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Planting In Your (Hardiness) Growing Zone

Before You Grow

What is your growing zone? Why does it even matter? Can’t I just buy whatever is at the store and stick it in the ground?

These are questions you may not think about, especially if you’re a summertime/warm weather gardener. Many times we just blame our plant failures on the weather, or the bugs, or maybe the neighbors cat or dog! But that may not always be the reason. Late summer/fall is a good time to plant bulbs and others!

If you want to be a better gardener, or even just make it easier (Really!..who doesn’t want to throw plants in the dirt{oops, I mean SOIL!} and have a garden /landscape envied by everyone else???), take a look at the hardiness/ growing zone on the pot or seed packet or bulbs you’re buying. If it’s not listed, pull out your smartphone and Google it. It really is that simple, and you’ve just given yourself and your garden a boost before you even started!

The Basics

So if you read no further, here’s what you need to know about our area locally: Washington County OH (and our neighbors across the river in Wood County, WV) are in what is called Zone 6a and 6b. Check out the map pictured here that shows the USDA hardiness zones. For 6a and 6b, average low winter temperatures are in the range of (-10) to 0 degrees F. If you want a plant that will come back next year, (also known as perennials), buy ones that are rated for 6a -6b or colder(usually zones 1-5).

Can be seen/ downloaded at the planthardiness.ars.usda.gov.

A Little Background

The most recent update is the 2012 USDA (U.S. Dept of Agriculture) Plant Hardiness Zone map, and is the standard used by gardeners and growers to determine which plants are most likely to thrive in a geographic location. The map is based on average annual (yearly) minimum winter temperature, and is divided into 10 degree F (Fahrenheit) zones.

The zones are called different things- gardening zones, growing zones, hardiness zones-but it all means the same thing.

There are 13 individual zones in the United States, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Zone 1 is coldest in northern Alaska (winter temps as low as (-60F)), and zone 13 is the warmest, in Puerto Rico and parts of Hawaii (winters above 65F, close to the equator).

The zones are broken into 5 degree increments, called ‘a’ and ‘b’.

Some plants will adapt to a variety of conditions, including soil type, watering fluctuations and humidity, but most plants will only tolerate a specific degree of chill in winter.

Other Considerations

To help your plants thrive, there are several other considerations: 1. are they a sun/shade plant? 2. Maximum temp they can tolerate? 3. Amount of precipitation (watering/rain) they need and 4. Your average frost date. Your frost date usually runs parallel with growing zones. There is a spring last frost date, and a fall first frost date. These are averages from years of collecting data. A good place to find your frost dates is the Farmer’s almanac, available for purchase at retail stores, or www.farmersalmanac.com.

Native plants are always a good choice, and a lot of garden centers and nurseries stock them. But remember what is native to southeast Ohio is not necessarily native to South Carolina, so always check those hardiness zones!

A final thought

In researching this article, I originally found that the state of Ohio was listed as being in zones 5a, 5b, and 6a. This was 2012 data. As of 2020, the zones for Ohio had shifted to 5b, 6a, and 6b. An article from Yale Environment 360 states that our plant hardiness zones are moving north at a rate of 13 miles per decade, and have shifted a half zone warmer since 1990. So watch your hardiness zone, and plan gardens around it.

Lynn Wiblin has been a Washington County Master Gardener since 2010. She has a B.B.A from Marshall University and lives on a small farm at Belpre.

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