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What a wonderful site! So much information, so little time. I'm a 74 year-old recently retired widow with a million questions. Gardening is new to me, and I'm getting worlds of pleasure doing it. Can you imagine, though, that I can't even figure out which zone I'm in?
I live in Southern California, specifically Orange County, which is between Los Angeles and San Diego. I'm 6-10 miles north of the ocean. Some articles seem to put me in zone 24, others don't even reference a zone that high. I'm totally confused. Are zones uniform regardless of which magazine, which plant, which gardener is offering advice. For example, if I'm in Zone 10 for one plant am I in Zone 10 for every plant?
I've been reading here about the Encore Azaleas, and I'm super excited to buy a couple but need to get this zone thing straight first.
I think what's confusing you about the zones is there are two different systems of zones. There's the USDA zones which is what most people here are familiar with, in that system you're probably in zone 10. The zone 24 comes from Sunset, they've developed their own system of climate zones that is a lot more helpful than the USDA zones when it comes to figuring out what will grow in your area, but the Sunset zones aren't widely used except in the west. The majority of references you find will use the USDA zones, but if you're looking at some of Sunset's publications they will use the Sunset zones, and you may find that local nurseries will sometimes reference the Sunset zones too.
I should add that the USDA zones are based only on your coldest expected winter temperature and don't factor in anything else about your climate, but the Sunset zones take into account all sorts of other things like rainfall, summer temperatures, etc. So if you can find info on what Sunset zones a particular plant is meant for, that can be a much better predictor of whether the plant will do well for you than the USDA zones.
Hi again NOG,
Hubby and I are also on a little retirement budget so I understand :-} I have a suggestion for you. I like talking to all the people I deal with in various stores and it ended up really working in my favor. Hubby and I struck up a friendship with the supervisor of the garden center at a Lowe's and I asked her to order a certain type of flower for me. She did and after that, ordered several more special requests for me. It was mutually beneficial because I told her I carefully research plants first to ensure that they will grow well in our zone so that was helpful to her too. I mentioned to her one day that I really loved a certain type of plant they were carrying but couldn't afford it as is was rather pricey. She already had my phone number so told me that, if there were any that they were going to discount at the end of the season, she'd be sure to call me. She did and I got two of the shrubs at a much more affordable price (1/2 off). They needed to be nursed a little but they have done fantastically well. Being retired and having more time to be friendly with all the folks who work at the nurseries can really work in your favor. And most of them really don't mind letting you know when they are getting ready to discount things so you can keep an eye out for a bargain.
Just to make matters more confusing, there is some controversy about proposed changes to the ten-zone map. If you look at wikipedia's article about "Hardiness zone", there is a segment entitled "updates" which explains it.
All your replies are so helpful. This is a great site. Sure glad I stumbled across it. Planted Forget Me Not seeds under the tree yesterday and then Iceland Poppy seeds in the sunshine. May be too soon for those but we'll see. Used to pay a landscaper to plant the actual poppy plants plus a bunch of other stuff in the proper seasons. My how times have changed, but I sure am having fun!