Essentially, the USDA hardiness zone map carves out eleven distinct zones of North America. Each region represents 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer or colder than the adjacent area. If you are new to gardening, chances are you have already run across the USDA hardiness zone map. If you are not familiar with your USDA hardiness zone, just consult any local nursery, garden book or check out the label on a commercial plant. Often you will find the USDA hardy zone map pre-printed on plant tags.
Getting to know USDA zone maps
Why should you become familiar with USDA hardiness zone maps? These maps provide valuable information about the types of plants that will grow and possibly thrive in your climate. The maps provide an easy way to compare different climates and how a plant might react in that environment. These hardiness zone maps should be checked when landscapers go to choose a permanent landscape plant that is suitable to their climate and environment. USDA hardiness zone maps can be useful tools when you are trying to decide if a perennial, shrub or tree will be able to thrive and survive in your area year after year. Many times the maps provide other necessary information, including distribution of rainfall and the lowest and highest temperatures recorded in that region.
The latest version of the USDA hardiness zone map
Currently, the version of the USDA hardiness zone map that is most commonly in use is known as the 2012 USDA hardiness zone map. This plan was developed to provide gardeners with additional information to supplement the older versions. The USDA hardiness zone map from 2012 is the version you are most likely to see in national gardening magazines, books, at nurseries and in seed catalogs. This version of the map divides North America into eleven distinct planting regions, with each region representing ten degrees Fahrenheit warmer or colder. The map also takes these zones a little further, sometimes adding "a" and "b" regions to some zones that provide supplemental growing information.
Limitations of the USDA hardiness zone map
There have been several critiques launched against the USDA hardiness zone map. The primary analysis is that the USDA hardiness zone map works best for the eastern half of North America, but provides a very simplistic view of gardening in the West. The USDA hardiness zone map can easily distinguish between different growing areas in the east, which is relatively flat. The USDA hardiness zone map is capable of delineating particular areas, such as the Appalachian mountain ranges and areas surrounding the Eastern Seaboard with relative ease. However, some argue that the USDA hardiness zone maps fail to take into account relevant information, such as the beneficial effect of snow cover on individual perennial plants in the East.
Using the USDA hardiness zone maps in the West
West of the 100th meridian, the USDA hardiness zone maps fails to provide a realistic view of planting climates. There are many important factors to growing successfully in the West, including precipitation and elevation. Climates and micro-climates can vary considerably around mountain ranges, and the hardiness zone maps fail to take into account these important distinctions. The USDA hardiness zone maps are just too simple to represent different growing areas. For example, that Tucson and Seattle might be in the same USDA hardy zone, despite having very different growing climates.
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