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Understanding Your Plant Hardiness Zone

Knowing what it is will help you choose the right flowers, vegetables, shrubs, and trees for a healthy garden.

Contributing Writer
working in garden
Photography by: ljubaphoto / Getty

Maybe you're thinking it'd be amazing to grow corn in your backyard and have those sweet kernels available whenever you want. Unfortunately, just because you want to grow something doesn't mean you'll be able to. In order to successfully grow flowers, fruits, vegetables, trees, or shrubs, you'll need to determine whether or not you live in a growing zone that's suitable for that plant. Here, all you need to know about your hardiness zone.

 

Related: How to Plant a Beautiful Perennial Garden

 

Zones are a gardener's BFF.

If you're new to gardening, you may not have heard of—or don't understand the importance of—the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. The USDA divided North America into areas, or zones, where specific plants would most likely thrive. The idea was to help gardeners compare the climate of their garden with climates where a plant grows well. An interactive map displays the separate planting zones (numbered from 1 to 11). Just plug in your zip code to learn what zone you're in. The map is based on the average minimum temperature, divided into 10°F zones. Hardiness zones are particularly informative about the extremes of winter cold (summer heat isn't taken into account).

 

Shop local.

When does your zone number come into play? When you're thinking about what flowers, vegetables, shrubs, and trees to plant. If you buy them from your local garden center, you can expect that the seeds or plants they're selling will work in your particular zone (but double check the label or tag that comes with the plant). If you buy seeds or plants from an online catalog, stick to what works in your zone. If you're zone 7, for example, where the weather is hot in summer, cold in winter, you'd be taking a chance to grow avocados, which need warm temperatures like those found in zones 8 to 11 to thrive. If you want your plantings to flourish every year, they must be able to tolerate year-round conditions in your area, whether they're high or low temperatures.

 

Other things to consider.

But planting based on the USDA's hardiness map isn't enough for a thriving garden. You must also think about things like having the right amount of sunlight or shade for a certain plant to grow, maintaining the moisture level of soil without overwatering it, giving it the right nutrients, and pruning when necessary.