Savoring the Sunset zones

In the Western USA — a region loosely defined as the states of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington — neither the USDA Zone Map nor the AHS Zone Map gives complete enough information. Complex and varied terrain and dramatic weather variations conspire to make this particular region unique.

So the Sunset Publishing Company, based in the San Francisco area, devised its own Garden Climate Zone Map, which you can find online at www. sunset.com/sunset/garden/article/1,20633,845218,00.html. You may also see it in many publications, from books to subscriber-driven magazines to newsstand issues. Gardeners, landscapers, and nurseries in the West often refer to these Sunset zones.

Sunset's zone map contains 45 zones. Yep, 45. These zones actually cover the entire U.S., Southern Canada, and Northern Mexico, and they're all very individualized and specific. For example, Sunset Zone 3 is defined as West's Mildest High-elevation and Interior Regions and covers much of the area east of the Cascades in the Northwest, where residents see snow cover in winters but also blazing summers. Zone 16 is Northern and Central California Coast Range Thermal Belts, from Santa Barbara County to Marin County; this area gets drying summer winds, fog, and a climate made mild by proximity to the ocean.

These Sunset zones can particularly empower a new or frustrated Western USA gardener, especially if the source of plants also uses the same zones. So ask at the local nursery or garden center — realizing, of course, that nobody stays in business for long by selling plants that don't thrive. Or go out and buy Sunset publications tailored to your particular zone and do some reading and research; then go shopping near or far when you know just what you want.

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