What Are Climate Zones – Gardening In Different Climate Types

What Are Climate Zones – Gardening In Different Climate Types

By: Teo Spengler

Most gardeners are familiar with temperature-based hardinesszones. These are set out in the United States Department of Agriculture planthardiness map that divides the country into zones based on average lowestwinter temperatures. But cold temperatures are not the only factor relevant tohow well plants grow.

You will also want to learn about different climate typesand climate zones. What are climate zones? Read on for information aboutgardening with climate zones.

What are Climate Zones?

Plant hardiness zone maps were developed to help gardenersfigure out in advance which plants could survive outdoors in their region. Manyplants sold in nurseries are labeled with a hardiness range so that gardenerscan find appropriately hardy selections for their garden.

While hardiness to cold weather is one factor that impacts aplant’s health in your garden, it isn’t the only factor. You also have toconsider summer temperatures, length of growing seasons, rainfall and humidity.

Climate zones have been developed to include all thesefactors. Those gardening with climate zones take these gardening climates intoaccount when selecting plants for their backyard. Plants usually do best inregions with climates similar to their native areas.

Understanding Climate Zones

Before you begin gardening with climate zones, you need tounderstand different climate types. Your climate zone will also impact theplants you can grow. There are five main types of climates, with climate zonesranging from tropical to polar.

  • Tropical climates – These are hot and humid, with high average temperatures and lots of precipitation.
  • Dry climate zones – These zones are hot but dry, with very low precipitation.
  • Temperate zones – Temperate zones have warm, wet summers with rainy, mild winters.
  • Continental zones – Continental zones have summers that are warm or cool and cold winters with snowstorms.
  • Polar zones – These climate zones are extremely cold in winter and quite cool in summer.

Once you start understanding climate zones, you can use themfor gardening. Gardening with climate zones in mind simply means that gardenersonly introduce plants that match their specific gardening climates.

First, you want to identify your own climate and climatezone. Several different climate zone maps are available to help you with this.

Gardeners in the western United States, for example, can usethe 24-zoneclimate system created by Sunset Magazine. The Sunset zone maps take intoaccount both average winter lows and average summer highs. They also factor ingrowing seasons, humidity and rainfall patterns.

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension put togethera similar plant climate zone system. The zone map is similar to the Sunset map,but it uses different numbers. Your localextension office should be able to help you locate suitable climate zonemaps for your area.

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Climate Zones

A plant's performance is governed by many climate related factors including the length of the growing season, the amount of rainfall, winter lows, summer highs, wind or humidity.

Various initiatives have taken place to determine how well plants would withstand the cold winter temperatures (Plant Hardiness Zones) or when plants would start suffering from the heat (Plant Heat Zones).

A more sophisticated approach has been followed by Sunset which defines Climate Zone Maps based not only on hardiness or heat tolerance, but also on precipitations, wind, humidity and various other climate related factors.


What Are Climate Zones?

Climate zones are areas around the world with specific patterns of weather. In a certain place, if there is a pattern of weather that occurs over a long period of time, this can be described as its climate. It takes years for scientists to find, track and record these patterns.

For example, if a place has colder temperatures and high rainfall in the winter, but sunny, warmer conditions in the summer, this would be a temperate climate zone. The coldest climates are found in the Arctic and Antarctic, whilst the hottest areas are found in countries near the Equator.

There is, however, an important distinction to make between weather and climate when learning about these zones the weather is the general day-to-day conditions of a place, while the climate is the pattern of this weather over a long time.


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The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map was created by the USDA to help growers and gardeners understand which plants are most likely to thrive in a specific location.The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. Hardiness zones are based on the average annual extreme minimum temperature during a 30-year period in the past, not the lowest temperature that has ever occurred in the past or might occur in the future. Gardeners should keep that in mind when selecting plants, especially if they choose to "push" their hardiness zone by growing plants not rated for their zone. This map was updated in 2012. To use the map (above), enter your zip code or view the map by state, region or nationally.

The next map to understand is the AHS Plant Heat Zone Map. This map is like the Hardiness map except that it’s reporting heat rather than minimum temperatures. By using the map to find the zone in which you live, you will be able to determine what plants will "winter over" in your garden and survive for many years. Use the AHS Plant Heat Zone Map in the same way that you do the Hardiness Map. Start by finding your town or city on the map. The 12 zones of the map indicate the average number of days each year that a given region experiences "heat days"-temperatures over 86 degrees (30 degrees Celsius). That is the point at which plants begin suffering physiological damage from heat. The zones range from Zone 1 (less than one heat day) to Zone 12 (more than 210 heat days).

Thousands of garden plants have now been coded for heat tolerance, with more to come in the near future. You will see the heat zone designations joining hardiness zone designations in garden centers, references books, and catalogs. On each plant, there will be four numbers. For example, a tulip may be 3-8, 8-1. If you live in USDA Zone 7 and AHS Zone 7, you will know that you can leave tulips outdoors in your garden year-round.

The last map to discuss is the Sunset Climate Zone Map. This map takes into account length of growing season, timing and amount of rainfall, winter lows, summer highs, wind, and humidity. This map basically combines the Hardiness Map and the Heat Map into one. The Sunset Climate Zone Map considers temperature (where plants will thrive year round vs. just winter or summer), latitude, elevation, ocean influence, continental air influence, and microclimates. To use the map, search for your location zone. For example, if you select Northeast, you’ll find 9 zones within that region. Determine your specific zone by looking at the map. If you live in New Hampshire, you’ll find Zone 38 is what you want to focus on.

Growing season: May to early Oct. Summers feature reliable rainfall and lack oppressive humidity of lower-elevation, more southerly areas. Winter lows dip to -10 degrees to -20 degrees F/-23 degrees to -29 degrees C, with periodic colder temperatures due to influxes of arctic air.


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