What are Plant Hardiness Zones?

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Plant Hardiness Zones Map courtesy of USDA.gov http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/

What are plant hardiness zones? Why are they important to me as a gardener? This was something I did not understand at all when I was a beginner gardener. I started by picking plants that I thought were pretty or ones I would like to try without even thinking that they might not be successful in my area at all due to their hardiness. As I have continued to plant over the past several years I have become more successful because I am looking for plants that will do well in my area instead of just picking them for looks alone. Understanding this information more as a beginner gardener I would have likely been more successful with my plantings in the beginning.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

In 2012 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) produced a map of the United States showing the country dived into 13 zones. These zones represent the average annual minimum winter temperatures. The zones are divided into areas that are 10-degree Fahrenheit different during the winter. The map was developed by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Services and the Oregon State University PRISM Climate Group. You can go to the United States Department of Agriculture’s web site and enter your zip code. At the top, it will tell you what plant hardiness zone you are located in. The 2012 map was a great improvement over the 1990 version of the map due to more advanced technology at the weather stations. You can read additional data on the 1990 version of the map through the National Gardening Association.

Why are Hardiness Zones Important to Gardeners?

As a new or seasoned gardener how do I use the hardiness zones to help plant my garden? I used a lot of trial and error when first starting out gardening. I think that this information will save you time when deciding what will plants do well in your area. When picking out trees, shrubs, and perennials you need to consider what temperatures those plants do the best in year round.

If you are buying from a local nursery they will most likely carry items that are well suited for your hardiness zone. But if you go to a local box store to purchase your plants, like Home Depot, Lowes, or Walmart, make sure to check the plants tag to see what hardiness zone this plant is meant for. They might not be specifically stocking items that will do well in the area you live in. Most plants will have a tag that lets you know what Hardiness Zones the plant grows best in. Ensuring your hardiness zone is listed in the range, will help that plant thrive. This one little step will help you to be more successful in growing that plant.

Can I plant things not in my Hardiness Zone?

You can definitely pick plants that are not within your hardiness zone. If you choose a plant that falls outside of your hardiness zone, you can still be successful. It is possible that you will have to work harder to keep that plant thriving. You may have to move that plant inside during the winter to allow it to survive. You may have to cover it during the winter to ensure it is warm enough in its location. Doing these things can be easy. You will just need to do a little bit more research so you can prepare to help that plant thrive. You are not guaranteed to have success even when planting a plant that is within your hardiness zone. It is always good to do some research on what your plants need to be successful.

Now that you know the basics of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones, you are on your way to becoming a successful gardener. Use this information along with your first and last frost dates to assist you in deciding what plants to include in your landscape. Go out with confidence to pick the tree, shrub, or perennial that will be perfect for your landscape. I hope you will join my newsletter to get additional tips and tricks to help your garden thrive.

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