Why You Should Know Your Growing Zone And Common Misconceptions

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Knowing your growing zone (also known as hardiness zone) and how it will assist you in your garden endeavors is essential information. This is especially true if you plan to do any large scale gardening involving perennials (plants that grow for more than one year). There are a lot of misconceptions involving growing zones, especially among new gardeners but also with senior gardeners. It’s important to get clarification and understand how your zone can help you grow a green thumb.

What Is A Growing Zone?

The United States Department Of Agriculture created a specialized map of the US that divides and labels certain regions according to their average minimal temperatures. This type of map was necessary for plant growers to determine which plants would thrive in each region, specifically when it comes to perennial plants. The map is color divided into thirteen distinct 10ºF zones, marked by numbers 1-13. These zones are then further divided into sub-zones of 5ºF, marked by an ‘a’ or ‘b’.

It is important to remember that these temperature ranges are just an estimated average. The USDA usually reevaluates these zones every few years and makes changes as necessary, so check back ever so often. It is also not uncommon for the temps to drop below what they claim for each zone, and you might have to take extra precautions to protect your perennials in those circumstances.

How To Find Your Growing Zone

Finding what growing zone you’re in should be your first step when planning out which perennial plants you want to grow in your garden. Finding your zone is incredible easy and only requires your zip code. Many garden sites have a growing zone finder and can be found with a simple search. Some possible sites include the USDA itself and GrowOrganic.

How To Utilize Your Growing Zone

Before purchasing and planting any kind of perennial plant, you first want to find your growing zone and then check the zone that each plant will thrive in. Some plants won’t survive in temps that are too cold. Additionally, some plants require a certain number of ‘chill hours’, or cold hours, during the winter in order to thrive and produce fruit. These strict requirements are what gives each plant and variety a range of ideal zones. If you plant a perennial in a growing zone not ideal for them, the plant could sustain damage, become stunted, or even die completely.

ashwaganda has a specific growing zone
Ashwagandha, a highly praised herb in Ayurvedic medicine

Some plants are considered both a perennial and annual, depending on what zone it is planted in. For example, Ashwagandha requires hot and dry temperatures and can be grown as a perennial in zones 7-12. However, it can also be grown as an annual in zones 4-8. In zones below 4, the plant will not obtain the needed heat it requires to grow and will not thrive without human intervention.

Another example, and one not many people in the US know, is that pepper plants are actually a perennial. They thrive as a perennial in growing zones 9 and above, and are grown as an annual in zones below 9. Once the temperature drops below 50ºF, the plants will start to struggle, and anything below 30ºF causes the plant to die completely.

What Growing Zones Are NOT Good For

There is a huge misunderstanding when it comes to gardeners and growing zones. I see it all the time, and honestly it was the main reason why I decided to do this post on growing zones. Gardeners begin to plan out the next growing season and begin asking on online forms and social media, “I’m in zone 5a, what can I plant right now or what do I need to start right now?”. I also see content creators giving lists of what plants to start each month based on their specific zones. However, growing zones do not matter when deciding what can be planted at a certain time of the season.

Let me say it again…

GROWING ZONES DO NOT MATTER WHEN DECIDING WHEN TO PLANT!

This is especially true when it comes to your annual plants, which makes up a huge majority of most backyard or homestead gardens. The timing of when plants can be sowed is based off of your specific location, including rain fall, microclimates, length of your growing season, and most importantly, your first and last frost dates.

For example, I’m in SW Missouri, growing zone 6b. Athol, Idaho is also growing zone 6b. My estimated last spring frost falls right around April 20th. However, in Athol, the last frost is estimated around May 28th. Same zones, different frost dates and growing seasons. In fact, about the only thing we do share is the average low temperatures. This means we can plant the same variety of say, an apple tree, and it will thrive in both locations. However, we are not going to be starting our tomato starts at the same time. I would loose nearly ten weeks of my growing season if I based my planting on someone in Idaho advising when to start seeds based on being in 6b!

Go Forth And Conquer!

Gardening can become a confusing topic when you start throwing in all the technicalities. Just remember, the most important thing is that you’re growing food for yourself and nurturing the land. The best thing to do in a situation of “I don’t know what to do”, is to just do it. Especially when it comes to the garden. Something that doesn’t work for your neighbor just might work for you due to your unique soil conditions, techniques, and love for nature. You will never have success without trying, failing, and learning. I have found that the garden is a constant class room that I hope I never stop learning from.

Happy Growing!

Hey Beautiful! I’m Tara, garden enthusiasts, keeper of chickens, herbal homesteader and stay at home mom of 3 tiny humans and a sourdough starter named Ma. I love teaching others how to live a self-sufficient and sustainable life through homesteading, scratch cooking, and remembering to live barefoot, wild and free!

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