Zoning Out Breaking the Zone and Growing Season Rules

Despite all the zone maps and all the research, hardiness remains an inexact science. Although some plants turn out to be surprisingly tough, others succumb unexpectedly. The easiest thing you can do is to set your sights on plants said to be appropriate for your area. Here are some tips on deciding what you can grow, even if you're not sure about the zone:

1 Peek at your neighbors' yards. Chances are that if a type of plant is succeeding right nearby, it can grow well, survive, and thrive for you, too.

1 Buy local. When you get plants that were raised in your area (not in some distant place or coddled in a greenhouse), they're much more likely to be able to handle whatever your local weather dishes out. After all, they've already experienced some of the harsher conditions and survived so the seller can offer them to you. Production fields out back or right nearby are your cue.

¡^ Grow native plants. Plants that come from your area or region — ones you've seen growing in the wild, perhaps, or certainly in local parks or botanic gardens — are sure to be well-adapted and set not only to survive but to prosper. How do you know whether a plant is native? Ask where you buy, or look it up.

By the way, some local nurseries that promote or segregate native plants may also have nice selections or cultivars for you to choose from — improved versions of native plants (they may have smaller or more-compact size, different flower colors, bigger or longer-lasting flowers, and so forth); keep an eye out.

You can, however, force plants to grow in your hardiness or frost zone by taking advantage of microclimates (pockets of different growing conditions) or by using tools to extend your growing season. The following sections tell you how you can sometimes beat the zone system.

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