CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A new gardener recently asked me about plant hardiness zones. I assumed everyone knew about this subject, much like I assumed my son knew how to do laundry when he left for college. Wrong on both counts.
For gardeners, the Kanawha Valley is in zone 6B. I've already explained the benefits of detergent and bleach to my son.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture divided North America into 11 separate zones; each zone is 10 degrees warmer or colder in an average winter than the adjacent zone, according to the National Gardening Association's Web site.
The map was done in 1960, and updated in 1990 to divide some zones into "a" and "b" regions.
Zone maps are tools that show where various permanent landscape plants can adapt. If you want a shrub, perennial or tree to survive and grow year after year, the plant must tolerate year-round conditions in your area, such as the lowest and highest temperatures and the amount and distribution of rainfall.
There are several drawbacks to the map, as noted by the National Gardening Association. "In the eastern half of the country, the USDA map doesn't account for the beneficial effect of a snow cover over perennial plants, the regularity or absence of freeze-thaw cycles, or soil drainage during cold periods.
This map can be difficult to decipher, as the lines aren't always easy to read. And our area is an anomaly. The American Horticultural Society addressed some of the issues with the USDA map by creating a Heat Zone Map. Next week, I'll address those concerns.
The National Gardening Association's Web site is quite handy for determining your garden zone. You type in your ZIP code, and voila! Your zone appears. There's a wonderful "Regional Reminder" section that gives tips for what should be happening in your garden at the time you click.
Here are a few of the suggestions for this time of year for Zone 6B:
Protect young trees: Both fruit trees and ornamental trees planted this past year should be protected from rodent damage during the winter by loosely wrapping the trunk with fine-mesh hardware cloth. Place it from just below the soil line to above the snow line. It's also a good idea to paint the trunks white or use the white plastic spiral wrap around the trunk to protect the trees from sun scald this winter.
Use wood ash sparingly: Wood stoves and fireplaces produce an abundance of wood ashes that contain potassium, one of the ingredients in fertilizers. These ashes can be applied very lightly to garden area, but if used in excess, they will make the soil excessively alkaline and make some soil nutrients unavailable to plants. Apply no more than once every two or three years at a rate of 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Wood ashes can also be added to the compost pile.
Reach Sara Busse at sara.bu...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.