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Understanding Plant Hardiness Zones

Understanding Plant Hardiness Zones

The first thing any new gardener needs to know is which U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone you live in. These zones will help you choose the right plants for your landscape and will make your entire gardening experience much more enjoyable and rewarding. The zone number will help you know which plants will do best for the climate you live in. This is why understanding plant hardiness zones are important and it is also why making good local plant choices will ensure you have a successful garden year after year!

What Your Zone Means

The USDA developed a way to divide the United States into 13 basic zones. These divisions are based on minimum winter temperature average for the year. Zone 1 is the coldest and includes frigid areas like Fairbanks, Alaska, and the northern islands of Canada. Zone 11 is where the majority of the Hawaiian Islands are located. Zones 12 and 13 are located in the US territory of Puerto Rico. It is easy to see how the lower numbers are colder regions and thus would have different plant life than the higher warmer zone numbers. Each zone is further subdivided for better accuracy into brackets like 7A, 7B and so forth.

Planting in Your Zone

 Most plants you can find will have some indication of what zone or zone range they can easily be grown in. It is important to take note of this because the closer to the high or low end of the plant hardiness zones range you are in the harder plant care could be. And if you live outside the zone it could be next to impossible to get the plant to thrive. For example, if you live in zone 5 and you are thinking of including a plant that is listed as best in zone 5-7 you may have some trouble with the cold temperatures during winter. In zone 5, a plant listed or zone 7-8 likely will not survive long and will take much more time, money, and energy to keep alive.

Other Weather Factors to Consider

Keep in mind that plant hardiness zones are just a general guideline and other factors also need to be considered to fully determine if a plant is right for your yard. The zones only look at average temperatures and as we know, more goes into plant care than temperature ranges. You will need to consider soil type, altitude, space limitations, soil drainage, moisture, humidity, rainfall, sun exposure, temperature highs, pruning, wind, and other factors like salt spray or pollution. Plant hardiness zones are a good starting point for deciding what plants to include in your garden, but your local plant choices need to also be based on all the other factors that go into caring for a landscape effectively.

Going Native With Plants

A good way to ensure you are choosing plants that will thrive in your plant hardiness zones is to go native.  These native plants are ones that naturally can be found in your area and are thus suited for all the environmental factors you have to take into account. For warmer areas like Florida, their local plant choices for natives are plants that tolerate heat well while plants native to Texas can tolerate heat and lack of rainfall better than most plants. Going with native plants means you use less water, need less fertilizer and pesticides, and have healthy plants with less effort.  For many, it is the smart choice to make for their landscape plants.

If you have any questions about the US plant hardiness zones and where you fall, or if you would like some help making sense of your local plant choices, come by and see us today!