Rolling the dice on plants

Reading labels has not always been my forte. I usually don’t bring my glasses along to read the fine print. However, this is something that we can all do better especially when it comes to reading those fine printed plant labels. If you purchase your perennials, trees and shrubs from a greenhouse, you will be in good hands because they should be purchasing those items that will be able to grow nicely in your garden for years to come. However, there are other places that I quite often see perennial plants being sold that are not for our zone which is 4b. You can still purchase them and if you live in town, with a little extra care, they can probably survive our winters but there will not be a guarantee that they will make it. It is not so much the heat in our area but the cold temperatures. This is especially true about this time in our winter season. The freezing and thawing can cause more damage to our plants then if they just sat in the cold. This is one reason why the snow was welcome (just in case you were looking really hard to find a good reason to see more snow!) The snow acts as a wonderful insulator, keeping the plants cold until true spring is upon us.

Plant labels should have everything you need to know regarding if this plant is for your garden space: sunlight or shade, planting zone, watering and so forth. This is also true if you are ordering plants from a seed or plant catalog. As usual, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If your plant label says just zone 4 but we are in zone 4b, can you plant it? Yes, you can. But what happens if the plant is a zone 5 and we are in zone 4b? It is a roll of the dice. I think some of these plants can be planted in some areas that are what we call microclimates. This means, you have a particularly protected spot in your yard, it might work well for you. The drawback is that you should make sure that the plant is well covered in the fall and it might grow somewhat slowly due to the growing season. I have also noted in many fellow gardeners a zone 5 plant that dies completely back to the ground and comes up every year. So, in essence, they start over each year with that one certain plant.

Gardeners who live in town can probably roll the dice and be successful with some of these types of plants but others, those who live out in the country in more open spaces, may not have as much luck. We talk about microclimates as these spaces tend to be more protected and somewhat warmer. There is another side of that when it comes to microclimates. I have seen where a more exposed end of a garden is a cold microclimate for whatever reason. A gardener can grow the usual plants throughout the garden except at the one end where the temperatures and wind cause problems, thus making a much more challenging area to grow anything in that spot. Usually these spots also have their own set of challenges in the growing season when it gets really hot. They require much more water and mulching is necessary to be able to keep planting and growing in this area.

And finally, I field questions from those of you who have gardens at a cabin up north. Depending on where your garden is located, it is also in your best interest to review the hardiness growing map so that you know if you are in zone 4 or 3. Plants that you may move from a garden here may not grow as well up north at your cabin garden. Also, for growing perennials in pots, it is suggested that you either bring the flower pot indoors for the winter or place it in a protected spot such as an unheated garage. Otherwise, it is suggested that if you are growing plants in containers and want to leave them in the container, you should choose plants that are 1 or 2 hardiness zones above where you live. In our case, that means plants from the hardiness zone of 3. For more information about gardening, you can reach me at