We hear about the USDA hardiness zones and most garden centers sell plants with tags clearly marking which zone the plant is best suited for. With few exceptions, gardening success is vitally linked to selecting plants that suit your climate. Our area hardiness zones are Zone 8 and Zone 9.
If you want a low maintenance garden, stick with plants for your zone. But that being said, you can cheat the zones a little. It might be interesting to expand your plant palette and push the limits by creating microclimates.
The USDA zones work on the principle of flat, open, uniform landscapes. But few yards are completely flat and open, and that’s a good thing for gardeners. Look for slopes, depressions, trees, ponds, driveways and other landscape features that affect growing conditions in your yard. These little microclimate areas are naturally warmer or cooler or dryer that would be expected in your zone.
A windbreak such as a fence, wall, hedge or berm of earth can make a windbreak. Plants that are a little cold sensitive might be happy in your windbreak even when the temperature in the other part of your yard drops.
The opposite idea of a windbreak is a wind tunnel that can be created to improve cross-ventilation by opening up the sides of a garden area and capturing prevailing winds. Open basket weave brickwork on courtyard walls improves air circulation in a yard. Locating a pool, pond or splashing fountain upwind cools the breezes even more.
In addition, the interesting concept of rain shadows creates a microclimate. A rain shadow is an area beneath a deck or beneath the eaves of a house. A rain shadow area gets less water than surrounding sections of your yard. The area inside the drip line of a tree with a dense canopy is a rain shadow. More drought tolerant plants can have success in a rain shadow even when it is pouring on a regular basis in the other parts of your yard.
So push the limits a little bit if you want to experiment. Also, keep in mind that new heat or cold tolerant cultivars and species come on the market each year. If you see a new choice, check its label. It might be worth a try.
For your calendar
The Golden Triangle Rose Society and the Beaumont Council of Gardens will host their 2012 Rose Seminar on Saturday, Jan. 28, at The Beaumont Botanical Gardens in Tyrrell Park at 6088 Babe Zaharias Drive. The short course will be followed by a question and answer session. Free and open to the public. For information, call (409) 842-3135.
Joette is an avid gardener and prides herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. To share your gardening news with Joette, call (409) 832-1400 or fax her at (409) 832-6222. E-mail joreger [at] msn [dot] com.