By Julie Martens Forney
This year’s harsh winter promises to bring more plant losses in yards across the Mid-Atlantic. How can you protect your landscape investment? Choose regionally adapted plants — those best suited to the Mid-Atlantic region’s climate.
Hardiness Zones. The USDA developed numbered plant hardiness zones based on average lowest winter temperatures. The Mid-Atlantic includes hardiness zones 5 to 8; you can find your hardiness zone by zip code. Look at the plant tag before buying, then choose plants rated for your hardiness zone.
Microclimates. In your yard you probably have several microclimates. A planting bed along a southern wall is warmer in winter than your USDA hardiness zone indicates. So are yards located along large bodies of water such as Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Tidewater, Susquehanna River, or Atlantic Ocean. Colder microclimates exist at higher elevations and in rural locations.
In my own garden the same plants — from daffodils to bee balm — flower 7 to 10 days sooner in the front yard (warmer microclimate) than in the backyard, which is 10 feet lower and in a valley (colder microclimate).
A colder microclimate even can negate the hardiness of a plant. In my Mid-Atlantic garden a butterfly bush planted in the colder backyard doesn’t return reliably each spring. My neighbor’s butterfly bush, which is planted on an east-facing slope that’s higher and warmer than my backyard, survives even the coldest winters.
Growing Conditions. When winters are hard, plants growing in ideal conditions survive better than those in less-than-perfect conditions. That means the last step in choosing regionally adapted plants is making sure you match plants with the grow site. Focus on light levels, water needs, and soil type.
For clay soils choose plants that thrive in poorly drained soil such as Siberian iris. For sandy soils, focus on plants that prefer drier conditions such as sedum.
All the information you need to choose regionally adapted plants appears on plant tags. When you go plant shopping, know your growing conditions, hardiness zone, and microclimates, and you’ll easily find the right plants.
Take a big step toward ensuring success in your garden. Stick with plants that are well adapted to your region’s climate.Learn More