Which Varieties to Plant for Your Household and Zone
Spring is quickly approaching and that means it’s time to figure out what and how much to plant, and when. If you’re not sure where to begin, the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone chart is a great place to start!
Your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone
Created in 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map, is the standard by which gardeners determine which plants are most likely to thrive in their area. The current map informs growers of the average annual minimum winter temperature from 1976-2005, divided into 10-degree Fahrenheit zones. You can find an interactive GIS-based map here, where you can type in your ZIP code to find the hardiness zone for your area. Or, you can download various maps, such as the entire United States, or regional maps.
If you choose to grow plants that are not rated for your zone, it’s important to remember that hardiness zones are based on the average minimum temperature over a 30-year period, not the lowest temperature that has ever occurred or may occur in the future.
You should also note that the latest maps are very detailed; however, they may not show all microclimates. Microclimates are small areas where the climate differs from the surrounding area. These areas may be warmer or cooler than usual due to variations such as low spots or shaded areas.
Other Factors to Consider When Deciding What to Plant
There are several other environmental factors to consider, in addition to hardiness zone, when deciding what to plant in your garden. These factors include duration of cold weather, humidity, light, plant health, plant size, pollution, snow, soil moisture, soil type, wind, and winter sunshine.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map Example: What to Plant for Your Zone in Massachusetts
Let’s take a look at Massachusetts!
Depending on where in Massachusetts you live, your hardiness zone will range from 5a to 7b.
Zone 5 Examples
You can grow most vegetables in Zone 5; however, you may need to wait a little longer to plant them compared to those who live in Zones 6-11. The last frost is usually in late April or early May, and the first frost is usually in October. The time in between is perfect for growing the following vegetables:
- Squash (Summer and Winter)
Zone 7 Examples
At the other end of the Massachusetts Zone spectrum is 7. This zone is warmer, which means that cold-weather vegetables can be planted outside in early February and then again in August-October. Corn should be planted in March, and warm-weather vegetables in April. Here is a quick list of veggies that do well in this zone:
Please note that these lists are not exhaustive. If there is a different vegetable (or fruit) that you are interested in planting, research the crop’s specific needs to see if and when you can plant it in your area.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map Example: What to Plant for Your Zone in Florida
Now, let’s take a look at a state with warmer zones. In Florida, your hardiness zone will range from 8a to 11a.
Zone 8 Examples
If you live in Zone 8, you’re lucky! Vegetables thrive in this environment, which features long, warm summers and cool springs and autumns. You’ll want to follow a similar planting schedule to the one described in Zone 7; however, because Zone 8 is a little warmer, you can start planting a few weeks earlier in the late winter/early spring and continue planting two to three weeks later in the fall.
The vegetables mentioned above will grow well in Zone 8, as well as herbs and the following fruits:
- Citrus fruits
Zone 11 Examples
In Zone 11, you will rarely see a freeze, which means that you can replant multiple times per year. However, it’s important to note that the warm weather can be hard on some crops. Instead of worrying about frost killing your plants, you’ll be worrying about the heat. When the temperature is very hot, your plants will require more water, much more frequently. Mulching is also especially important in these areas to reduce root temperatures and minimize soil moisture loss.
The following tropical fruits and vegetables will thrive in your zone 11 garden:
- Summer Squash
- Sweet Potatoes