Morning in the garden – April 18, 2015

Spring has, at last, taken hold and greenery and flowers are awakening all over the garden, enough to start the morning in the garden series to document the growing season in my zone 6a, south-central Connecticut gardens.

The well-established crocus planted in the south-facing front beds are done blooming while those in the cooler rear beds still greet the morning sun.

Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’

Nearby, are fleeting blossoms of Iris reticulata.

Iris reticulata 'Cantab'

Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’

The crocus and early iris blooms show my love of blue and purple, as do the potted violas on the front porch.

potted violas

potted violas

daylily foliage

daylily foliage

blueberry buds

blueberry buds

Elsewhere in the rear beds daylily foliage adds more green each day and blueberry buds swell.





The sand crane statue, that just a few weeks ago was almost completely buried in snow, stands tall and seems relieved to be perched among growing plants.

sand crane statue

sand crane statue

Stachys byzantina or common Lamb's Ear

Stachys byzantina or common Lamb’s Ear

Allium rosenbachianum

Allium rosenbachianum

In the front beds the Lamb’s Ear borders are shaking off their sad winter face and soon will be nothing but fuzzy gray foliage, while allium foliage shows where 3′ tall globes of violet will stand come June.


Thankfully, local deer leave both Lamb’s Ear and allium alone.


The two dwarf white pines planted last autumn came through the winter well in spite of being totally buried from January through early April.

Pinus strobus 'Nana (Improved)'

Pinus strobus ‘Nana (Improved)’

Magnolia stellata 'Centennial'

Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial’

Sanguinaria canadensis, commonly known as bloodroot

Sanguinaria canadensis, commonly known as bloodroot

The weather forecast promising two warm, sunny days should entice the first magnolia and bloodroot blossoms to open …


and the sun will soon dry the dew droplets captured by emerging Lady’s Mantle foliage.

Alchemilla mollis, commonly known as Lady's Mantle

Alchemilla mollis, commonly known as Lady’s Mantle



Winter Review: Hardiness Zones

Winter is the ideal dream time for cold-climate gardeners, but it’s also a perfect time to review good gardening practices and increase your gardening knowledge. For this Winter Review we’ll examine plant hardiness zones.

Plant hardiness zones depict general temperature-range regions. To help avoid gardening disappointments, it’s good to know your specific plant zone. Find the USDA plant hardiness zone/s in your state,  then get a closer look by searching by zip code.

If you live in Connecticut, you should not assume a plant growing in one part of the state or region will work in a more northern or southern landscape in the state. On the USDA map, Connecticut ranges through 1 1/2 zones -from 7a in Long Island Sound coastal areas to 5b in the northwest corner.

USDA Plant Hardiness ct_ri zones

The same search at Plant Maps shows Connecticut zones ranging from 7a along the shoreline to 5a in the northwest corner. On both maps the ‘a’ designates a slightly warmer and the ‘b’ indicates a slightly colder sub-zone within the same numbered zone.

A closer examination of your specific town, may show you living and gardening on the edge. For instance, the town in which I live, garden, and work is divided into zones 6b and 6a on the UDSA map and into zones 6a, 6b, and 5b on Plant Maps Connecticut map. This means a plant that is borderline hardy in my zone 6b garden may struggle in an open, unprotected section of a garden just a few miles to the north.

You could let these designations make your head spin, but don’t. Plant hardiness zones serve as a good general guide when choosing plants most likely to survive in a region, but choosing a plant appropriate for your zone does not guarantee survival.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This tag for Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ informs this Golden Japanese Forest Grass is most likely to thrive in zones 4 to 8 provided it is also planted in soil, light, and moisture conditions that meet its needs.

When shopping for plants at a garden center, in a catalog, or online it is important to pay attention hardiness zone recommendations. Just because one ornamental grass is hardy to your zone does not guarantee all others are. The same is true for many types of shrubs and perennials – not all varieties are equally hardy in the same zones.

If you crave a perennial hardy only to a warmer zone, say a zone 9 plant when you garden in zone 6, accept that this plant is not likely to survive your zone 6 winter. In plant talk this is a tender perennial. If you must have it then plant it knowing it will die over the winter or find out if it can be overwintered in a pot in an unheated garage or basement.

On the other hand, if you crave a perennial hardy to zone 7, but garden in zone 6, the plant might survive when situated in an area protected from harsh winter winds, if given extra layers of mulch, or if planted near hardscape that tends to help maintain slightly warmer soil temperatures.

Taking such steps is taking advantage of microclimates, which will be the topic of my next Winter Review … stay tuned.

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Connecticut’s new planting zones

The USDA just released a new plant hardiness zone map. Plant hardiness zones are listed on plant tags to communicate the regions in which plant should survive without extra winter protection.

Many will find their zone has changed by a half – mine went from zone 6a to zone 6b, slightly warmer.


Will this alter how I garden or what I plant? No. The map does not take elevation and cover-, slope-, or hardscape-related issues into consideration. Only eyes and experience can do this. I know my property. Plants, shrubs and trees listed as borderline in zone 6 may not survive tough winters without coddling (this means extra winter protection and extra work). If I must have a plant that is borderline in zone 6, I do so with the full knowledge that coddling/extra work will be part of my regular gardening routine.

This is exactly what the USDA recommends on their Maps & Gardening page.

The new map considers 30 years of climate data – a longer period than the 15 or so years previously used and used in other plant hardiness zone maps. More about how the new zone map was created is on the USDA’s What’s New page.

The new map is more interactive than previously. After choosing to view by State, Region, or Nationally, and choosing a size (try Standard then move on to larger versions), you can preview, open or save your map choice.  If you start here, and type in your zip code your zone will pop up under your zip.  Or, for a closer-up view, click on the Interactive Map tab and type your zip code. In the interactive map you can activate a satellite image that shows up under the zone colors. If you increase the transparency of the zone color layer it’s easier to locate your property on the satellite image.

This is particularly useful when trying to determine planting zones in areas near zone borders. For instance, my property, listed as zone 6a in the older USDA map and in the Arbor Day Hardiness Zone Map, is now located very close to the edge of zone 6a in south-central Connecticut but is newly listed in zone 6b.

Follow the various links above and play with the features, but don’t forget that we still must garden thoughtfully. Hardiness zones are guides. Gardeners with the time, experience and where-with-all to push a hardiness zone – say by planting a zone 7 perennial in a zone 6 garden – can be quite successful. Gardeners looking for less maintenance and fuss should stick to their zone or acknowledge that a perennial listed hardy in a warmer zone should be planted as an annual or overwintered with protection.

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