Gardening — 15 May 2013

Our neighbors had a beautiful new house.  It was trendy with a lush southwestern theme.  Adobe house, sparkling pool, a landscape of tall palm trees and exotic cactus.   The only problem was we didn’t live in the southwest.  We lived in a place where the winter acted like winter and happened to kill off palm trees and cactus with yearly consistency.   Oh they tried to baby those trees and succulents.  They would wrap the trunks for the winter, they would cover the cactus bushes, they even tried winding heated strings along the trunks to no avail.  Every winter the trees died and every spring they planted again until they finally years later admitted defeat.  Our neighbors had a lot of determination, but what they needed was some knowledge about climate zones.

Lots of factors go into how well a plant will grow; growing season, temperatures, rainfall, wind, humidity.  The list goes on and on and where to start can seem a little overwhelming for a beginning gardener.  If you have a few ideas of what types of plants you want looking at a climate zone map or hardiness zone map is a good place to start.  Though climate zone maps are more a guideline than anything else for gardeners, there can be some truth in what the facts tell you.

The United States Department of Agriculture divides most of North America into zones based mostly on the average winter low temperature.  Getting the information for your area is easy, just go to the following link and type in your zipcode.

http://www.garden.org/zipzone/

USDA Plant Hardiness Map for Washington State
USDA Plant Hardiness Map for Washington State

Another source of information is the Sunset Climate Zone Maps published by the Sunset Magazine which take into account more factors than the USDA hardiness zones, like rainfall, humidity, wind, length of growing season and others.  These maps are used more frequently by those in Western states as the USDA hardiness maps are unreliable for this area.  I remember growing up watching my dad, an avid gardener, pore over seed catalogs.  The reference bible to him seemed to be the Sunset catalog, a humongous tome he would refer to and mark up.  He enjoyed pushing the boundaries of what plants he could baby along into survival at our house; enjoying success with the hydrangeas but dismal failure with blueberries.  To find out your zone for these maps go to the following link.

http://www.sunset.com/garden/climate-zones/

Both the USDA and the Sunset Zone Maps can be good places to start for a gardener with little experience who is looking for ideas on what plants would do well in his/her area.  They are also good sources for experienced gardeners who are looking for ideas for new potential plants to cultivate.

-Article written by Emily

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