What are Planting Zones & Why Do They Matter?

US Planting Map Featured Image 1

image courtesy of Gilmour

You might have heard of the term “USDA hardiness zones,” but do you know how to use them to make your garden thrive?

Gardening enthusiasts need a way to compare the climate of their area with the climate in which their plant is known to thrive. That’s why the planting zones or hardiness zones were created.

The planting zone you live in influences what you can grow. Follow Tractors Sprinkler Hub as we take a deeper look into the planting zones 2018 and see how they can help you evade some of the challenges gardeners face.

What are the Hardiness Zones?

A hardiness zone or planting zone is a geographic region defined to include a range of weather conditions suitable for plant growth and survival. The most commonly used system was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA.) It is a basic guide for gardening and landscaping, defining 13 zones by annual extreme minimum temperatures.

Hardiness Zone or Planting Zone normally refers to the USDA scale, unless otherwise specified. If a plant is said to be “hardy to zone 10,”, it means the plant can survive a minimum temperature of 30.2°F to 39.0°F.

Other hardiness rating systems include the US Sunset Western Garden Book and the UK Royal Horticultural Society systems.

Why Do Planting Zones or Hardiness Zones Matter?

All plants are different. Some can thrive in cold climates while others cannot. Virtually every plant has been assigned a hardiness zone.

It is imperative that you know your USDA hardiness zone. You want to have a clear understanding of what type of plants grow best in your area, when to plant, and how to make the most of your specific growing conditions.

A Zone Map normally shows planting zones by state. It will help you decide if a plant can thrive in your area, be it a perennial or an annual.

For example, if you are looking at a plant that is hardy to Zone 5 through 10, and you live in Zone 5, then the plant is suited to your area. Namely, if your zone lies with the range stated for the plant, then the plant is hardy for your area. That means this particular plant can be a perennial in planting zones 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. If a certain plant is described as “hardy down to Zone 5,” then it should be hardy to a warmer climate. Nonetheless, some plants may not do well in warmer conditions.

If you live in a zone lower than the zone listed on your plant description, then that particular plant won’t be hardy to your zone. You will have to treat that plant as an annual. For example, if you are in Zone 5 and a plant is described as “hardy to Zones 9 – 11,” that means you will have to treat the plant as an annual in Zone 5.

When you understand your zone, it becomes far easier to determine if a plant will be perennial and withstand winters in your area.

What Don’t Planting Zones Tell You?

Hardiness zones are incredibly helpful, but they don’t tell you everything. Besides temperature, there are many other factors that determine how well a plant will grow, including:

  • Rainfall
  • Wind
  • Humidity

Zone Maps are compiled based on average temperatures. They don’t take into consideration unusual weather patterns. These maps also don’t have a guarantee that winter temperatures will never fall below what’s stated on the map.

Effects of soil and soil fertility, as well as the overall health of your plants, are some other factors that can’t be shown on a hardiness zone map.

Zone maps also don’t tell you about microclimates. A microclimate is a small area with different weather from the larger area in which it is located. A mountain is a great example of a microclimate. The north and south sides of the mountain would have different weather. A place can have several microclimates, with one enriching or canceling out the effect of another.

In conclusion, knowing your planting zone is important. It will get you started on the right foot when it comes to home gardening. But don’t ignore the many other factors that affect your gardening, like soil conditions, water availability, and pests.

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