Get in the Zone

About a month and a half ago, I blogged about planting lettuce in my garden, since it is a crop that does particularly well in cool fall weather. Where I live in Virginia, early September normally starts to bring about drier weather and chillier night temperatures, and therefore cooler soil. But depending on your climate, how do you know when to plant your cool season crops?

The key factor in deciding when to plant fall vegetables is considering when you normally get your first frost. You should plant your fall crops so that they mature and may be harvested before the danger of frost sets in. Pay attention to the information that comes on your seed packets in regards to how many days the vegetable needs to reach maturity. For example, in addition to lettuce, I also like to plant another good fall veggie, beets. Each year, I plant the Detroit Dark Red Beets from my Survival Seed Bank. These take about 60 days from planting to harvest. In Norfolk, we usually receive our first frost around October 26. Because of this, I know that the latest I can plant my beet seeds is August 27. I just start at October 26 and count backwards.

When deciding when to plant fall trees, shrubs, and perrenials, it is very important to consider the plant hardiness zone in which you live. North America is divided into 11 different zones based on average low temperatures. Zone 1 is the coldest, and zone 11 is the warmest. The term “hardy” or “hardiness” means that a particular plant has the ability to endure winters in a particular zone. Here in Norfolk Virginia, I live in zone #8. Low temperatures here can reach 10 to 20 degrees F, so in order to a plant to be hardy to this zone, it must be able to survive these low temperatures.

If you live in a warmer zone, such as zone 10, your temperatures may pretty much never reach freezing, which means that you can plant a lot of things that wouldn’t survive in cooler temperatures. However, it also means that you probably need to specifically look for tropical plants and those that thrive in your hot climate.

So how can you apply this “zone” information when selecting seeds and seedlings, and determining when you plant them? Well, as you read your seed packets and plant labels, you will undoubtedly see information that pertains to zones. Most plants will list a range of zones that they can tolerate, such as zones 5-9, so it is best to know your zone and pay attention to these warnings. To find out what your climate zone is, go to this Backyard Gardener website and type in your zip code.

Okay, now that you know your zone, don’t deny it. There is no guarantee that a plant will live or die based on following the planting instructions for your climate zone, but it does give you a much better shot at success. When you think about it on a base level, you can consider that there is definitely a reason that you don’t see palm trees growing and thriving in Minnesota. Different plants just have different climate needs.


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