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by | Apr 5, 2022 | Gardening, Resources

Know Your Hardiness Zone

Spring has (according to the calendar) arrived in the beautiful state of Michigan. Yet for most Michiganders, spring is less about tulips, sunshine, and green grass and more about April snow showers, frozen mud, and cracking your car window with the heated seats on. Spring in Michigan is like waiting for eggs to hatch or barnyard babies to be born - you never know what you’re going to get!

The USDA hardiness zone map is a great tool to use to gain the upper hand during unpredictable Michigan seasons. Michigan contains 6 different USDA hardiness zones, including 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, and 6b. Each zone has specific temperature thresholds and selections of plants that can thrive and survive under its conditions. Save yourself time, energy, and brown-thumb heartache by learning about your hardiness zone and understanding how it may impact your homestead.

Why Knowing Your Hardiness Zone Is Important 

USDA hardiness zones are determined by examining an area’s average annual minimum temperature data. The USDA then uses this minimum temperature data to categorize the country into 13 hardiness zones. Zone categories help homesteaders, farmers, and gardeners determine which plants will survive the coldest temperatures typically found in the immediate area. Understanding your zone reduces plant loss, wasted time, and poor plant investments.   

Helpful Homesteader Tip: Peonies, for example, require a certain number of winter dormancy days. They grow best in zones 3-8, where they’re allowed adequate periods of frosty slumber.

Hardiness zones also inspire homesteading creativity. Michigan is known to be on the chillier side; our short growing season requires we pack a lot of production into a little timeframe. Necessity, however, is the mother of invention and most Michigan homesteaders have adapted to implement some form of season extension during frigid Michigan springs. Indoor seed starting, greenhouses, and low tunnels are all examples of creatively combating hardiness zone limitations. 

Helpful Homesteader Tip: Did you know there’s an entire community of “Zone Pushers” who make it their mission to grow plants outside their standard hardiness zones. Banana plants in Michigan? Anything is possible with a little extra work and hardiness zone creativity!

USDA Hardiness Michigan Map

What Your Hardiness Zone Doesn’t Include

While hardiness zones are great for choosing plants and planning your Michigan season extension techniques, they don’t provide every piece of info you need to stay successful in the garden. 

  • Maximum temperatures – Ask any zone 8 grower about those precious peonies we mentioned earlier and you’ll likely find a decent number of complaints about failed blooms. Even when labeled properly and planted in the right zone, some plants simply need more cold than a USDA hardiness zone accounts for. Maximum temperatures are incredibly important to a number of plants, especially those that can’t handle prolonged heat.

  • Precipitation data – Planting a field full of hydrangeas in an area known for drought will inevitably end in disaster, regardless of whether or not the field is in the right hardiness zone. Every plant needs adequate water and understanding the precipitation data for your hardiness zone gives you a baseline for plant selections and irrigation techniques.

  • Frost date – USDA hardiness zones represent minimum average temperatures, so we should be good to plant zone-specific plants anytime, right? Wrong! Late frosts can zap new, young plants that haven’t yet formed a strong root system. Keep frost dates top of mind when adding new plants to your homestead and give every plant the chance to establish itself before expecting them to survive our hard Michigan frosts.  

Start your growing season off on the right foot by familiarizing yourself with your homestead’s USDA hardiness zone. Stay tuned in to micro-climate variables, check hardiness zone maps for updates at least once a year, and take things like maximum temperatures, rainfall data, and frost date into account before you start digging. Stick with plants that are known to thrive in your area and you’ll be surrounded by garden glory in no time!

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