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Understanding Your Plant Zone
When perusing through nurseries and tree farms it is important to understand which flowers, shrubs and trees thrive in certain areas of the country. To determine this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published a guide to inform gardeners which zone certain plants can indeed thrive.
Understanding the Plant Zone Map
The different zones represent temperature, in laymen terms the USA has been divided up into zones and given a number; the zone is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. Zones start at 1 (Coldest) down to 11 (Warmest). Image Source: 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (USA)
When looking at plant and tree tags in the nurseries they have a ‘hardiness’ number printed on the tag – for example, if you see a Mexican Fan Palm with a Hardiness number of 8-10 it will mean this palm will thrive in those zones but will unlikely survive other zones in the country.
Texas, for example, has different zones within the State, anywhere from 6b in the North (Coldest) through to 10b at the southern most tip (Warmest).
Ok, so with this is mind remember that Mexican Fan Palm? Its hardiness number was 8-10 so Texas is a good fit and in North Dakota it won’t make it through a summer let alone a bleak winter.
Another clue on plant tags to see if the plant or tree will survive and come back is to check if it is an ‘annual’ or ‘perennial’.
Annual plants will not survive winters or summers, for example, Pansies are great for the winter in Texas but as soon as warm temperatures hit they fade and die and will not return.
Perennial plants are more robust and can handle weather extremes and will keep returning and bloom each season.
Due to climate change Great Britain is assigned the same zone number as Texas which is 8. This is very unusual for a country that is quite high in the Northern hemisphere. Extremes in Europe range from 2 in Russia to 10 in Southern Spain and parts of the Mediterranean.
When looking at plant tags if you see any number less than 6 it more than likely wont be able to handle the heat in Texas, if you see a 9 through 10 more than likely wont be able to handle the cold.