With gardens a-sprouting, a warm, wet winter behind us,1 and a hotter-than-average summer for much of the country ahead, we decided to look at whether and how climate change was affecting what plants can grow around the country. The easy data solution — or so it seemed — was to look at a series of maps dedicated to showing Americans what plants can survive in their neck of the woods. These are called plant hardiness zone maps, and they’ve been produced since the 1960s by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But then we noticed something weird. The USDA’s website specifically asks people not to use these maps to document climate change. Meanwhile, it looked as if other parts of the federal government were doing exactly that in reports such as the National Climate Assessment.
So what gives? It turns out, the government produces two hardiness zone maps — one made by the USDA and one made by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Both divide the country into segments, each of which represents a 10-degree increment of the average annual minimum temperature. But the underlying data used to build out the zones is different. Those differences are driven by the agencies’ goals, and they affect what the different maps are intended to be used for.
Here, you can see the most current versions of the USDA and NOAA zone maps. They’re drawing from slightly different sets of annual data, with the USDA map using the average temperatures from 1976 to 2005 and NOAA using 1981 to 2010. But the differences go deeper.
The USDA’s map, unsurprisingly, is geared toward agriculture and helping people produce a healthy crop. Its makers want it to be as detailed as possible, because small shifts in local geography — elevation, the slope of the land, the prevailing winds, bodies of water — can make a big difference in average temperature. Historically, a lot of that detail was missing, said Kim Kaplan, a USDA spokeswoman who works on the Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The 1990 version, for instance, relied on readings from National Weather Service temperature stations. Where there wasn’t a station, the mapmakers just drew straight lines — literally, with a ruler — from one data point to the next closest.
That changed in 2012 when the USDA began to make its hardiness zone map using an algorithm produced by researchers at Oregon State University that could account for those local variables and get a better estimate of the annual minimum between weather stations. What’s more, the new map was ground-truthed, checked against the instincts of local weather experts. The result is a more accurate map — but a map that differs a lot from its earlier iterations. The NOAA hardiness zone map, on the other hand, is optimized to show how climate has changed over time by maintaining the same methodology with every update, even if better methodology comes along. “ is always the ‘A,’ and ours is a good ‘B+,’” said Russell Vose, chief of the Climate Science Branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. And, for the most part, the two maps match. But you can see some differences in the map above, especially in mountainous regions where the USDA map now captures the way elevation affects average temperature in a more granular way.
To understand how average temperatures have changed over time, on the other hand, you have to look at multiple versions of the NOAA maps. They can’t tell you much about the gardening in coastal San Francisco versus mountainous Lake Tahoe, but they can tell you that northern Texas is getting hotter, creeping toward an average more like that of central Texas.
When the USDA says you shouldn’t use its map for documenting climate change, what the agency means is that it’s impossible to tell what differences between the 1990 and 2012 versions are caused by climate change, and which are artifacts of their methodology upgrade. (Likewise, the folks at NOAA say the USDA map is the best one to use if all you want to do is grow tomatoes.)
But Kaplan and Vose are aware that it’s easy to get the two hardiness zone maps mixed up and that most people probably don’t understand why the distinction matters. News stories about the USDA’s 2012 update even talked about the application of that map to climate change, despite Kaplan’s insistence that it shouldn’t be used for that purpose. USDA “wanted the most detailed approach because that goes on the back of seed packages,” Vose said. NOAA “is just the best guess. But it’s the same approach for each slice in time.”
- 18 Most Common Gardening Questions Answered
- Proof in the Plants
- On Planning a Garden
- Groupings are Essential
- Adequate Use
- Reaping the Reward
- On Caring for Plants
- Containers Only
- Take a Hint
- On Lawns
- Mow When Needed
- Trick Sneaky Grass
- On Annuals and Perennials
- Size Fit to Budget
- Thrifty Gardening
- Full Cycle Appreciation
- Shade Solution
- On Containers
- Sometimes Store-Bought is Better
- Better with Age
- The Z Hotel Covent Garden, London, England
- Springfield area is in Zone 6
18 Most Common Gardening Questions Answered
Proof in the Plants
Photo by Mark Lohman
Some gardeners do everything by the books. Others wing it and watch. Rob Proctor is in the latter group, which may explain why his gardening segment on Denver’s NBC local morning news has been running for 10 years now. Twice a week, the former horticulture director of the Denver Botanic Gardens delivers tips that viewers trust because the proof is right there to see: Proctor’s half-acre garden, a true paradise.
Besides using his garden and its needs as a backdrop, Proctor frequently devotes time to answering viewers’ questions. He avoids queries like “How do I keep deer out of my garden?” because saying “Don’t move into deer country” doesn’t really help anyone. Instead, he favors questions for which he can offer useful, time-tested advice. It sometimes runs counter to conventional wisdom. But his philosophy is that truth is in results, not instructions on a package. Read on for his real-world, learned-by-doing insights.
Shown: A wide promenade is what’s left of the half-acre lawn that came with Rob Proctor’s 1905 home. He replaced most of the grass with wide perennial beds overflowing with lush but easy-care plants
On Planning a Garden
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: How do I come up with a good design?
A: Go on garden tours and study the gardens you gravitate toward, whether formal or more relaxed. In general, I think a garden with wide, curving borders works best. Just don’t try to cram too much drama into a 2-foot-wide strip. Get bold and make borders or beds 6, 8, or 10 feet deep.
If you’re torn between wanting order and not having time to stay on top of every garden chore, I suggest framing beds with tidy features and then letting the rest of the garden be more freewheeling. Surrounding each part of the garden with a low hedge makes a neat frame. For my own house, which is rather formal, I wanted a garden with structure. So l use narrow strips of lawn and brick columns to frame perennial beds that are pure chaos. I also laid out the garden so that people would turn corners and be surprised; I didn’t want them to see it all at one time. But everybody’s style of house and garden is different.
Shown: A tidy circle of bricks filled with stones and containers creates a focal point in a section of lawn near the house. The small pots are planted with hens-and-chicks; the large container overflows with a riot of flowers and foliage plants.
Groupings are Essential
Photo by Mark Lohman
One thing that doesn’t work: planting one of this and one of that. You need groupings and drifts of plants. But don’t make the drifts too massive or you’ll have a mass of nothing when the plants are out of bloom or without their leaves. Another thing to avoid: taking inspiration from landscaping in parking lots and office parks that’s just about filling blank spaces.
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: How can I ensure a patio will really be used?
A: To work as an outdoor room, a patio needs some sense of enclosure. My main patio wraps around the back of my house, so it’s L-shaped, about 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. I also have a dining patio in the shade that’s 15 by 15. In both places, I put out lots of containers to create that sense of enclosure. It’s important to provide comfortable seats and plenty of places to set down a cup.
Shown: A bright display for a shady spot, ‘Red Dragon’ begonia, colorful coleus, and other plants in blue, green, and purple pots edge the patio behind Proctor’s house.
Reaping the Reward
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: What’s the best tree to plant?
A: This, of course, depends on your climate and the size of your yard. But, in general, you’re likely to get the most enjoyment from trees that naturally stay rather small. Because we’re a mobile society, most people don’t get a chance to watch a tree grow to maturity. But if you plant a small tree, maybe you can watch it grow up. Semidwarf fruit trees are really rewarding. So are small flowering trees, like redbud and golden chain tree. These trees give you more than just shade.
On Caring for Plants
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: How often do I need to water?
A: This is the most frequent question ever. The answer: when your garden needs it. Stick a finger in the soil and see if it’s dry. People want a schedule, but nature doesn’t work on a schedule. It either rained or it was hot. Plan your garden so that a lot of it can survive on rainfall once it is established. You will need to water new plants and container plants, though. Use a wand on a hose. That way you can rearrange pots as plants go out of bloom and you don’t have to fuss with technology. I think people with watering systems spend most of their summer repairing them. And most systems turn on whether it rains or not, so they waste water.
If you have a lot of containers, group them so that you can water efficiently. I have 250 to 300 containers, but they are in three main areas. Even in the hottest part of the summer, watering by hand takes at most an hour and a half every three days—and this is in Denver, where the air is very dry.
Shown: Proctor delights in being able to create a lush, tropical look even in dry, high-altitude Denver. He works this magic in a way gardeners everywhere can: by growing his zebra-striped cannas and other exotic plants in pots. Cannas die back in fall, so Proctor overwinters the rootstocks in his basement.
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: How often do you recommend fertilizing?
A: I don’t fertilize my perennial beds because I don’t want them to get tall and floppy. For container plants, though, I feed constantly because I want plants worthy of a magazine cover. Label directions say to feed every seven to 10 days. That’s not enough. I found this out when I was working on a book and needed to photograph my containers. A hailstorm smashed everything, but by feeding more often than suggested, the plants miraculously came back within three weeks.
So I recommend feeding container plants every four or five days. Early in the season, switch back and forth between a nitrogen fertilizer and one that’s lower in nitrogen but higher in phosphorus and potassium to boost blooms—except for plants you’re growing for their foliage. Once the plants are in flower-production mode, by mid-July, use just the flower booster, assuming the plants are the size you want. Never fertilize when the soil is dry; it can burn some plants.
Take a Hint
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: Why does my (fill in the blank) keep dying?
A: If a plant dies, it’s telling you something. You might want to replace it once, just to make sure the first plant wasn’t damaged in some way. But if the replacement also dies, that plant clearly isn’t suited to that location. Move on, and plant something else.
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: How big should a lawn be?
A: Less is better. There is a place for lawn—for walking on, for pets. But it seems that all we do is maintain lawns to make them look exactly the same. That’s boring. A good strategy for gradually shifting away from too much lawn is to re-edge your beds, making them 6 inches wider each year. My lawns are strictly utilitarian, as paths and frames for the garden beds. One way to make a lawn more interesting is to plant crocus in some areas. Besides making your lawn more beautiful in spring, it will discourage you from using weed killer.
Mow When Needed
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: How should I care for my lawn?
A: Mow when the grass needs it, at the highest setting on the mower. Grass that’s tall shades itself and the soil, so you don’t need as much water. Don’t fertilize; just use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the grass. Dig up dandelions by hand.
Trick Sneaky Grass
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: What do you suggest for edging?
A: Grass is so sneaky. It can get over or under any barrier. But it can’t grow in air. So edge perennial beds the British way, with an 8-inch-deep trench. Every year, set up a string line on stakes along each bed. On the lawn side of the string, chop straight down with a sharp spade and make a little cliff, then slope the soil gradually back up toward the perennial bed. If grass grows over the cliff, you can spot it immediately and deal with it.
Shown: Containers lush with purple petunias, pink geraniums, and large-leaved cannas create a low wall around Proctor’s dining patio, giving the 15-foot-square space a sense of enclosure while allowing views into the garden beyond.
On Annuals and Perennials
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: How should I work annuals into my garden?
A: Mix the self-sowing kind, like larkspur, California poppies, and bachelor buttons, into your perennial beds. These annuals pair well with perennials because both need little care. Put the fussy annuals, like impatiens, begonias, and pansies, in pots. That makes it easier to give them the fertilizer and frequent watering they need.
Shown: Blue-leaved succulents and ornamental kale mix with flowering petunias and other plants, including a palm, on the back steps.
Size Fit to Budget
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: Is it better to buy small perennials or larger ones that have blossoms?
A: That depends on your budget. The smaller size saves money. The bigger size gives instant gratification. But remember, if you plant a big perennial, the soil around the roots will be lighter than the garden soil, so the plant will dry out more quickly. Give it extra water until the roots grow into the surrounding soil. I usually pile up soil in a berm, creating a moat that I can fill with water.
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: Any ideas for spending less money on plants?
A: Besides saving seeds and dividing perennials in late spring, take cuttings of annuals and tender perennials in the fall and root them in water over the winter. I take cuttings of geraniums, high-quality impatiens, dragon-wing begonias, sweet potato vine, coleus, bloodleaf (Iresine), and a new kind of oxalis called Molten Lava, with chartreuse leaves.
Full Cycle Appreciation
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: Should I cut back perennials in spring or fall?
A: Fall is old-school. We need to appreciate plants at every stage of their life cycle, whether they are looking wonderful or freeze-dried. If you leave the tops on through the winter, they help protect the crowns from freezing, and they provide habitat for birds. The more we follow nature, the better. Nature doesn’t cut everything back in the fall. So I do it in late winter or early spring. It gives you something useful to do when you are eager to garden but the soil is still too damp to dig.
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: What’s the best way to mulch a perennial bed?
A: Don’t use bark nuggets. They look ugly, and plants in a heavily bark-mulched garden don’t grow well; they just sit there because the microorganisms that are breaking down the bark are using all the available nitrogen.
The point of mulch is to shade the soil, which preserves moisture and keeps weed seeds from sprouting. So I just mulch plants with plants, placing them close enough together that they cover the ground. I cut down the recommended spacing by 25 percent. But this probably depends on your region. In a very moist climate, you might need to follow the recommended spacing. In my drier climate, with its short growing season, plants don’t attain the sizes that the labels say. So to keep the soil covered, I need tighter spacing.
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: What plants work in pots?
A: Everything. People tell me they wish they could grow things like bananas or palms or lily of the Nile. I say, “Sure you can.” Anything you ever wanted to try, just grow it in a pot. Put the pots outside in the summer and, if the plants aren’t hardy enough for your climate, bring them inside for the winter. You don’t need a greenhouse—I don’t have one—because the plants don’t have to look good all winter. They are basically in a period of stasis—just on hold. My solution is to put them in front of every window in the house. I also have a little back porch and a big, glassed-in front porch. I move potted plants that go dormant, such as cannas and dahlias and pineapple lilies, to a dark room in the basement. Around March, I start paying attention to my container plants. I tidy them up, water, and fertilize. Then when the weather warms, I put them outside. By summer, they are in their glory again.
Shown: Caladium, with its curious, elephant’s-ear leaves, tops off a container composition of foliage plants that includes lower-growing purple heart and golden Swedish ivy.
Sometimes Store-Bought is Better
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: What kind of soil should I use in containers?
A: Don’t just dig up some soil; it probably has too much clay. Use store-bought potting mix. To cut down on how much soil you need, some people suggest filling the bottom of big containers with rocks. There’s a better solution: Fill the bottom third of the pot with crumpled leaves, the stuff you clean out of gutters, or other garden debris. Add potting soil on top. Over the summer, the stuff at the bottom decomposes and enriches the soil.
Shown: The house and patio are brick, so he chose patio planters in cobalt blue and filled them with begonias and other flowers in pink and magenta.
Better with Age
Photo by Mark Lohman
Q: Do I need to replace container soil every year?
A: Soil in your garden is thousands of years old, but it still grows things because it gets enriched. Treat container soil the same way. Some of mine is 30 years old, but every year I add compost. And every year, my container plants grow and thrive, creating a little tropical paradise around my house.
Shown: The brick reappears in garden columns, which double as plant stands and provide a richly colored backdrop for bright yellow and purple blooms.
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The list below highlights some lesser-known but widely adaptable fruit varieties – some old, some new. All are wonderfully flavored fruits that – unless otherwise noted – are suggested for planting in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-9 either because they are known performers or they have physiological traits common to varieties successfully grown in these zones.
These selections should be of particular interest to backyard fruit pioneers who love to experiment and explore the limits. Please remember to share your results and help expand the selection of great tasting, great performing fruit varieties for backyard gardeners.
Top taste-test winner and a real performer in zone 3 to 8. What a flavor!!! Does not do well, however, in areas that have hot summers with low humidity.
Top taste-test winner and a copious producer. At its best fresh off the tree. Of course, the best often comes with a catch. If fire blight is a concern in your area, this variety may be a disappointment. Say “fire blight” and this variety gets it. If fire blight is not a concern, all you need is late season heat and this variety will give you absolutely wonderful apples.
A veritable jewel, and a great mid-season treat. Adaptable to zones 5 -9 and many climate conditions. In this time slot, nothing else compares. A small apple with big flavor, it is as consistent a producer as any variety under the most unfavorable conditions.
One of the uglies that most would not choose because of its looks. Eat it fresh off the tree, juice it, bake it – and one quickly realizes that this brown-skinned (russet) fruit is a swan under the skin. Ashmead’s Kernel and a close second – the Hudson’s Golden Gem – are two of the finest-flavored apple varieties.
Apricots can be marginal producers even in the best of climates. With this in mind, here are a few stand-out performers that are both dependable and great-tasting.
A proven variety for dependability. Praised throughout the U.S. as a great variety with great apricot flavor.
Good reports on this one for adaptability and for flavor there is no question – it’s a great variety. Can take a little longer to come into bearing: 2 to 4 years. Definitely not a low-chill variety, Harcot has a rigid 800-hour chill requirement. With beautiful red foliage in the spring, Harcot is an edible ornamental candidate.
Good reports from throughout the nation: Tomcot is a real performer – an early season variety that has no comparison. In many climates Tomcot’s the best because it always sets fruit.
Ripening as late as apricots ripen (August in central California), Autumn Glo is not for every location. Autumn Glo and its sister variety Earli-Autumn are both exceptionally flavorful apricots with the best qualities of the finest cots. The only catch is that the late ripening makes them only suited to areas that have long, warm, late summers.
Sweet cherry recommendations are challenging because all cherry varieties are so good, but here are some standouts…
Also known as “Self-fertile Bing”, this is a variety that works in so many ways. If there is only room for one tree, then this will fit well; a great-eating cherry and no pollenizer needed. Have a variety that you love but lost the pollenizer? Plant a Lapins nearby. Odds are the Lapins will do the job. It’s a great pollenizer for Bing as well.
This is a cherry to get excited about. Yellow with red-blushed Rainier-type fruit that has the most intense cherry flavor, and very sweet! The set on this variety is heavy, with large cherries hanging almost like grape clusters. This has been a taste test favorite since the Zaigers introduced it. Royal Rainier requires a pollenizer; try one of the two other varieties recommended here.
A top taste-test winner since Dave Wilson Nursery began doing blind tastings, always in the top 3 or 4. Utah Giant is a large, black cherry that is meaty and richly flavored. It produces no doubles and requires a pollenizer; try either of the other two varieties or Bing, Rainier or Van.
Figs are somewhat limited as to where they can be grown successfully, but the versatility of some figs is irresistible.
Violette de Bordeaux
This is a dwarf tree with dark purple fruit that has wonderful strawberry-like flesh. The fruit size is small to medium, but the awesome flavor is huge!
One of the best cold hardy figs. With protection, this variety will set in zone 6. Of course, some people can get certain figs to set in zone 5, but Excel there takes a little extra work. Yellow fruit with amber flesh resistant to splitting, this is an especially tasty variety. Reported to do well in a container.
Nectarines are not as widely adapted as peaches. Still, there are a number of varieties that seem to perform well in the more difficult climates. If you are in an area marginal for nectarines, try these varieties.
One of the highest-scoring nectarines in the history of the Dave Wilson Nursery taste tests. A great “eater” with a very rich, classic nectarine flavor. A Canadian nectarine with some cold adaptation, it’s a good producer in Idaho and Utah. There are some good reports from the East Coast as well. Of course, it needs all the care that any peach needs, so be prepared to spray. This nectarine is worth the effort.
A taste test winner. For many years, Juneglo has been one of the better backyard nectarines for zone 6 -7 and some zone 5 – if you’re lucky. Early ripening, but late blooming – the key to its success. Don’t worry about this one lacking flavor – it’s a tasty nectarine!
A white-fleshed nectarine of exceptional merit. Not the most adaptable, but where nectarines do well, Arctic Blaze is close to the finest piece of fruit one can grow. Very low in acid, but just enough to make the flavor perfect. Sooooo sweet…it could not be improved. Recommend for some marginal areas (zone 7 for instance). The fruit is large, juicy and eats well all the way from firm to soft-ripe. Long harvest season – up to three weeks.
Peaches are perfect candidates for 3 or 4 in one hole because there are so many great choices and combinations.
This is one of the highest-rated fruits ever at Dave Wilson Nursery tastings. It’s exterior isn’t pretty, and it needs a pollenizer – unusual for a peach – but all that is small potatoes compared to what you get from this incredibly fine-tasting fruit. Inside, Indian free is a strikingly beautiful combination of crimson streaks and white flesh. Bonus: Indian Free is highly resistant to peach leaf curl. It needs good heat in the late season so it is not a variety for the coast or areas that cool suddenly in the late summer.
Year after year at Dave Wilson Nursery this is a variety that we all look forward to. June Pride is an early season fruit with rich flavor and the longest hang-time of almost any peach: up to 4 weeks, continuing to get better and better the whole time. Does fine in zones 6-9 and is a good candidate for testing in zone 5.
O’Henry saw its beginnings in the commercial markets. But the Home Garden guys at Dave Wilson Nursery just left it on the tree a little longer back in the early 80’s. What they discovered was a large, superb-flavored, firm-fleshed fruit. This is absolutely one of the best late-season peaches. A very dependable bearer that sets a full crop almost every year. O’Henry can be planted everywhere that peaches do well in zones 5-9.
Looking for large size? That would be Snow Beauty: red skin, white flesh, big size and big flavor. It’s also a big taste-test winner – one of the highest-scoring fruits ever at Dave Wilson Nursery’s blind tastings. Ripening in mid season, Snow Beauty competes with some of the heavy hitters of fruit, but stands out for its unique sweet flavor. It has performed well in zone 5-6 trials.
Epitaph for a Peach by David Mas Masumoto reintroduced us all to this jewel of a peach. Read the book while you eat the peach! Savor the experience – this fruit is as elegant as Masumoto says it is. A late bloom and good frost hardiness has given this fruit great reports even from zone 5a. Suncrest is worth planting wherever peaches are grown in zones 5-9.
The best-tasting of the white peaches for colder climates. A No.1 taste test winner in 1998, it has been popular with roadside-stand growers for years. This is a great low-acid high-sugar white peach that will perform well in zone 5b.
Pears are more difficult to recommend. Considering that the most important qualities for the average home gardener are disease resistance and, of course, great flavor, here are two good choices.
A Dave Wilson in-house favorite since we first sampled it. Harrow Delight produces a Bartlett-like fruit without the Bartlett susceptibility to fireblight. Smooth flesh – and perhaps better flavor than Bartlett. A heavy producer at a young age. Needs a pollenizer like Bartlett, Bosc, D’Anjou or Moonglo.
This may be the most under-appreciated pear. Warren has great flavor, smooth flesh, and is very fire blight resistant. With a juicy, buttery flavor, this variety probably just lacks good word-of-mouth (or hand-to-mouth) advertising.
Also a tough category. All those tasty Asian pears are susceptible to fireblight. However! In most tastings that include Asian Pears, one variety of Asian Pear is usually placed in the top 10 of all fruits tested – if you want to try one, try the best.
Fine flavor and wonderful aftertaste. High-scoring in taste tests: perhaps the tastiest Asian pear. Large, juicy, sweet, flavorful, refreshing, crisp like an apple. Brownish-orange russeted skin. Ripens early to mid-August in central CA. Pollenized by Shinko, Chojuro, Bartlett, or 20th Century.
Plums are for home growing. There has not been a decent, tree-ripe plum in the produce markets for years. Black and Red is how they are described there. But plums are not about color; they have everything to do with the time of year, great flavor and the names that identify them.
The king of all plum varieties is Green!! Yellowish-green!! Taste scores near the top of all plums tested and it’s super sweet! On 10/23/06 Emerald Beaut gave a Brix sugar reading of 29 (in comparison, Thompson Seedless grapes are picked at 22-24 Brix), and better yet Emerald Beaut has a surprisingly long harvest period. Most plums begin tasting their best at 18 Brix; this crop of Emerald Beaut had been at 18 or higher for over two months – since 8/20/06. A further quality, which is unmatched, is that throughout its unusually long harvest period Emerald Beaut remains firm and crunchy. A pollenizer is required: Beauty, Burgundy, Late Santa Rosa or any other late blooming plum should work.
If you are inclined to complex fruit flavors that challenge your palate, Laroda is a top choice. The beautiful fruit has dark purple skin with red radiating into the amber flesh. Suggested for zones 6-9 (not known to have been tested in zone 5). Requires a pollenizer: Santa Rosa, Burgundy or Nubiana.
There is no plum that comes close to Superior for unique flavor. A very cold hardy variety, maybe the hardiest of all the Japanese plum varieties – perhaps because it is not entirely a Japanese plum. Its great adaptability is likely due to the fact that it is a hybrid of Japanese and American plum. Zone 5a is home for this incredible tasting variety, but it will do fine anywhere plums grow well, except in low-chill climates.
Green Gage (Bavay’s)
Another green fruit that is near the top of its category. Bavay’s Green Gage is not large, not pretty, not popular, but sooo good – a sweet, rich flavor. Fresh off the tree, cooked or dried, it is the European plum to which all others should be compared. This is a variety for the cold country folks – and the colder the climate, the better this variety does. A great zone 5a choice – and it could go to 4b.
Wow!! is the only way to describe the Pluot® – each with its own distinct flavor, as sweet and tasty as the best apricots and plums ever known. These outstanding fruits have their growing challenges, though. Only a few of the varieties offered so far have proven successful outside of the best apricot-growing areas. Fortunately, these are the ones that have the most outstanding flavors.
A unique fruit with many qualities and adaptations as well as a top taste winner on numerous occasions. Distinct plum-apricot flavor plus the advantage of being a good pollenizer for most of the other Pluot® varieties; for this alone, it’s a very important variety. Dapple Dandy is also proven to set in zone 5-9. However! Be careful: if it gets a crop setback one year, it will probably overset the following season, perhaps leading to alternate-year cropping. The solution is to aggressively thin Dapple Dandy every year.
And it is the King!! Blindfold a person, put them in a room, cut open a Flavor King Pluot® and the taster would have no problem identifying it. The whole room fills with a unique, sweet, flowery bouquet. One bite and it turns to a flavor-spray with plum, mango, port wine and apricot overtones. This variety has proven successful in zone 5-9. But beware! Rain during bloom with this and other Pluot® varieties can lead to cracked fruit and spoilage.
Explosive flavor and one of the longest hang times of any fruit (if you can resist picking it!) – in some years, Flavor Grenade is harvested from backyards til after Halloween. Even then the fruit has a distinctive crunch and the flavor is sweet as honey. Good reports are beginning to come in from zone 5 areas that have good late-summer heat. Those who can grow Flavor Grenade Pluot® successfully will look forward to a special late-season treat – and a great excuse for a party.
Springfield area is in Zone 6
Q: I’ve heard of Cold Hardiness Zones, and Heat Zones. What do they mean? — V. M. in Springfield
Answered by Mark Bernskoetter, Master Gardener of Greene County.
Plant hardiness should be a vital consideration when you purchase a plant, whether by mail order or even at a local nursery.
When you purchase a perennial plant, it should be labeled with a hardiness zone range. But just because a plant has a perennial tag on it, does not mean it will live more than one year in our area.
Henry T. Skinner, the second director of the U.S. National Arboretum, worked with horticulturalists to study meteorological reports for many years to predict plant hardiness. He released the first “Plant Hardiness Zone Map” in 1960, singling out winter hardiness as the most important factor in determining plant adaptation and survival.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture revised the map in 1965 and again in 1990, dividing North America into 11 areas based on the lowest average temperature expected for the year.
If a range of zones is indicated for a plant (for example, zones 4-9) that means the plant is considered perennial or hardy in zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Suitable hardiness means a plant can be expected to grow in the zone’s lowest average annual temperature.
The Springfield area is in cold hardiness zone 6. The U.S. National Arboretum unveiled a new hardiness zone map in 2006, which shifts some of the zones, but the Springfield area is still in zone 6.
Heat Zones, however, were first published by the American Horticultural Society (AHS) in 1997 with 12 zones, based on the average number of days in the year above 86 degrees. That is the temperature at which most plants begin to suffer physiological damage from heat. Differences in the summer heat will affect how well a plant performs.
Since heat zone ratings are newer they are not listed as regularly in references, catalogs and plant labels as the cold hardiness zones.
All of Southwest Missouri is in Heat Zone 7.
When shopping for plants for local use make sure our zone 6 is included in the range specified if you want the plant will come back next year. In the rare circumstances that heat zones are also given, make sure our zone 7 is included.
Cold hardiness is measured from low numbers to higher numbers, such as 4-10, whereas heat zones are listed from highest numbers to lowest, such as 10-4.
Heat zones and cold hardiness zones are just guides. Many factors affect a plant’s survival. For example, many plants that thrive in dry heat suffer in our high humidity. Plants that could survive our winter temperatures may die from too much moisture because of our fall and winter precipitation.
On the other hand, plants that could survive our temperatures may need more water than our usual rainfall – or they may die in our usual summer drought conditions. Humidity and rainfall were not taken into consideration when developing either the Cold Hardiness Zones nor the Heat Zones.
Readers can pose questions or get more information by calling 417-881-8909 and talking to one of the trained volunteers staffing the Master Gardener Hotline at the University of Missouri Extension Center in Greene County located inside the Botanical Center, 2400 S. Scenic Ave., Springfield, MO 65807.