I first saw a sweet cherry for zone 3 advertised in spring 2023, and that’s a wildly exciting development. However, first things first: I can’t personally guarantee survival as I’ve never grown the variety, but the Chelan Cherry Tree is rated cold-hardy to zone 3 by some nurseries. Maybe that guarantee will stand the test of time and maybe it won’t, but I’m adding to the list with the caveat that I’ve never tested it.
  15. Pie cherry: Like the sweet cherry, but not… sweet. Pie cherries are also known as sour cherries, and in addition to the difference in flavor, the tree itself is more likely to have a dwarfing habit, and the cold tolerance is typically higher. It’s much easier to find a pie cherry rated to zone 4 than it is to find a sweet cherry that hardy. If you’re not able to find a nursery guaranteeing a given cultivar’s survivability in your zone, check out the “Cherries” dropdown menu under “Choosing and buying plants” on the stone fruit page of the University of Minnesota extension. There’s a great table outlining how well different varieties handle zone 4 to zone 3 winters.
  16. Sea Berry: Also known as sea buckthorn, the sea berry is WILDLY cold-hardy. Bonus points for tolerating some soil salinity, too! This is a unique, incredibly tough fruiting shrub that may give zone 3 gardeners the closest taste to home-grown citrus that they will ever get (unless they grow citrus on their windowsill, of course). 

Keep in mind that this is a list of types of fruit. You still need to do your research to find specific cultivars within each species that will survive your zone (for example, not all apple trees will survive zone 3 – so it’s your job to make sure you purchase a cold-hardy apple tree, and that you purchase from a nursery that will guarantee survival through the first winter, if possible!).

Not sure what fruit trees will work in your zone? Check out my article on how to find cold-hardy fruit trees for zone 4 and colder.

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