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What Does Gardening Zone Really Mean?
About Growing in Your Gardening Zone
How to Plant by Zone
‘Bloom where you’re planted’ is a beautiful phrase that appears on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs. The sentiment being, of course, that it’s incumbent on all of us to be the best versions of ourselves wherever we are geographically. It’s not always an easy task for us, as humans—but for plants it can actually be impossible.
Growing zones explain why. In the mainland United States, there are 9 growing zones—ranging from Zone 3 (in the northernmost reaches) to Zone 11 (in the southernmost reaches); zones 1 through 2 and zones 12 through 13 are located in Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii.
These growing zones, also known as “gardening zones,” “planting zones,” or “hardiness zones,” are defined by the USDA and aim to help gardeners understand what plants can thrive in their climates.
Want to grow plants that will thrive in your particular zone? First, use this map to find out what zone you’re located in. Then, do some research to find out which plants will grow best in your zone—and what tools will help make everything possible.
Same State, Different Zone
Check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map and you might be surprised to learn that your state could be home to several different planting zones! This is why, when gardening, your hometown might actually have more in common with a similarly zoned town across the country, as opposed to a town just 6 hours north or south from your home. (Take, for example, the fact that parts of coastal south Alaska are in the same hardiness zone as Ohio. Who would’ve thought?)
This is why you should let your zone, rather than your simple geographical location, dictate what you plant and the tools you’ll use in the planting.
Gardening enthusiasts plan their gardens carefully and understanding USDA planting zones is integral to that planning’s success.
In zones with long winters and short growing seasons, for example, you will want to invest in an excellent, heirloom-quality seed organizer, to ensure you know exactly what to plant and when. Additionally, in order to maximize the success of your short growing season in a cold zone, you may want to begin your garden indoors using sets of grow lights and high-quality indoor watering tools. This way, if you live anywhere from zones 3-7, you’ll be ready to move your plants outside right after your region’s final frost and make the most of your growing season—however long or short it may be.
Planting Zones: Give Me All The Dirt
Climate zone maps were created to help gardeners understand what plants will grow well in their region. Originally, the USDA created its zone map based solely on average annual minimum winter temperatures, and then divided these figures into 10-degree zones. Even now, a region’s average annual minimum winter temperature is a huge determining factor in its zone—but as science and climate models have advanced, so, too, has the USDA’s determination process.
Now, the USDA determines zones based on a number of factors: average annual minimum winter temperature, elevation, nearness to large bodies of water, and position on terrain (such as valley bottoms and ridge tops). These advances in technology have significantly improved the accuracy of the USDA zone map, making gardening by zone more effective and efficient than ever.
Why? Because now, at least in part, the literal dirt between regions in similar zones is more alike than ever, and gardeners are able to prepare accordingly.
Gardeners living in zones with exceptionally difficult soils, for example, can invest in weeding tools that can penetrate even the toughest dirt. Gardeners whose plants or trees will require deep digging can invest in a high-quality set of digging tools while gardeners whose plants or seeds require only an inch or so of dirt to grow can invest in a great, sturdy set of hand tools instead.
Whatever the job, there’s a tool that will make it easier and more successful, so be sure to include product research when you’re looking into what you want to plant and when.
“The fact that parts of coastal south Alaska are in the same hardiness zone as Ohio. Who would’ve thought?”
Additional Factors to Consider When Planning Your Zone-Specific Garden
While knowing your hardiness zone will definitely help you to plan and improve your garden, there are several other factors to consider when planning and planting.
First, decide what you’re going to plant—and when you’re going to plant it—based on your zone. Then, make a list of the things you might need, based on what you’re planting. If you live in Zone 7, for example, you might want to plant fruit trees, as they thrive in your region. Invest in a telescoping fruit picker or a long-reach pruner before you do so.
(Photo on left: Lifetime Watering Set by Garrett Wade)
Ask yourself: What are the watering needs for the plants in my garden? Then, look at those needs against what nature will provide in your zone. How much precipitation do you get annually? Will you need a watering system to make sure all of your plants’ watering needs are met? If so, invest in a watering system you can depend on.
Research: What are the unique conditions of my region, beyond its zone? If you live in a coastal climate, for example, your proximity to the water can affect everything from your soil type to your region’s weather patterns. Invest in a soil tester to make sure your soil is healthy before, during and after you begin. You may also need to invest in a cargo protection liner for your car.
The work of a garden is endless—and it can last a little while or a long while, depending on your zone and the length of your growing season. But with the right tools, and a little research, your plants really will bloom wherever and whenever they’re planted. Good luck!