Buying Plants? Consider Your “Zone”….

May 4, 2010 at 3:33 pm Leave a comment

Often we hear that, for gardening and buying outdoor plants, Gunnison County is in “Zone 4” or something of the sort.  This statement can be very confusing, even to experienced gardeners because there are several different organizations which have promulgated Zone maps or lists attempting to define the climate and growing conditions in each area of the United States.  They usually use their own unique guidelines and definitions of what a “Zone” is. These organizations do not generally reconcile their maps and listings with one another. The idea is that a person buying a plant, whether nursery grown or seeds, can match the plant’s hardiness rating with the zone in which it will be planted.

One of the popular zone maps is promulgated by the USDA.  The USDA attempts to describe different areas in Colorado according to the hardiness which a plant must have to survive in each area.  In this case, the Hardiness Zones are designed to show the average annual minimum temperature experienced in a given area.  Under this system, Gunnison County is mostly designated as a “Zone 4.”  Thus a gardener would know that a plant must have a Hardiness rating for Zone 4 in order to survive in Gunnison.

The problem is, as bitter and sometimes expensive experience has demonstrated, many plants rated for Zone 4 die an awful death – alone, cold, and hungry – when planted in Gunnison County.  My personal experience is that Gunnison is better considered as a Zone 2, unless one knows ahead of time that a particular plant rated for Zone 4 will do well here.

Even saying “Gunnison County” is overly-broad. There are significant differences in the plants that can survive as between Gunnison, Crested Butte, Tincup, Powderhorn, Pitkin, etc.  In fact, there are significant differences between Crested Butte South, Crested Butte proper, and Mt. Crested Butte.  In Gunnison itself, there are places around town where some plants do well and other locations where the same plants cannot survive or do very poorly. 

On top of all this, every landscape contains microclimates.  I have several plants which will only grow in one particular part of my yard where a favorable microclimate lets me “cheat” and have a plant which would not normally do well in our area.

So what is a person to do with all of this confusing and sometimes contradictory advice?  The best answer is to use plants which have proven to be survivors in your particular part of Gunnison County.  Ask knowledgeable local gardeners for tips.  Deal with a nurseryman or seed supplier who actually knows what works in Gunnison County.  On the “High Altitude Gardening Information” page of this website, you’ll find an extensive list of plants which have been successful in one or more parts of Gunnison County.  This is an excellent starting place.

David Apker
Gunnison County Advanced Master Gardener

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Entry filed under: General Gunnison County Gardening Information.

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