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Pushing the Zonal Envelope
November 01, 2010

Akita (Keet) AKA Face wanted her bit of recognition too.


Ziggy the poodle showed off a new haircut a couple of weeks ago.

If nothing else, I like to share a bit about us around here so you may understand that I am a real person and much like you in several ways.


Elections on Tuesday and no more political adds for a while.

Not only are the air waves full of mud slinging, but banners and signs pollute our roadsides every where you go.

Americans, do remember to get out and vote.


Welcome everyone.

As we enter the month of November, can snow be far behind (for some of us).

For our southerly friends, Fall is still a thing of beauty.

The weather has changed.

Here in Michigan we had a couple of days in the 70's followed by storms and some of the highest sustained winds recorded.

The winds were so severe, that even the birds were grounded for a good two days.

Amazingly, some of the hard maples and oaks still have some good foliage and colors going (taken 2 days ago).

Fall clean up continues.

I awokle to the first killing frost for my area,so I really have some work to do now.

November 1st for the first killer, I'll take that every year.

Bags of leaves are being collected and will be used in the gardens later this month.

While doing some cutting back and pulling, I came across my first 'Four leaf clover' ever.

I don't believe in luck per say, but I will keep it just to have and show off a bit.

56 years on this planet and my first four leaf clover.

The first of the month also means it is time to give your feeders a real good cleaning.

Sanitize and allow to dry before you put fresh food in.

You do have fresh feed don't you?

Clean feeders becomes more important now as more birds congregate and feed in close quarters.

Imagine all of your feathered friends feeding (and pooping) in the same place.

Germs spread and this can cause some serious issues.

A good spray of rubbing alcohol isn't a bad thing to do once in a while.

It dries fast so it wont harm your birds and gives you a fast sanitizing.

Have you checked your bird bath heaters?

If you live where it gets cold and snowy, you may want to move food and water sources a bit closer for your convenience.

Just make sure there is protection for your birds.

This is another long letter, but one some of you may be interested in if you want to push the envelope or Zone on planting certain tender perennials.

You may call it pushing the 'planting zone' or 'stepping/thinking outside the zonal box'.

Save it to read later and use the tips for next year too.

You guys inspire me.

Often when I have a brain cramp, you will come up with ideas to write on.

I keep saying you folks teach me too.

Before I get to the main part of this letter, have a couple more fall favorites submitted by readers.

I want to thank everyone that participated and to let you know it still isn't to late to submit your fall favs.

Lou from New Jersey:

I love the beauty of fall, leaf change,smell of burning oak but realize winter is not far away which is kind of depressing. I look at it from a different view and that is that the creator chose winter to give all the trees and shrubs plant life and many animals a time out rest period so we can all enjoy and look forward to the beauty again next season. I love having a nature friendly backyard and lots of different birds come to stay over the winter months. I do hate to see my nice gardens die off and the pretty flowers just barely hanging on now but it's all part of fall. I admit the cooler temps are welcome after such a hot summer and the rain is a welcome sight after going nearly all summer with hardly any rain. The lawn has totally recovered after being burnt to a crisp, with some over seeding of course. Well that's my take on fall, enjoy before the cold keeps us all in the cabin for awhile. Won't be too long before the heater goes in the bird bath.

Thanks Lou,

My heater is up and running.

Like you, I see fall as a time of rest for our planet and I look at winter is a time to rinse and wash her clean before spring.

(Autumn flowers still in bloom.)

Marti in Lake Milton, Ohio:

To me, "Fall" is the perfect word for this time of year- just for the leaves alone!

I do enjoy not having the humidity, I enjoy taking fishing boat rides after the summer lake traffic clears, spotting the eagle, and oh yes, knowing comfort food is on the way--lol! One great sight I have-all my different colored mums get fuller every year, so they are great to see. Thanks Marti.

Even with winter on the way, we can still find some positives about Autumn, as you mentioned........... boat rides and the majesty of seeing a Bald Eagle.

Oh yeah, comfort food like homemade Chile and soups.

Thanks again everyone.

There were many things about growing up in the 50's 60's and early 70's that are still the foundation of my being.

In a time when America was still considered mostly a rural population.

When a handshake meant something.

When neighbors helped neighbors.

When a person felt safe to stop and help a stranger.

When God was part of everyday life and you talked about it.

Gardens were planted and worked until they were weed free.

Even when new research suggested that disrupting plant roots to go after weeds wasn't beneficial to the plants once your veggies reached a certain height or maturity.

Still we had to have that groomed look, no matter what.

(Me petting a Bumble.)

I don't know if that was because a garden had to be weed free or if there was a lesson in work ethic tucked in there somewhere.

Even with the prim and proper look, a new plant or vegetable was on trial most years.

We were growing Spanish peanuts in Michigan when it was unheard of.

I entered them into the Allegan County Fair one year and received a second place ribbon.

They had no real category for peanuts so they felt they couldn't give me a Blue Ribbon.

The following year, peanuts were a category and I didn't enter them.

I think for as long as mankind has been gardening, people have stretched the envelope, planting something new or different just to see what happens.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

We didn't need maps to tells us, trial and error always works...................... doesn't it?

Some years were great, others were a bust................... so much depended on the last frost of spring and the first killing frost in Autumn.

(Living on a hill always helped.)

Perennials may survive one year but not the next.

50 years ago North America began to garden by maps.

If the map said it couldn't grow here, why even try.

After all, the USDA had the answers for us.

Still, there were a few things that time and experience taught that maps and books couldn't teach.

Gardening, is often based on maps, and guidelines can be healthy.

However, gardeners have come to rely on USDA Hardiness Zone Maps to tell us what plants will survive in their climates.

(New maps will be coming out shortly with greater detail and hopefully accuracy, or so I'm told.)

It is smart to realize that simply because a plant is sold at your local nursery, that fact doesn’t mean it will prosper in your garden.

Garden centers sell to a wide range of gardeners.

Some centers and nurseries will be able to supply a region certain marginal plants that research may suggest will grow, or that demands may suggest to sell it.

Without information or a bit of understanding,

People rush to buy a hot item and no information on wintering over.

You may have a 50/50 chance of survival.

With proper care and information, you can get close to 100% survival rates.


A plant may do well for you, but that same plant in my garden might be compost by November or December.

But I had to try something.

It was the availability of certain plants from garden centers and catalogs that really inspired me to try something new.

I enjoy learning and like most guys, I like to explore and experiment.

About 15 years ago, I really stepped out of the Zonal box.

If it could grow in my garden, I was going to see it it would over winter.

Some how I was going to try it.

For many plants it is more about temperatures than frost and freeze.

Plants stop growing or even die off when temperatures get to a certain level.

Are these annuals or perennials?

(Many of our annuals are tender perennials.)

I'm going to find out.

Plants have markedly different tolerances for winter cold and for summer heat.

A tropical plant that is glorious by your patio this summer will be lifeless if temperatures drop below thirty degrees in November.

I planted Ginger (Zingiber officinale) for the first time in a pot this past spring.

Why, I saw the roots in the store and wanted to give it a try.................... maybe have some fresh ginger it it works.

I did a little research and off I went.

Ginger begins to die back or turn brown when temperatures hit the 50's and I had to bring it inside by September to continue growing or allow it to go dormant.


Why not?

It's what gardeners do isn't it?

People like you and me, we often see the 'Wet Paint' sign and have to touch it to see if it's true.

We are the ones that also step out of the box.

Try something to see if it works or not.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Next year, I should have me some fresh ginger for cooking and baking.

I will also have some bragging rights around here :-)

The United States Department of Agriculture in 1960 mapped and divided the country into ten zones based on a ten degree difference in the average annual minimum temperature between each zone.

Zone 1 includes parts of Alaska where their two seasons are divided into “winter” and “the Fourth of July”.

Zone 10 encompasses areas in Florida where jeans are considered cold weather dress.

(New England asters & Black and Blue salvia.)

The hardiness map was revised in 1990, dividing each zone into two sub-zones, contrasting with each other by only a five degree difference in winter low temperatures.

Most plant labels include the zones in which the plant will grow.

If the information label on plant I'm considering says it is hardy in Zone 7, and I live in Zone 5.......... it will usually survive my winter just fine, as long as I give them a good layer of mulch to protect it.

In my case, I prefer a strong black trash bag packed with leaves (stomped down and filled some more).

This makes a thick and dense layer of insulation for me.

I have had some success doing this with Zone 8 plants as well.

I have discovered that it is a bit more difficult to push the envelope in areas where the ground freezes hard and deep.

In Zones 3 and 4, where temperatures can drop to -50, and the soil can go into a deep freeze................... mulch and bags filled with leaves isn't going to do a whole lot for you except maybe Zone 5 and possible a hardy Zone 6 plant.

It is up to you to know if the deep freeze is only a couple of days or does it last for weeks.

A couple of days is one thing, weekls is another.

A true deep freeze can make pushing the zones more of a challenge.

You may stretch your planting to one extra zone and if you have a mild winter, you may for a year get an extra zone, but no matter where you live on North America, weather isn't guaranteed.

Simply look back to this past winter where many parts of the deep south experienced record cold temperatures.

Still, this doesn't mean you shouldn't try.

With protection, many Zone 10 and 11 herbaceous plants can survive.

Any given year, my Zone 5a (to 15 below zero) can experience Zone 4a (to 30 below zero) weather for a period of time and I may lose several Zone5 plants that year.

I may keep Zone 6 plants alive (unprotected) for a few winters and then get hit with some -15 degree weather and lose those plants.

What I do, is protect all of the plants I call tender perennials.

Every so often we have a mild winter and certain plants I treat as an annual (Datura) will survive and come up big and strong the following spring.

If you live in Zones 5 and 6, with protection, you can keep certain plants over winter that are Zones 7 and 8.

Zones 7-10, you should have little if any problems keeping plants hardy to zones 9 and higher alive with some protection.

Yes, you will have die back or in my case, cut back, but it works.

Many tender perennials grow back big and strong.

My Pineapple sage and Black and Blue Salvia (Z7 plants) are more like herbaceous shrubs, they get so large.

Zones 7 and 8 should have little problems with Zone 9 Red Salvia (tender perennial native to Brazil) with a layer of protective mulch or trash bag filled with leaves.

For my Z5, it simply gets to cold no matter what I do.

When using bags of leaves or what have you, it is good to know if your ground freezes or not and how deep it can freeze.

If your ground freezes, leave the bags alone to do their thing.

If you don't worry about the ground freezing (Zone 7 and higher) feel free to puncture some holes in the bags so water can seep through, giving your dormant tenders a needed drink from time to time and a few nutrients as well.

Where the ground freezes, this excess moisture may sit and cause more damage (rot) to plants you are trying to save.

Don't be shy, use large bags that cover well beyond your plants. This aids in warmth, protection, minimal frost in some Zones and just plain protection.

This is also a good idea for perennials that you are just now planting them (no root establishment).

Keeping the ground at an even temperature is very important too.

You want to avoid thaw and freeze scenarios.

Where the ground doesn't freeze, you want to avoid mini growth spurts or flowing juices that stop and start ...... causing frost damage and a weak plant.

This ia vital where you may have a January thaw like we do most winters.

I must say, my yard looks a bit different than other yards for winter.

By late November, I will have black bags scattered throughout the landscape.

I don't care if it looks a bit messy this time of year.

I'm not bothered the least on what my neighbors think.

Next spring, I will have several tender perennials looking bigger and better than the year before.

I will have saved some good money.

I have bags of leaves to use in the spring for mulch.

You can too.

Potted perennials can be brought in to a cool location like a garage where the temperatures will remain a bit warmer than the outdoor temps.

You may also dig a hole, and cover your potted plants with straw or leaf bags.

Important Notice:

Water well before you put all of your plants to bed.

Roots continue to drink, even when a plant is dormant.

Bulbs we must dig up in our temperate zones, you can keep in the ground (Zones 7 and higher).

Often if planted near a house in zones 5 and 6, some bulbs like Gladiolas and some tender perennials will survive.

Heat from the structure keeps the ground from really getting too cold.

Don't always rely on snow as the great insulator, not every location can count on vast amounts of snow from late November till the weather warms up enough in spring.

We can have 60 inches of snow in December and in January comes the big thaw and a thunderstorms.

Plant juices begin to flow and buds swell.

Next thing to come along is a deep freeze and no snow cover.

Buds freeze and cells within explode, weakening or killing many plants.

Freeze, thaw and freeze also causes for upheaval and this too will weaken and kill many plants that aren't protected.

Especially with plants you want to keep.

If you have your heart set on growing a plant that is supposedly not hardy in our growing zone?

Do some research and planning.

That’s where the FUN comes in!

The challenge.

Gardeners are famous for attempting to create “micro-climates” that approximate the temperatures that a plant can endure.

(Shade, mulches, water, etc.)

Banana fanciers dig their plants every fall in hopes of harvesting fruit the following summer.

Because someone decided to stretch the envelope, we now know that some varieties of ornamental bananas and palms can be grown in Zone 5.

Indeed the plant dies back every year and with a bit of mulch, they survive for years.

You may want to give this a try if you enjoy the tropical look.

Some golfing fanatics may install fans and mist systems to cool their backyard bentgrass putting greens.

To some degree, planting zones are just a guide, not a hard and fast rule.

One of the great pleasures of gardening is 'growing outside the box' ........... pushing the 'Zonal envelope' of plant culture so to speak.

As a gardener, you should know that plants grow best in their comfort zone -- not too hot or too cold, but it is fun to bend the rules.

You also need to know that it is always best to get a plant established as soon as possible.

Plants need to harden off, toughen up, get used to the elements, establish a strong root system.

Plant from seed if you can.

Even if a plant says 'drought resistant', it still needs water on a regular basis for the first year (again, plants need to grow roots).

Too often we plant drought resistant plants and forget about them.

Without a strong root system and well fed crown, few plants will survive proper zones, let alone when pushing the envelope.

Sometimes a light feeding is a good thing before covering things up.

For decades, landscape professionals, gardeners, foresters, and nursery and garden-centers have relied on the Agriculture Department's hardiness zone map to determine which plants are appropriate for a given area.

The map, developed by the National Arboretum, the American Horticultural Society and plant scientists across the country, was designed to help expand the range of plant materials that could be cultivated by predicting which flora would survive in specific locations.

The maps were last updated more than 20 years ago.

With the belief of some scientists that we are experiencing some climate change , zones may vary a bit.

If you live in suburbia or a city where asphalt, concrete and buildings heat up and retain some of that heat, your zone may actually be one or two zones higher than your rural friends.

City landscapes may be a good 10 degrees warmer than suburbia and even more so than rural areas, that adds a higher zone to your growing habitats.

Micro climates exist throughout the planet as well.

Trees are good and it is suggested to plant more trees to cool down local temperatures, and it is known that trees absorb carbons and pollutants from the air.

What so called experts fail to tell you is this.......................... trees have to dispose of the carbon somehow and falling leaves and needles are mostly carbon.

Carbon that goes right back into our planet and the air we breathe.

Go figure.....................

I digress.

The AHS was awarded a grant to update the USDA Hardiness Zone Map.

They studied 30 years of weather data and are in the process of updating the zone maps to include mitigating circumstances such as the length of cold spells in the winter, airflow patterns, the effect of large bodies of water like oceans and lakes and heat factors.

The distinction of ‘a’ and ‘b’ sub-zones is gone. There will now be 15 zones instead of the current 11.

Realizing the effect that heat and humidity have on plant hardiness, the American Horticultural Society also divided the United States into twelve zones, divided by the average number of days each year that a given region experiences temperatures over 86 degrees.

The zones range from Zone 1 (less than one day above 86 degrees) to Zone 12 (more than 210 days).

Still, there are those years when 'Nature' lets you and me know who really is in control.

Pushing the envelope is more than Zone hardiness, it also means heat and other factors.

Here is a reverse side of things.

To have Spring blooming bulbs like tulips, etc. you must have at least 14 to 16 weeks of temperatures in the 40's or cooler.

Planting an apple tree?

Apples need a good 25 days with temperatures below 40 degrees F. in the winter to encourage them to set fruit.

No Ifs, Ands, or Buts About It.

Next week I will discuss some of these for you as well and I promise to be a shorter letter.

Time seems to whiz by when you're having fun, and it is time for me to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

"Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy."

Catherine Fenwick

We do indeed need the lighter and more joyful things in life, your health and very life depends on it.

Bring back or recapture the laughter, play, happiness, and joy of our childhood

Until next time,

God Bless

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 (New International Version)

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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