As much we love living in Moline, we doubt that any of our neighbors would say no to a tropical vacation surrounded by palm trees. It’s hard to imagine a more relaxing sight than those massive-yet-delicate palm fronds swaying gracefully in the breeze. Why, then, doesn’t everyone simply plant them right here along the Mississippi River? It all has to do with USDA zones.
What are USDA Zones?
You might already be familiar with the USDA, otherwise known as the US Department of Agriculture. They created a system of dividing North America into “zones” rated for their coldest temperatures throughout the year. They start at zone 0, areas with winter temperatures as cold as -50˚F (!), which you’d find in Northern Alaska. The warmest region is zone 13, which we don’t have anywhere in the mainland USA, but can be found in Puerto Rico.
The importance of these zones comes down to plants like trees, shrubs, and perennials, which we expect to survive over multiple years. If you plant a perennial rated for a zone higher than the zone you live in, chances are, it won’t survive the winter. This is why USDA zones are also frequently called “hardiness zones”—the long-term residents in your garden should be “hardy” to your zone.
What is Our Zone?
In the Moline area, we sit in zone 5b, and there’s a lot to love about our zone! While we may not be planting any palm trees anytime soon, we enjoy four distinct seasons along with hundreds of beautiful landscaping plants that thrive in our climate.
Being in zone 5b also doesn’t mean we have to miss out on heat-loving plants. In the summer, we can still enjoy plants rated for zones 6 and above as annuals. As long as you don’t mind re-planting them year after year, you can get creative with tropicals and other warm-weather plants that will only last you a season.
How to Use USDA Zones
Using USDA zones is actually pretty easy. While you shop for plants, just look at the tag for the zone. Any perennial plant will state right on the label which zone it’s rated for. As zone 5b gardeners, we can plant anything rated for our zone or lower (so zones 0-4 are fair game!).
Keep in mind that Moline is zone 5b, which is to say there is also a zone 5a. That means we can grow any plant rated for zone 5 (which includes 5a and 5b), but we can also sometimes get away with some plants in zone 6! Zone 6 plants might require more winterizing to get through to next spring—as in a generous layer of mulch and extra shelter from wind—but it’s not impossible to manage.
When planting outside of your zone, we don’t recommend trying to grow anything rated more than one zone higher than ours. We can never predict exactly how cold our winters will get, so planting anything in zone 6 will end up being a lot of work for a major gamble.
While zones are extremely useful for planning and creating landscapes, planting something rated for our zone doesn’t mean it won’t need some upkeep. For example, some zone 5 evergreens may still need prevention steps to protect them against winter burn, and your shrubs and perennials will need to be properly fed and watered to spring back into action next year. Winter will be here before you know it, so stop by our garden center today for everything you’ll need to protect your landscape!