Planting Zones and Seasonal Gardening Guide
In order to help gardeners determine which varieties of plants will grow best in local climate conditions, the U.S.D.A. has devised a system of hardiness zones.
Hardiness zones, developed by the U.S.D.A., provide a means of comparing prevailing atmospheric conditions and the durability of various species of plants. These detailed computations and projections unique to a given place describe the climate by quantifying the range of temperatures during the cold months over a period of years. Horticulturists then have a gauge to figure out whether or not a certain kind of plant can survive winter conditions in such a place.
Hardiness zones, along with reliable recommendations of plant species based on the appropriate use of the maps generated by detailed climate statistics, guide residential gardeners in selecting all manner of plants that will thrive and prosper in their specific region of the country. From flowers and flowering bushes to shrubs, succulents, and trees, hardiness zones provide gardeners with a valuable tool that aids in selecting, planning, and achieving vibrant and beautiful landscape projects.
Hardiness zones, implemented by the U.S.D.A., use annual climate statistics to quantify the severity of winter in a given region for the purpose of determining which plants would best flourish there.
U.S. Plant Hardiness Zones
Getting in the Zone of the United State of America
Hardiness zones help gardeners determine which plants will thrive and prosper in a given climate. A hardiness zone is a geographically defined zone in which a specific type of plant is capable of growing, as determined by temperature hardiness, or its ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the area. These zones were first implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.), and have subsequently been adapted for use in other countries. The zones are differentiated from one another based on the average of the lowest temperature recorded each winter, termed the “average annual minimum temperature.”
In North America, the official hardiness zones map was revised and published by the U.S.D.A. in 1990 and serves as a guideline for selecting annual plant varieties. Each zone in the United States is labeled with a number ranging from one to 11. In 2003, a preliminary draft of a new map was produced by the American Horticultural Society (A.H.S.), using temperature data collected from July 1986 to March 2002, a period of atypically warm winters in the eastern part of the United States. The 2003 map places many areas a zone higher (warmer) than the 1990 map. The proposed map also shows a finer level of detail, for example reflecting urban heat islands by showing the downtown areas of several major cities as a full zone warmer than the outlying areas. As of the current date, the U.S.D.A. still endorses the older version of the map.
Plants vary to an extreme degree in their ability to withstand extremes of climate. The ability of a plant to withstand cold is the most basic and pervasive measure of its hardiness. The selection or breeding of varieties capable of withstanding particular climates can be challenging even to the most experienced agriculturalist or horticulturist. As living organisms, plants can adapt to some extent to changes in climate. Much of the work of nursery growers of plants consists of hardening (or hardening off) their plants to prepare them for likely conditions later in their lifespan.
For Best Results
The hardiness zones are effective in that, for many situations, extremes of winter cold are the most important factor in deciding whether a plant species can be cultivated outdoors at a particular location. However, some discrepancies exist in the system, requiring aspiring gardeners to approach plant selection cautiously. Hardiness zones generally address issues of cold and conspicuously ignore summer heat levels. Paradoxically, a site that may have the same average lows over the winter but markedly different summer highs will still be accorded the same hardiness zone. Gardeners attempting to grow plants at the extreme ends of the spectrum of hardiness zones in which that plant can survive may find that an unusually cold winter or hot summer threatens the success of new plantings.
In addition, many plants and plant species have special characteristics that may make them harder to grow in certain climates. Many plants will not live through severe winters; others will wither in the heat, and many spring-flowering bulbs and trees need a cold period to stimulate their growth cycles. Plants usually survive the cold better in a dry area, where moisture trapped underground cannot compromise root systems. Deciduous plants tolerate more exposure to sun and summer heat. Evergreens prefer a sheltered area with more humidity and cooler summers.
There are also different climates and frost dates within planting zones due to topography, lakes, rivers, canyons, or mountains. These can cause altered airflows that can raise or lower the temperature, changing the zone in a localized area. Densely populated urban areas often experience warmer climates than surrounding areas due to the influence of man-made objects and architecture. The chemical balance and texture of the soil, exposure, altitude, rainfall, humidity, sunlight levels, and wind chill factors can also alter the local climate subtly, potentially skewing the predictive accuracy of plant hardiness zones.
International planting zones extend the work of the U.S.D.A. in creating hardiness zones to help gardeners all over the world find the right plants for their own use. Useful for cultivating exotic plants and planning novel species, these systems can help you get the best garden ever.
International Planting Zones
The best-laid plans
International planting zone maps and charts help gardens stay in peak condition all year. With all the considerations that influence a plant’s success (water needs, light requirements, and soil conditions, along with a host of other important issues) it can be difficult to know which plants will grow well in any given area. A good place to start is in knowing a plant’s winter hardiness. Thankfully, this information has been compiled in easy-to-use maps.
Planting zones, also known as hardiness zones, were first developed by the United States Department of Agriculture in the 1960s. Since the 1960s, the U.S.D.A. has been compiling data and creating maps to aid large-scale agricultural producers and hobbyist gardeners alike. These maps separate the country into many smaller micro-zones based on minimum annual low temperatures. Hardiness maps and their corresponding zones give gardeners information about which plant species are most likely to survive and thrive in their respective areas. Each zone in the United States is labeled with a number ranging from one to 11. Each of these numbers corresponds to a mean annual low temperature. For example, areas in zone 1 have average low temperatures of about -50 degrees Fahrenheit, while those in zone eleven average lows of 10 degrees.
Taking the Show on the Road
Since the system used in the United States is founded on such simple principles, other nations around the globe have made similar maps based on their winter low temperatures. Many of these international hardiness zone maps are accessible online and in print through specialty garden retailers and through international garden societies like the United Kingdom’s Commercial Horticultural Association. A word of caution: since maps created in different international locations may not adhere to exactly the same system developed by the U.S.D.A., not all spots in any given zone will have exactly the same mean winter low temperatures.
If a gardener has concerns about the reliability of a zone map’s information or the compatibility of different international hardiness zones, there is a simple way to calculate the correct zone. To approximate a hardiness zone, find out what the average low temperatures are for the area you want to label. Information about average annual lows can be gathered at national weather services, as well as agricultural extension offices. This information translates to a corresponding hardiness zone label of 1 through 10.
Part of the beauty of hardiness zones is in their simplicity, but that lack of complexity does make for some limitations. In the gardener’s vernacular the term hardiness takes into account many things. In addition to the cold, hardiness factors include heat, drought, and wind tolerance. While knowing one’s zone illustrates which plants are more likely to survive the punishment of winter, the zones only address the coldest climatic conditions. This means that while a plant may survive a garden’s winter temperature, that same plant may die in that climate’s summer heat. In short, these zones take no account of soil conditions, rainfall or other factors essential to the success of garden plants. That said, hardiness zones are useful when the information they contain is utilized properly.
The best way to use planting zones is as a tool to determine a plant’s likelihood of surviving winter low temperatures. This can be especially constructive when dealing with exotic, unfamiliar, or non-native plant materials. For example, a gardener living in Dublin, Ireland (in zone 8) could expect a non-native plant from other zones also labeled 8 to over-winter in his or her climate. This information is increasingly useful as international plant distributors move species around the globe at a record pace and exotic plants find their way into gardens all over the world.
Know your garden zone
The U. S. Department of Agriculture created a map of North America in the mid-1900s that separated the continent into eleven growing zones based on the lowest annual minimum temperature. This was done to aid farmers and gardeners in selecting plants that would do well in their region. This map is especially helpful when choosing trees, shrubs, and perennial plants, but is also useful as a guideline when planting seeds for crops and gardens. Since growing seasons vary by region, it is beneficial to know what seeds require longer periods to reach maturity and produce grain, fruits, and vegetables for harvesting.
The map has been modified several times since its inception, due to changes in climate and to give it more granularities in certain areas. The AHS (American Horticulture Society) created a plant heat zone map in 1997 to be used along with the USDA zone map, to help aid in selecting plants according to their ability to sustain high temperatures. Recently there was funding granted to AHS to update the USDA map to accommodate global climate changes. The updated map is expected to be released this year.
According to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report, “parts of northern Minnesota have warmed five degrees F or more in winter” in the last 100 years; and “precipitation has already increased 20 percent in the southern half on the state since 1900.” It is generally thought that for every 1.8 degrees F that the climate heats up, the vegetation zone shifts north approximately 60 miles.
Scientists predict that Minnesota weather will become more humid and wetter, and may potentially be more like the climates of Nebraska, or Missouri. For Minnesota gardeners, this could mean that plants and shrubs that were previously off-limits in your backyard, would now flourish in the warmer climate. While this might seem like a wonderful thing, it generates concerns for the effect that it will have on not only plants, but insects, birds, and the rest of the food chain as it depends on vegetation for nourishment.
For those gardeners that like to experiment with different annuals, perennials, and bulbs, the climate changes provide a continuous laboratory in the backyard garden. Vegetation, much like humans, is very adaptable, and if the changes are gradual, most will adjust and be resilient enough to not only survive but possibly even flourish. However, it is safe to say that some plants (much like insects, birds, and humans) will move on to climates that are more conducive to their survival or just die out completely.
To be sure, capturing evidence of climate change patterns and modifying plans for successful growing seasons is an ongoing challenge. We can be confident that farmers and gardeners will continue to do what they’ve done for centuries. That is, through trial and error, determine what grows best in their fields and gardens, and build on their experience, working to refine and adjust it to accommodate the weather changes year after year. And continue to hope that the rest of the food chain can succeed in doing the same.
What is Zone Gardening and How does it Effect You?
If you are putting together a garden, and your plan is to grow live plants in a successful manner, then as a gardener one of the things that you are going to have to do is to choose the plants that fit in well with your own personal gardening zone. The majority of the plants that you are going to find in your local nurseries are going to be at least somewhat compatible with your area’s gardening zone. When you buy seeds, seedlings and bulbs in catalogs and through other sources, you should find them to be tagged so that you can tell what types of zones they are going to best thrive in. These zones are identified based on the overall climate for the region as well as the minimum and maximum temperatures that are recorded in the specific area.
The United States Department of Agriculture or USDA has a gardening zone map that is based on the lowest temperatures that are experienced all throughout the entire United States as well as Canada and Mexico. There are 11 different gardening zones that are designated on this map. The coldest zone on the map is zone 1 and the hottest zone on the map is zone 11. This map was originally released in the early 1960s, and it has been revised multiple times throughout the years. The current map that is in use by the USDA was last revised in 1990. In this map, zones 2 through 9 are all subdivided into two sections which are a and b, and these zones are represented by lighter shades in the case of a, and darker shades in the case of b. Each of these sections is designed to represent a difference of as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit in each of the zones, with the lighter shades representing 5 degrees cooler than the darker shades.
A single state can easily fall into a number of different zones at once. Alaska, for example, has zones 1, 2a, 2b, and 3a within it. Florida is another one of the United States that has multiple zones located within it. The state begins at zone 8b and then it ends at zone 10b. All of the warmest regions within the United States are going to fall under zone 11. Hawaii, for example, falls into zone 11. The United States Department of Agriculture was the first group to develop these hardiness zones, but there have been other adaptations over time as well.
Using the right plants in the proper gardening zone is going to play a big role in making sure that you experience gardening success. Zone maps are capable of being found in book stores, libraries, and online. Gardening supply stores also tend to be a good reference for this purpose. Don’t be afraid to ask questions at your local nursery if you are unsure about a certain plant and its likelihood to succeed in your country garden landscape.
Table of Contents
- 1 Planting Zones and Seasonal Gardening Guide
- 1.1 U.S. Plant Hardiness Zones
- 1.2 International Planting Zones