Know Your Zone, Then Check the Tag

— Written By and last updated by Diane Lynch

Q:  What is a plant hardiness zone?

A: During these cold, winter days gardeners often start planning out all the great plants they are going to add to their landscape once spring arrives. As you look at plants, you may look at flowering time, size, sun and soil requirements. Usually found within the description of a plant is the hardiness zones. Hardiness zones are important to consider when selecting new plants to add in the landscape because it will let you know if a plant will perform well in our climate.

We all know that climate can be a major influence on whether a plant thrives or fails in the garden. The USDA Hardiness Zone Map is a guideline that can be used to pick out plants that will perform well in a particular area. Zones are determined by the average annual minimum temperatures recorded between 1976 and 2005. The USDA Hardiness Zone Map is divided into ten zones based on average minimum temperatures. Each zone is subdivided into A and B sections to make the zones more precise. Section A would be the colder portion of a zone while B sections would be the warmer areas of a zone. Section A will typically be located north of B sections.

There are three zones (6, 7, 8) in North Carolina that increase as you move east across the state. Most of the mountains are in zone 6, while the piedmont and the northeastern coastal plain region are in zone 7. The southeast area of the state is in zone 8. Wayne County is in zone 8A with average minimum temperatures between 10° and 15°F.

These zones were developed as guidelines so that when you look at the information tag of a plant that you are thinking about buying, you can refer to the recommended zones and determine if the plant will be able to grow in your climate. The zones are not clear cut lines, meaning that there will be some plants that may be successful in a warmer or cooler zone than was recommended for the plant. Given locations may be warmer or colder than the zone it is in due to factors like elevation, air, and drainage.

Many gardeners like to take the risk of planting something that is not recommended for a particular location to see if they can successfully grow the plant. Utilizing microclimates within a landscape can help gardeners grow plants that may be one zone less or more than Wayne County. These microclimates can include areas that are next to a building or fence where the plant would be more protected. A microclimate may be a spot in the landscape that gets more hours of sunlight that the rest of the area, increasing the temperature slightly for that particular area. If gardeners decide to take the risk of growing a plant just outside the recommended hardiness zones, it is important to take precautions to protect the plant during temperature extremes. For example, if you decided to try growing a plant in Wayne County (Zone 8A) that was recommended for a zone 8B and up, you would want to protect the plant when we have a cold snap in the winter by covering the plant.
When you are shopping around for plants to place in the landscape and garden remember to take a look at the hardiness zone recommendations on the plant tag. Most of the time, the recommendations will be something like “Zones 3-9”. If the recommended zones included 8A, then chances are that the plant will perform well in the Wayne County climate. To see an interactive map of the USDA hardiness zones, go to the following website:

Upcoming Gardening Events in Wayne County:
• We are now on Facebook ! “Like” us on Facebook to receive timely garden tips, ask questions, and find out about upcoming events.
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• Beekeeping School on Thursdays, Jan. 3rd to Feb. 7th, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Wayne County Public Library. If you have ever been interested in learning more about honey bees or have wanted to become a beekeeper, this is the training for you! The school is $25. To sign up or for more information, contact the Wayne County N.C. Cooperative Extension Service at 919-731-1525.

• The Beekeeper of The Neuse is a local chapter of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association. The club is open to anyone interested in beekeeping. Their meetings are on the 2nd Monday of each month at 7 p.m. (no December meeting). The January 14th meeting will be at the Wayne County Extension Office in Goldsboro. Contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service at 919-731-1525 for more information.

NCSU & NC A&T University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

Jessica Strickland
Extension Agent
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC  27533
Phone: 919-731-1525
Fax: 919-731-1511