The USDA has a ton of good information that can be very useful for planning your garden. One of the first things you need to know for garden planning is what plants will do well in your particular climate. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map provides quick and easy access to this information.
Each zone on the map is represented by a different color. The key associated with the map gives the zone number for each colored area as well as the average annual minimum temperature for each zone. There are 10 zones on the map that each represent a different level of winter hardiness. The zones are subdivided into 'a' and 'b' sections that represent about a 5 degree F difference in minimum temperature.
This information is critical when planning your garden, if you want to make sure your plants will survive the cold weather. The areas encompased by the map zones also have similar all around climate characteristics. This makes the map very useful for planning plants that will not only survive a frost in your area, but also thrive in your climate conditons.
So now that you know what hardiness zone your garden lies within, how do know what plants will do well in your zone? Well you could .......
........research each individual plant you are interested in planting and compare its requirements with the climate data from your zone. This would probably be very informative, but who has time for that kind of reasearch? Well, as luck would have it, seed companies have time and have done all the research for us. If your browse through the pages of various seed catalogs such as Johnny's Selected Seeds or Seeds of Change you will notice near the bottom of each plant description, little zone number listings. Many seed catalogs, along with good descriptions of the plants and care instructions also list the zones where the particular plant is expected to thrive. Is it really that easy? Yes! Seed catalogs are among our most useful garden planning tools here at the Yardstead. We get very excited around here in late winter when the catalogs start showing up in the mailbox.
If you have any questions or comments about garden planning, hardiness zones or anything related to urban homesteading, please feel free to post a quick note in the Forum. By the way, I am currently working on an interactive feature for this site that will be based on the hardiness map and provide listings of veggies and other crops for each zone, so check back soon.