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How to Optimize Your Garden Based on the Climate Zone You Live In

This article will break down how climate zones work and provide advice for what plants will grow best in your particular zone.

This article will break down how climate zones work and provide advice for what plants will grow best in your particular zone.

Climate zones help gardeners determine which plants they can successfully grow in their region. To get the best results possible, it’s crucial to consider your specific climate zone when planning your garden. It will impact your plant’s growth, their watering requirements, as well as maintenance needs.

In the best-case scenario, you will opt for plants that are adaptable or native to your region.

Knowing your local climate helps you understand when to start the growing season, how to calculate rainfall, find the correct temperature ranges, and ensure the right timing for pruning, fertilizing, and using fungicides and pesticides if needed.

Here’s what you need to know about your climate zone and how it affects your garden’s performance and appearance.

Climate Zones Explained

Few plants can survive in all weather conditions. Some require more sunlight, some more rainfall. Some need colder weather to go through a dormant period, while others will wither with the first frost. Therefore, to ensure that your garden plants thrive, you should pay special attention to your climate zone before planting anything.

Your climate zone is dictated by the average summer and winter temperatures, amount of rainfall, humidity, and the length of the growing season. Even mountains, lakes, and proximity to large urban areas can impact your climate zone.

If you don’t consider your climate zone before plant selection, you risk your garden looking desolate and barren.

Types of Climate in the US

Although every region in the US has changing weather conditions from day to day, they all still have a largely predictable pattern with recurring average temperatures, humidity levels and more. It’s these patterns that define the different climate zones.

Depending on your location, you might belong to one of the six main climate zones in the US. The map below outlines five of the six zones in the mainland US, with the Polar zone excluded from the image as it doesn’t exist within the mainland.

1. #A: Tropical

The tropical climate is hot and humid. It has temperatures reaching over 64°F, with annual precipitation reaching upwards of 59".

If you’re located in Hawaii or South Florida, your garden belongs to the tropical climate.

Plants suitable for this zone

You can have an array of different plant species in your tropical garden, including:

  • Ensete (Ensete ventricosum)
  • Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
  • Palmetto palm tree (Sabal)
  • Golden shower (Cassia fistula), and more.

2. #B: Dry Climate

The dry climate is characterized by long, hot, dry summers and mild winters. Therefore, you’ll want to look for plants that can survive long periods without much water.

Much of the Southwest US belongs to the dry climate zone.

Plants suitable for this zone

If your garden is in a dry climate, you’ll want to look for some sturdier plants that can be drought-resistant to an extent, including legumes like:

  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Eggplants
  • Tomatoes
  • and okra.

You can also plant drought-tolerant trees like Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), and Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa).

3. #C: Humid Subtropical Mid-Latitude

The humid subtropical mid-latitude climate is perfect for designing a luscious, green garden. With its mild winters and warm, humid summers, you’ll find it easy to grow almost anything in your garden.

Many of the Southern and Midwestern states, as well as California and parts of the Pacific Northwest, belong to the humid, subtropical mid-latitude climate zone.

Whether you want to grow tomatoes and pumpkins, apples and strawberries, or simple evergreen trees and shrubs, you should have no problems turning your garden into a small paradise in this climate.

Plants suitable for this zone

Some of the most common plants you’ll find in the humid subtropical mid-latitude climate include:

  • the Sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis)
  • Delphinium
  • Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
  • Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)
  • and Vanhouffe spirea (Spiraea x vanhouttei).

Of course, you can also create a garden full of fruits, greens, and veggies. Edible flowering alliums can be a great addition to your garden, boasting gorgeous blooms and providing great nutritional value. Ideally, fall is the best season to plant alliums as they’ll have enough time to develop strong roots before winter hits.

1. #D: Humid Continental Mid-Latitude

Humid continental mid-latitude has characteristically cold winters and warm summers. Winter temperatures are known to fall down to -22°F during the coldest months, while the summer temperatures can easily reach 90°F or higher.

The humid continental mid-latitude climate zone is present in the Northeast of the US, the Northern states of the Midwest, and parts of the West.

If you’re located in one of these areas, there are plenty of vegetable garden ideas you can easily play around with.

Plants suitable for this zone

Considering that the winters can still get pretty harsh in the humid continental mid-latitude zone, you’ll still need some hardy plants. Some of your options include:

  • Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)
  • Silverberry (Elaeagnus commutata)
  • American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum)
  • Common juniper (Junipercus communis)
  • and Goldenrod (Solidago).

During the warmer months, you can plant many fruits and vegetables, though you might need to give them some shelter in the winter.

2. #E: Polar

As the name would imply, the polar zone is defined by its year-round cold weather. The temperatures can easily drop to well below -30°F during the coldest months of the year, while they’ll rarely rise over 50°F in the hottest months.

If you’re located in the northern parts of Alaska, your garden is in the polar zone.

Plants suitable for this zone

Despite the harsh, long winters, there are plenty of things you can grow in your polar zone garden. Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) is one of the most striking polar flowers blooming in mid to late June but there are more plants you can grow:

  • Dwarf birch (Betula glandulosa)
  • Quaking aspen (Populus fremuloides)
  • Netleaf willow (Salix reticulata)
  • Pennsylvania cinquefoil (Potentilla pensylvanica), to name a few.

3. #H: Highlands

The highlands is a unique climate zone, with hot, arid summers and long, cold winters. The specific climate conditions will vary based on your elevation, but you can expect plenty of rainfall year-round.

Areas around the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada belong to the highlands climate zone.

Plants suitable for this zone

You can beautify your highlands garden with an array of perennial flowers and evergreen trees and shrubs, including:

  • daylilies (Hemerocallis)
  • catmint (Nepeta)
  • bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)
  • Pine (Pinaceae), and more.

Determine Your Hardiness Zone

Although you should always use climate zones to determine which plants to grow in your garden, you could also rely on your hardiness zone. Hardiness zones distinguish between different planting areas based on their average minimum winter temperatures. You’ll commonly find the hardiness zone (not the climate zone) indicated on the plant’s nursery pot.

The US and Canada have 13 hardiness zones between them, with the first zone being the coldest and the thirteenth being the hottest. Each zone is approximately 10 degrees warmer than the one before it.

Types of Hardiness Zones and What They Are Best For

It goes without saying that your hardiness zone can immensely impact your garden’s performance and appearance. Trying to grow plants designed for hotter climates in zones one through five will likely result in failure. The same goes if you try to grow plants native to colder climates in a hotter region.

Hardiness zones generally follow the north-to-south pattern. Zone 1 corresponds to the polar climate, while zone 13 corresponds to the tropical climate.

If you want to design the garden of your dreams, you’ll need to pay special attention to your garden’s and your chosen plants’ hardiness levels.

Grow Plants Native to Your Region

Paying attention to your hardiness and climate zones when you’re designing your garden will have an immense impact on whether your plants thrive or not.

If you want a green, luscious garden, you will need to find plants best suited to your location. As a general rule of thumb, it’s always best to grow plants native to your region.

Find your location on the climate and hardiness zones maps, then plant your garden accordingly.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.