Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In the zone

USDA Hardiness Zone Map

The U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] is about to release a new version of the
weather map that divides the country into climate zones.

Just as a pick-up artist identifies himself, I'm an Aries, a gardener shares the salient information, I'm Zone 7b.

At least I do--don't you?

Are we in for a mass identity crisis? In an interview with the USDA, blogger Graham Rice was told the zones would not be changed but instead shown in more detail.

That's as may be. The USDA is, after all, a federal agency, and political pressure could be brought to bear on its good workers.

The temptations are great. Think of the massive population shift if Michigan were suddenly reclassified as warm Zone 9. Droves of naive gardeners yearning to grow tender plants could be fooled into buying Detroit real estate.

What if a Senator wanted to contradict global warming theory by giving his state a colder zone number?

Perhaps it's time to take this zoning power out of the hands of the federal government and give it to an expert, apolitical body.

Yes, I mean the garden editors at Sunset in Menlo Park, California. They developed their own Western states zones with detailed gradations, and expanded that system to cover the whole country.

I'd be fine with introducing myself as Sunset Zone 7.

The Sunset staff would have to watch their backs though. Lobbyists would be lurking in the Sunset test garden, leaping out from behind buddleias to harass editors.

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Graham Rice said...

Just to be clear, I never said the remarks from the USDA came in an exclusive interview - I've no idea whether Kim Kaplin talked to anyone anyone else or not, I never asked. I just wanted the latest news.

As for the Sunset system - works great in CA, NM, AZ etc... But in the east and around the world even those who've heard of it ignore it. Sorry, but that's how it is.

We need a simple system that, with the internationalization of plant information, anyone around the world can use. The Sunset system won't do, the Royal Horticultural Society system from Britain certainly won't do. The USDA system may not be perfect, but it's the best there is.

NellJean said...

After a while, we all learn what grows in our 'zone' and what doesn't. I can't grow some zone 8 plants that thrive in the PNW because of our humid, hot summers while they're enjoying cool, but our winters are similar, sort of. I've seen gardeners in Atlanta get all excited because their zone went up a number. That rare winter when the temperature in Atlanta drops to zero, a Gardenia splits its bark and is toast, no matter what zone was assigned. My Sunset number of 28, or 35, or something like that means nothing to me.

"Daffodil Planter" Charlotte Germane said...

Graham, My comment to you keeps vanishing. Thank you for your insights. I have deleted "exclusive". Your blog post was the only info I found online about the impending change. My post is tongue-in-cheek. We Westerners hold Sunset in high regard but also respect the work of the USDA.

Nell Jean, Microclimates and garden journals rule!

ryan said...

I find the USDA zones pretty unhelpful in the Bay Area, but I never really associated it with the broken nature of our political system. Of course it is, though. Thanks for opening my eyes. Yet another thing ruined by lobbyists and political pressure. Of course.

ryan said...

I find the USDA zones pretty unhelpful in the Bay Area, but I never really associated it with the broken nature of our political system. Of course it is, though. Thanks for opening my eyes. Yet another thing ruined by lobbyists and political pressure. Of course.

jo©o said...

Some people just don't deserve humour.

Gail (www.yardflower.com) said...

The last time they redid the USDA Zone Map we got bumped from Zone 8 to Zone 7b.
I was greatly offended. If I had wanted to move, I would have gone south!

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlotte, I think it was circa mid-90s when the last update was released with the same idea to improve the delineations. Upon its release I was kind of disappointed to tell you the truth.

I think it's good for gardeners to ID themselves, either by hardiness Zone or your average winter low. This might sound odd [like most things I write] but I often feel like I'm bragging when I say that I live in Zone 8 where just about everything grows.

I think as Mr. Thomas mentioned, people generally ignore the Sunset Zones. Personally I don't care for having two different numbers to contend with. I wish that Sunset would have incorporated the USDA's numbers with more defining symbols of their own. For instance I could be a Zone 8b+ or something.

Just my two cents...

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I'm glad to see the USDA is enhancing the detail in their zone maps, it's long overdue. I'll be curious to see what they come up with. I haven't relied on a USDA map for a decade or more. I prefer the Sunset system, although I know it isn't perfect, but its level of detail is so much more helpful to me. The Bay Area climate is so much more complex than the USDA maps account for, and in the west, heat-tolerance is just as important as cold-hardiness, and this was especially true for me when we lived in the Central Valley of CA. USDA Zone 9b, Sunset Zone 15

Jenny said...

Personally, I feel that no matter how many improvements USDA makes in the map, it still can't give people an easy answer to the mysteries of climate. I recently moved from coastal Massachusetts to western North Carolina, which should both be Zone 6, but in reality, there are things that grow here that would die in the first cold New England winter: Leyland cypress, southern magnolias. Maybe the problem is that average temperatures are the same but the extremes are different. And we all know about further variations in "microclimates" (the bottom of the valley vs. the top, the sunny side of the house vs. the shady, etc.)

Town Mouse said...

Actually, my front garden, which is rather sunny, is in a completely different zone from my back garden, in the shadow of the redwoods. I think we should enlist Google's help with this. All the employees that are no longer working on the Chinese language website could instead start working on a version of Google Earth that could give us the true zones, perhaps with a list of recommended plants to get each of us started.

Christine B. said...

Not only are we gardeners in Alaska relegated to somewhere in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California in most maps, now Sunset has further separated us from our fellow citizens by a letter designation. Being in USDA zone 3 is depressing enough, now I find I'm in Sunset zone A2. That sounds like a wing of the Pentagon or a robotic prototype. It also sounds colder. It this the botanical version of the VHS vs. beta war? I wish they'd figure it out already.

Christine in Anchorage, Alaska

ryan said...

Double grin.

Stevie from GardenTherapy.ca said...

agreed! Zones schmones.

PS - I visited a daffodil farm yesterday and thought of you!

"Daffodil Planter" Charlotte Germane said...

Thanks all! I think Town Mouse, as a denizen of Silicon Valley, has come up with the ideal solution--let Google do it.

Crittergetter said...

Definitely let Google redraw the chart. I'm sure they (Google) have the perfect algorithm to combine both politics and global warming into a map overloaded with unrelated information and totally useless for all of us!

d.a. said...

USDA Zone 8b, Sunset Zone 30. True gardening zone? Whatever I can get to live in this alkaline soil!

p.s love your blog

"Daffodil Planter" Charlotte Germane said...

Welcom d.a.--at last, the author of a goose blog! My happiness is complete. Adding you to the TX blogroll.

Chiot's Run said...

I'm with you on the Sunset map, but I actually prefer to just talk to the locals - which if you can find some old-timers is the best info.

Sunset does have to watch their backs, they do get advertising after all - any media outlets that gets paid advertising or sponsorship (or whatever you want to call it) has to think about their sponsors. You know you won't be hearing negative info about the people who are keeping the lights on. That's what all media consumed should be taken with a grain of salt! Better yet, forget the media and talk to the locals!