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Grow seeds and plants suitable for your climate

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If you grow seeds and plants suitable for your climate, the plants will be hardier and more drought-resistant, requiring less water and fewer harmful pesticides.

How to grow seeds and plants suitable for your climate

To choose the right seeds and plants for your growing conditions, answer the following questions:

  • What plants grow wild in your area? Plants that spring up year after year with no human intervention are obviously well-suited to your climate. Consider incorporating native wildflowers or other wild plants into your landscape. Wildflower Information .org can help you find wildflowers suited to your region.
  • How much rainfall do you get? If you live in an arid or drought-prone region, check out Practice xeriscaping to choose plants with low water requirements. If your climate is damp and rainy, check out the "expanded search" option of Virtual Plant Tags to find water-loving plants that don't mind getting their feet wet.
  • How long is your growing season? Living in a northern climate with a limited number of frost-free days requires careful selection of vegetable seeds and plants. Those luscious giant watermelons look great in the catalog, but won't make it to maturity if your garden's in Maine. Find out the number of days in your growing season and the dates for first and last frost by consulting The Old Farmer's Almanac's Frost Chart for the United States.
  • How hot does it get? While some plants wilt in high heat, others thrive. Desert plants such as cacti and yucca, and vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers (which are native to Central and South America) like it hot. Learn which plants are native to your area: consult the Native Plant Database, which contains over 6,000 trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers, and is searchable by state or province. For warm-season grasses, see Plant the right grass for your climate.
  • How cold does it get? Some perennial flowers, trees, and shrubs won't survive if the thermometer dips too low. Learn what gardening zone you're in by consulting the National Arbor Day Foundation's Hardiness Zones Map. For cool-season grasses, see Plant the right grass for your climate.
  • Do you live at a high altitude? Successful alpine plants must tolerate very short growing seasons, and extreme temperatures, wind, and snow. If you live in the mountains, check out Colorado State University Extension's Flowers for Mountain Communities, Ground Covers for Mountain Communities, and Mountain Gardening Advisories (for vegetables).
  • Do you live near the ocean? Seaside gardening requires special planning—brisk winds and salt air can wreak havoc with many plants. Salt is corrosive and can result in salt burn on tender leaves. Wind-tolerant plants often have small or waxy leaves that prevent water loss.[1] For coastal California gardens, consult the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener FAQs (questions two and four). Coastal Floridians should read the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's "Rules for a Green Thumb at the Coast" For coastal landscaping, the Florida DEP's advice is: "Mostly do nothing." Protect rather than disturb native vegetation, destroying invasives and planting native varieties.[2]

Short growing season tips

If you have a short growing season, plan your vegetable garden carefully. Check seed packets for the number of days to maturity and choose varieties with shorter growing times. Purchase heat-loving tomatoes and peppers as seedlings (grown in a greenhouse) or start them indoors from seed. Look for smaller varieties with diminutive names like Sugar Baby or New Hampshire Midget watermelons. Choose varieties with cold-sounding names: Freezonia peas or Siberian kale. Here are a few examples of vegetables that are good for short growing seasons:

  • Alliums: chives, garlic, leeks, onions
  • Brassicas: broccoli, brussels sprouts
  • Leafy greens: cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard, spinach, and swiss chard
  • Legumes: peas
  • Roots: beets, potatoes, radishes, turnips

The following can be grown in short seasons, but shouldn't be planted or set out until the weather is warm: beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, okra, peppers, pumpkin, squash, and tomatoes.

Some like it hot

Here's a sampling of plants that thrive in hot climates:

  • Flowers: dusty miller, pinks, yarrow, zinnias
  • Grasses: blue fescue, pampas grass
  • Ornamentals: bamboo, cacti, ornamental grasses
  • Vegetables: beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, okra, peppers, New Zealand spinach, summer squash, swiss chard, tomatoes

Some like it cold

Here's a sampling of cold-tolerant plants:

  • Canes: blackberries, raspberries
  • Flowers: asters, bleeding hearts, columbine, coreopsis, crocuses, daylilies, foxglove, hardy geraniums, hostas, irises, phlox, sedum, tulips, yarrow
  • Shrubs: juniper, late lilacs
  • Trees: apple (most), pear, Norway spruce, Russian olive, staghorn sumac
  • Vegetables: carrots, kale, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips

Some like it dry

Below are examples of plants that thrive in dry growing conditions. For more drought-tolerant planting ideas see Practice xeriscaping.

  • Annuals: morning glories, portulaca
  • Perennials: coreopsis, irises, narcissus, ornamental grasses, sedum, verbena, yucca
  • Shrubs: barberry, red flowering quince, wild lilacs
  • Trees: oak, pine, Russian olive, walnut

Find it! Seeds and plants suitable for your climate

Growing seeds and plants suitable for your climate helps you go green because…

  • They thrive with natural rainfall, eliminating unnecessary watering.
  • They're less stressed, requiring fewer pesticides.
  • Preserving and cultivating native plants promotes biodiversity.

Americans use tens of thousands of gallons of water on their lawns, gardens, and landscape plantings every year. Outdoor landscape watering accounts for 20 to 50 percent of all residential water use in the US (even more in some areas of the country).[3] Seeds and plantings that are suitable to your climate require little or no irrigation, saving precious water.

In 2001, nearly 25 percent of pesticides shipped were used for lawn, garden, and other non-crop household and institutional purposes.[4] What are the risks of using these home and garden pesticides? Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have a five to nine times higher likelihood of having pesticide residues in their blood than those who don't have breast cancer.[5] Studies link organophosphates, a common class of agricultural pesticides, to cancer, fetal abnormalities, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Parkinson's disease.[5] You don't have to compromise your health to have a beautiful landscape or garden—use native plants and other climate-appropriate seeds and plant material, which will be less stressed and require fewer pesticides.

Biodiversity is an often overlooked component of planetary health. The dizzying array of plants on our planet is the result of 3.8 billion years of evolution. Plants make all life possible, provide the basis of every ecosystem, and can resist almost any destructive threat except humans.[6] One-third to two-thirds of all plant and animal species (primarily in the tropics) will be lost during the second half of this century if we don't take preventive action. Human impact on the earth has increased extinction rates (of plants and animals) to levels rivaling the five mass extinctions of past geologic history. About 250,000 of an estimated 300,000 species of plants have been identified. Genetic varieties of these plants are disappearing at an alarming rate, causing plants to become even more vulnerable to extinction. Genetic diversity helps plants endure harsh environments and enables them to compete with weeds, and thereby survive.[7]

"We are living in an era when our great-grandchildren may live in a world in which more than half of the plant species that exist now will be known only as specimens," said Dr. Peter Raven, a world leader in plant conservation, who presented his findings at the Sixteenth International Botanical Congress. Currently, about 30 percent of the world's 300,000 plant species are being cultivated, "which provides a good start for conservation," said Raven.[7] Do your part to preserve the world's plant species by growing native plants, planting heirloom varieties, and saving and sharing seeds.

Glossary

  • allium: A bulbous herb which is a member of the lily family (or the genus Allium), including chives, garlic, leeks, onions, and shallots.
  • biodiversity: Biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals.
  • brassica: A member of the mustard family (of the genus Brassica) including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and turnips.
  • legume: A member of the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family of plants, including peas, beans, peanuts, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans.
  • organophosphates: Pesticides (such as malathion) that are phosphorus-containing organic compounds.
  • xeriscape: A landscaping method originally developed for arid and semiarid climates that utilizes water-conserving techniques (as the use of drought-tolerant plants, mulch, and efficient irrigation).

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