January 31, 2012

Gardening in and out of your zone.


CAMELLIA'S LIKE THIS ARE STILL A LONG WAY OFF IN OUR ZONE 6a GARDEN, BUT MAYBE A FEW OF THE HARDIER FORMS WILL NOW SURVIVE. FOR NOW, I MUST GROW MOST CAMELLIAS IN THE GLASS GREENHOUSE, WHERE THEIR ANNUAL SHOW IS JUST BEGINNING TO START. THIS STRIPED FORM LOST ITS LABEL, BUT WHO CARES WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE THIS?

While on the theme of cataclysm, hoards of invading beetles, and the whole 2012 thing, I might as well end the month with climate change fears. Last week, the USDA updated its hardiness zone map for the US, and there were some significant surprises - yes, the government has spoken, and yes, it's warmer - just a little, almost everywhere. It does confirm that we are experiencing milder winters in most areas, especially in New England where I live, this January marks the 9th month in a row where our temperatures have averaged above normal, this month, by as much as 6 degrees.

It doesn't mean that we will be replanting our gardens with palm trees, but I have noticed that this is one winter where I have had something in bloom every month. Our snowdrops are in bloom right now, and the witch hazels are just opening, a good 3 months earlier than last year, but then again, last year our winter was the worst in recorded history, so who really knows what is happening?








The new Plant Hardiness Map however is very impressive, and you really should go visit the USDA site and give it a run - you can view zones at detail, even just your county. I was surprised to see that even though I am now listed in zone 6, that our property is in a pocket of zone 5b ( we were zone 5 before the revised map). This explains why many zone 6 plants are surviving in our garden. You can find the new map here. For the first time, the map is available as an interactive GIS-based map, for which a broadband Internet connection is recommended. Users may simply type in a ZIP Code, and find the hardiness zone for that area. No printed posters will be available this year, but high resolution images of the map can be downloaded and printed in a variety of sizes.
ON THE NEW USDA PLANT HARDINESS MAP, YOU CAN CLICK ON YOUR STATE, AND VIEW YOUR COUNTY, AND SEE ITS MICRO ZONES. I LIVE IN THE MIDDLE OF MASSACHUSETTS, IN WORCESTER, IN THE USDA ZONE 6a. I SEE ARTICHOKES IN MY FUTURE.

If you are an experienced gardener, you know all about micro climates, those little secret sweet-spots in your garden where certain micro conditions exists where plants in a zone or two higher, can survive. I have a few such spots, the raised bed next to the greenhouse foundation, which drains well, yet remains covered with snow in most winters, carries a population of zone 7 Zauchneria and Nerine bowdenii. A sandy dry bed in front of the studio that becomes damp in spring, but then drys out all summer long, keeps a collection of Juno Irises and South African bulbs that are clearly zone 8. A few pockets where I replaced soil with gravel and coarse sand in the sunniest bed in the front yard, has successfully kept zone 7 plants of Agapanthus 'Storm Cloud' and Eremurus alive and blooming for 7 years now.

MY FIRST SNOWDROP, AND IT'S TWO MONTHS EARLIER THAN IN NORMAL WINTERS. NOT THAT UNUSUAL THOUGH, GALANTHUS WILL EMERGE ANYTIME BETWEEN DECEMBER AND MARCH IN OUR CLIMATE. IT ALL DEPENDS ON THE WEATHER.

Look for seasonally dry, or winter dry areas, beds that are near foundations in full winter sun that never freeze, or areas where winter snows are often deep, and try some plants that are a few zones higher than you have tried before, and see what happens.

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