Do you have a new hardiness zone?
There's a 50% chance you do in the USDA's map revamp
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The USDA unveiled its new plant hardiness zone map this week, and roughly 50% of the country is now officially gardening in a different zone than they were last week.
The tool, developed with Oregon State University’s PRISM Climate Group and which gardeners depend on when selecting plants, is based on 30-year averages of the coldest winter temperatures at every location.
Last updated in 2012, the map includes 13 zones across the US and its territories, divided into half zones (A and B) that are 5 degrees Fahrenheit apart (full zones are 10 degrees apart). The higher the zone number, the warmer the winters.
The revamp also provides much more specificity for Alaska, zooming in to regions 1/4 square mile in size vs. the 6.5 square miles used in previous renderings.
Interestingly, researchers stopped short of blaming global warming for the shift in zones, as the map was derived by tracking the coldest night of each year, not the hottest. Still, as a whole, the map shows that the lower 48 are now about 2 1/2 degrees warmer than they were in 2012.
My zone changed from 7a to 7b, which means I may get away with setting plants out a bit earlier in spring, which I’ve already been doing for the past few years because, well, I saw this coming. You probably did, too.
Depending on the change in your zone, you might be able to plant trees, perennials and fruits that previously would not have survived winter in your garden.
See your (possibly new) hardiness zone by plugging your zip code into the new map here.
If your zone has changed, let us know in the comments, and be sure to include your town and state!
🍅 You Say To-Mah-To!
Many years ago, when I first heard the word humus spoken, it was mispronounced as hummus.
The former, which should be enunciated as hyoo-mus, is the word for the dark, rich, organic matter composed of decayed animals and plants, such as is found on the forest floor. The latter, pronounced huh-mus, is a yummy blended chickpea concoction of Middle Eastern origin.
It doesn’t matter that I soon learned that my initial exposure was incorrect. It stuck in my brain, as things do. Every now and again, like that time last week when NEARLY 5 MILLION PEOPLE WERE LISTENING TO ME SPEAK ON NPR, my brain flips back to the inexplicably ingrained mispronunciation.
It reminded me of another such word crime I often catch myself committing: Aphid comes out as a-fid, with its ‘a’ sounding like that in “apple” instead of ay-fid, with a long ‘a’ as in “acorn.”
That one is probably attributable to the first impression inside my head when I first read the word. Despite hearing it pronounced correctly hundreds of times since, I tend to revert to old habits and get it right only about half of the time. Sometimes, I’ll even pronounce it both ways in the same conversation — or lecture! — after hearing my mistake the first time around. I often wonder why no one in the audience bothers to call an ambulance.
I know I'm not alone here: I've heard folks say pe-OH-nee instead of PEE-uh-nee, hy-DRAHN-gee-uh instead of hy-DRAIN-jah and FOOK-see-uh instead of FYOO-shuh (they might actually be correct on this one — or close to it — because the plant is said to have been named in honor of the 16th-century German botanist Leonhart Fuchs).
Ah, to be hyoo-man.
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: I planted milkweed this fall. Can you show me photos of what Monarch butterfly eggs look like and how to identify them? I would love to show them to my grandchildren next year but have heard the eggs are super small and hard to see. —Suzanne King
DEAR SUZANNE: Yes, monarch eggs are small but not impossible to spot if you know where and how to look, so I’m glad you asked.
The yellow- or ivory-colored eggs, which are about the size of a pinhead, are usually deposited on the underside of a leaf near the top of the plant. Magnified, you'd notice ridges that run from the top to the bottom of each oval(ish) egg.
In addition to their small size, the fact that just one egg is typically laid on each plant means you’re more or less looking for a needle in a haystack, but this can be fun!
I recommend bringing your cellphone into the garden and using its camera lens to zoom in on the undersides of your milkweed leaves (and tops and stems while you’re at it, just in case). I’m sure your grandchildren will enjoy the hunt, especially if armed with their own magnifying glasses.
You’ve got to be quick, though — they hatch in just 3 to 5 days. But then you’ll have caterpillars to watch for.
Please send us photos of your observations!
🎁 It’s that time!
If you’re like me, you’re thinking about holiday gifts right about now. Here are some presents to buy for yourself. You deserve it. 😉
💡 If you do one thing this week…
If you live anywhere that experiences four seasons, get ready to wrap, bury or bring in the fig tree. Wait until after the first frost, when all or most of its leaves have dropped, then get busy. Around here, that typically means Thanksgiving week. My potted brown Turkey will spend winter in the garage.
👏 Sunday shoutout
John Burton Frick of Marquette, Michigan, says, “I’m giving up mowing and, instead, am in the process of planting native plants to attract critters of all types.”
Part of his process was building this bat house. And after a maple tree on his property lost some branches, pictured below, John said, “I'm going to trim them a little and leave them there for critters (and eventual decomposition).”
“The neighbors are very supportive,” he said, adding, “we will see how the City of Marquette reacts.”
I hope they embrace your methods, John!
Send in your photo, and you could be featured next (bonus points if you’re in the picture!)
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, I’ll post the most recent here every week.
THIS WEEK: Are your houseplants looking sad after coming in from their summer vacation? Put them by a mirror! Details and more tips for helping them settle in here.
You can read all my AP gardening columns here.
📚📺🎵 Random things I enjoyed this week
🍂I pushed a ridiculous amount of maple leaves from the grass and patio to my beds and borders. Last week's poll revealed that 49% of you are doing the same; 21% are shredding leaves and leaving them on the lawn; 17% are composting or making leaf mold; and 13% are bagging up leaves and kicking them to the curb. I'm sure a fair amount of you are employing more than one of these methods, but the poll didn't allow for multiple choices. Thanks to all who weighed in!
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