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New maps mean new possibilities for gardeners

The U.S. Department of Agriculture updated this map on plant hardiness zones which is referenced for planting.

Kai Ryssdal: There's news today for all you backyard gardeners out there. That shrub in the backyard that died this past spring? The tomato plants that went nowhere last summer? Well, maybe it wasn't you after all.

The Department of Agriculture has a new map out today showing appropriate seasonal planting times. They've changed because average winter temperatures have risen in a lot of places. And that could change what gardeners grow and what nurseries sell.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Eve Troeh reports.


Eve Troeh: What do gardeners do in winter, when the ground is frozen? They lust after new plants to grow in the spring.

Catherine Woteki at the Department of Agriculture says the new map will let them plan better than ever. Online, you can drill down to the microclimates.

Catherine Woteki: Where you can see either heat islands or cool islands, slope of land elevation and nearness to bodies of water.

In North Carolina, Blair Durant just mailed the 2012 catalogs for the company Niche Gardens. He says northern customers may be tempted by new options.

Blair Durant: It's just warm enough so that there are a few tropical plants that you can grow -- that you couldn't grow 10 years ago. You know, grow bananas in Ohio now if they want.

But, the new map is no guarantee. One hard winter will wipe them out. And, warmer temperatures bring unwelcome guests.

Durant: Bugs that used to live only in the south are now moving up north, and that's sort of a big deal.

You may be able to grow a new tender rose, but you could also battle new mites that attack it.

George Ball at the Burpee gardening company says warmer winters mean worse results for some plants.

George Ball: Apples need a colder winter. For an apple to really crisp up well, it wants that winter for which it is adapted.

He says the new maps mostly affect so-called hardy plants that grow through the winter. Like fruit trees, or the trees and shrubs in your local park. The tomatoes or petunias you plant every spring? They'll mostly stay the same.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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