Navigating Plant Hardiness Zones: Understanding Your Zone in North Carolina

Have you ever wondered how low temperatures can go in your gardening location? The answer to this question holds the key to selecting the right plants and ensuring their survival. Welcome to the fascinating world of plant hardiness zones!

Unveiling the Secrets of Plant Hardiness Zones

In the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), in collaboration with the PRISM Climate Group at Oregon State University, has developed an interactive mapping system. This system divides the country into plant hardiness zones, offering valuable insights into winter low temperature extremes.

The latest map, released in 2012, comprises 13 zones covering all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Each zone is assigned a number, representing the average annual extreme minimum temperatures for specific locations. The zones are further divided into 10°F bands, with the USDA designating 5°F zones “a” and “b” within each band, based on the average of the lowest temperature recorded annually during the 30-year period from 1976 to 2005.

It’s important to note that these zones do not reflect the absolute coldest or warmest temperatures ever recorded at a given location. Rather, they represent the average lowest winter temperature for that area over the specified time frame.

Plant Hardiness Zone Map

The Significance of Plant Hardiness Zones

Plant labels and seed packets for perennial plants often include information about their hardiness zones. It’s crucial to pay attention to this detail before making a purchase to ensure that the plants you choose can withstand the cold temperatures in your area. This is especially important when investing in expensive trees and shrubs. While favorable microclimates or mild winters might occasionally allow prized plants to survive in different zones, it’s always advisable to opt for plants that thrive in your specific zone.

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Plant Label showing Hardiness Zones

Discovering Your North Carolina Plant Hardiness Zone

North Carolina encompasses a range of plant hardiness zones, from 5b to 8b, offering a diverse gardening experience. Let’s take a closer look at what each zone represents:

  • Zone 5: Minimum temperatures: Zone 5b (-15 to -10ºF). Notable locations in Zone 5b include Mount Mitchell, Grandfather Mountain, and Beech Mountain.
  • Zone 6: Minimum temperatures: Zone 6a (-10 to -5ºF), Zone 6b (-5 to 0ºF). Boone, Linville, Hot Springs are examples of cities in Zone 6a, while Cherokee, Maggie Valley, and Little Switzerland lie in Zone 6b.
  • Zone 7: Minimum temperatures: Zone 7a (0 to 5ºF), Zone 7b (5 to 10ºF). Asheville, Swannanoa, and Lake Lure are cities located within Zone 7a, while Marion, Morganton, and Charlotte lie in Zone 7b.
  • Zone 8: Minimum temperatures: Zone 8a (10 to 15ºF), Zone 8b (15 to 20ºF). Fayetteville, Greenville, and Wilmington fall within Zone 8a, while Nags Head, Duck, and Corolla represent cities in Zone 8b.

It’s worth noting that Buncombe County spans multiple zones, ranging from 5b to 7a. To identify your specific hardiness zone, you can use the USDA interactive map. Simply enter your zip code, zoom in to find your address, and the color-coded zone map will reveal whether your zone is 5b, 6a, 6b, or 7a, along with the expected lowest average winter temperatures.

To explore more about plant hardiness zones in North Carolina, visit the Ames Farm Center.

Article by Bob Wardwell, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer.