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Jan 1, 2015 9:06 AM CST
I notice that there is a frequent reference to "zones" on the forums. Why is this important? Also, I live in the Northeast US. What zone would that be?

Thank you,

Name: Tara
NE, Florida (Zone 9a)
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Jan 1, 2015 9:32 AM CST
It has everything to do with plant hardiness for your area...

You can look at this map to judge the zone for your location.

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Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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Jan 1, 2015 10:08 AM CST
Welcome! Dom,
Hope you enjoy ATP. Thumbs up

I learned from another member (it may have been RickCorey but I'm not positive) that along with the
UDSA climate zones we might also check into the
Sunset Zones as explained here:

This is the information for the northeastern US Sunset Zones:

Please remember that plants don't know how to read these links and maps; they sometimes grow and behave differently than we expect. Rolling on the floor laughing
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Tiffany
Opp, AL (Zone 8b)
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Jan 1, 2015 10:12 AM CST
Welcome, Dom!

Various plants can survive varying degrees of cold/depth of soil freeze. Those that survive winter in a particular location are called hardy perennials. If one puts perennial plants in their garden that aren't hardy for the winter in that zone, winter will kill them. Some plants can be evergreen in warmer climates, but die back to the ground and grow back from the roots after winter. For these reasons, knowing a person's zone is what enables the most accurate info/reasonable expectations to be given to questions asked.

Stores usually have plants separated appropriately for the area. If sold as perennial at a nearby store, it should be hardy in your area. There are many true annual plants, but many plants sold "as annuals" in colder climates are just perennials that can't survive winter in the area. If you are in zone 5 and read about a perennial that is hardy to zone 7, you would know not to expect it to live through winter outside in your yard, but may be possible to save inside if interested in that kind of thing.
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Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
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Jan 1, 2015 7:09 PM CST
Dom, if you enter your approximate location (city and state) into your personal profile, ATP will automatically tell you which zone you are in, I think. Click on the little icon of a person in the blue sidebar at left of the home page. Then click 'Change your public profile'.

Knowing your zone allows you to choose plants that will survive winter where you live. Or in my case it also helps me to choose plants that can survive our long, hot humid summers. But if you only grow plants indoors, it's sort of irrelevant.

The NE part of the US has zones ranging from 3 (very cold in winter) to 6 or 7 near the coasts, which have their winter temperatures moderated by proximity to the water. Seattle WA and Vancouver, Canada also are in zone 8 because it rarely freezes there for long, the sea water moderates the temperature so much.

Altitude also affects what zone you are in. My daughter lives in Salt Lake City, and is in zone 6 but just a few miles away, up in the mountains would be zone 3 at best.

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." โ€“Winston Churchill
[Last edited by dyzzypyxxy - Jan 1, 2015 10:34 PM (+)]
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Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
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Jan 1, 2015 9:48 PM CST
There are also heat zones. Some plants can tolerate higher temperatures without special protection ...i.e. shade ... than others.

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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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Jan 6, 2015 8:04 PM CST
Hi, Dom! Welcome to ATP. New England ... well, mountains will make it much colder and extremes more extreme. Coasts and lakeshores will be warmer, or at least less variable. Speaking very loosely, Rhode Island to Maine, anywhere from Zone 3 to Zone 7. (For Zone 3 to 7, that's -40F to 10F.)

Another way of saying "USDA Hardiness Zone" is "what's the coldest is it likely to get next winter, where you live?".

It's important to remember that the USDA Hardiness Zones are AVERAGES.

For example, my Zone is 8B, therefore about half of my winters stay above 15-20 F. So far, so good.

However, that means that about half of my winters dip BELOW 15-20 F at some point. Plants that are only marginally hardy for my zone should only die in HALF of the winters!

Of course, the direction that a bed faces, shade, wind, rain and snow cover all affect the actual temperatures that each bed actually experiences ("micro-climate").

And I think that there is a HUGE random factor that comes from how steady and consistent the changes are during spring and fall. Plants like gradual transitions and no unexpected reverses. Ideal weather would be gradual cooling over fall, consistent cold under snow cover all winter, then a steady warm-up in Spring.

An "Indian Summer" can "confuse" a plant and cause it to put on late, tender growth at the wrong time, which then dies back when fall finally gets around to chilling down. A late cold snap in Spring can kill plants that "did the right thing" by putting out lush spring growth at a date when they "expected" settled warmish weather.

You can squint at maps down to street level, and debate whether to use the very latest USDA updates, and resolve to grow only plants hardy to two full zones colder than your "official zone", but the weather next year is going to do whatever it does, and the plants will live or die based more on micro-climate, actual hourly weather and their general health more than a comparison between a statistic and a label.

As Greene said, plants don't read zone maps!

Persoanlly, I think plants delight in fooling us. Plants that "should" thrive, die year after year. Plants that you expect to love the climate, die as soon as you turn your back after planting out.

When I'm especially desirous that something survive, I always talk around it like "Oh, I don't think THIS one will make it! The odds are really bad." The only better way to stimulate a plant to be hardy is to uproot it crudely and throw it on the compost heap, then ignore it for two months. THEN it will thrive, just to mess with our heads!

P.S. People who sell plants commercially sometimes fib about how well adapted a plant is to their region. Big box stores especially sell anything that brings in cash. If all the plants you bought this year die, that makes you a customer again next year!
[Last edited by RickCorey - Jan 7, 2015 12:15 PM (+)]
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