Fall Planting in August?
We’re not even through summer vacation but if you want to extend your gardening season, you should already have the plan laid out and maybe even put some of those seeds in the ground!
That’s right, late July and early August, especially in my zone – 6b – starts right now!
But before we talk about what to plant, when and why, let’s take a quick look at two maps that will help you buy and grow plants best suited to your home town.
Who Says I Can’t Grow Avocadoes In My Back Yard?
When I first hit the dirt and started planning and planting my garden and grove, I considered it a challenge to be told by nameless people, “You’ll never get avocados (pineapple, artichokes, guava) to grow in this zone.”
Unfortunately “they” were right.
If you live in California or the Florida panhandle, you can grow avocados and other tropical fruits and veggies. You can’t if you live in Pennsylvania.
With dead plants, bushes and trees piling up in my back yard, I decided that maybe, just maybe, I should look into this thing called “zones.”
In The Zone
If you aren’t familiar with zones, don’t panic. This isn’t the periodic table of elements. This is the updated (2012) United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zone map.
Gardeners have come to rely on the USDA zone map to choose cold-hardy plants and trees,.
Zones aren’t nearly as complicated as some people would like them to be. They just look intimidating at first glance. So, here’s how to read this thing.
Find your approximate location in your state. For example, I live in Southeast Pennsylvania so my color is a medium green. Then check the chart on the right side of the map.
Based on color and location, my zone is 6b. The coldest my zone is supposed to get is -5 degrees Farenheit. Notice the words “…supposed to be” and take this information with a grain of salt. It’s a guideline, not a rule.
The USDA zone chart, which has been published since 1960, helps with getting a handle on when you can set out plants without freezing them to death. And if you look for the zone chart, you’ll find that it’s being used in lots of places that can help you, too.
Seed packets, plants, trees and bushes are usually sold with the same zone chart and the suggested planting times. Both help you quickly figure out what will live or die in your backyard…based on environment, alone.
Armed with your zone, you could start to make plant choices that work for you. But there’s one other “zone map” you might want to know about before you buy.
Recently (1995 and if you’re talking planting, that’s recent), a new zoned map has entered the gardening scene. This one, published by the American Horticultural Society (AHS), looks similar the USDA chart but it tracks heat.
Download your copy and start looking it over. This map tells you how many days per year the temperature in your back yard is over 86 degrees.
So what? That’s the magic temperature where plants start to suffer from too much heat. Who cares? Why should I track heat?
Because it can do as much damage as cold, maybe even more. Frost kills plants, buds and sometimes even bushes and trees, instantly. Heat is a little subtler but just as deadly. And heat damage is even worse during a drought.
What should you look for if you suspect the heat is hurting your plants?
The AHS says the damage can appear in several places. Flower buds wither. Leaves droop. Leaves may turn brown or even white as the chlorophyll disappears.
AHS describes “death by hear” this way; “Plant death from heat is slow and lingering. The plant may survive in a stunted or chlorotic state for several years. When desiccation reaches a high enough level, the enzymes that control growth are deactivated and the plant dies.”
In his new book, Grow Fruit Naturally: A Hands-On Guide to Luscious, Homegrown Fruit ” , Lee Reich calls the AHS map, “…a work in progress” as it was just recently developed and is still being tweaked. But the heat map is a good guide to understanding how hot it can get in your garden and how much damage heat can do.
And it should help you to start thinking about what might have a better chance of surviving once you put it in the ground.
Next week, armed with what will survive and thrive in the heat and the cold, we’ll get into what is going into the ground in my garden, right now. Think beets, lettuce and spinach.