Getting Into the Zone With Perennials

The frost is finally, thankfully, out of the ground. If you’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to get your fingers in the dirt and start planting, your time has come. Local nurseries have awaiting plants in stock.

Not so fast, though. What do you know about the plants you’re buying? Selecting perennials is about more than their appearance – at least if you want them to rejuvenate for many years, i.e. act “perennial.”

A plant’s place of origin, meaning where it’s grown, matters. Here’s where we begin preparations to get into The Zone.

Usually “the zone” refers to a mental state that athletes enter to achieve peak performance. Well, plants have their own “zone” where they grow best.

The “zone” in this case involves the federal government’s Plant Hardiness Map, published annually by the Department of Agriculture. The map identifies 26 distinct areas (zones), separated by the coldest temperature each experiences during a typical year.

The Plant Hardiness Map offers a guideline for choosing plants that can survive a locale’s weather extremes. The lower a zone number, the colder the weather. Most of Wisconsin is in Zones 4 or 5 – which, no surprise, are in the bottom half of temperatures nationwide.  

While reading the sale tags of nursery plants, look for the recommended plant hardiness zone. You’ll want to choose plants that are Zone 4 friendly, meaning their species is acclimated to the long, cold winters common to the Badger State.

In all likelihood, plants that are listed for Zone 4 were grown in Wisconsin or a nearby state. To put it in human terms: They grew up here, so are used to the winters.

Some plant retailers, often big box stores, buy their stock from southern growers. Needless to say, those plants are less likely to survive in the long run amid our annual bouts of cold, snow and ice. To again put it in human terms: Where they come from does matter.

This isn’t to say that any plants with hardiness ratings above 4 won’t make it in Wisconsin. Plants, like people, are all different to some degree.

If you’re spending money on perennials you want to last, though, it makes sense to use all relevant information to choose wisely. Plants have their own zones. Next time you’re picking out new greenery for a garden or planting bed, follow their lead and get into “the zone.”

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