USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map Updated for Gardeners: NPR

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map Updated for Gardeners: NPR

The USDA has updated its Plant Hardiness Zone Map for the first time in 11 years. It is the national standard for growers to understand which plants can tolerate cold winter temperatures in their regions

US Department of Agriculture


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US Department of Agriculture


The USDA has updated its Plant Hardiness Zone Map for the first time in 11 years. It is the national standard for growers to understand which plants can tolerate cold winter temperatures in their regions

US Department of Agriculture

A newly updated government map has many of the country’s gardeners rushing online, Googling new plants they can grow in their hottest areas.

It’s called the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map, and it’s the national standard for gardeners and growers to know which plants are most likely to withstand cold winter temperatures in their locations.

This week the map got its first update in more than a decade, and the forecast for many parks looks warmer. The 2023 map is about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 2012 map across the contiguous United States, says Chris Daly, director of the PRISM climate group at Oregon State University, which developed the map in conjunction with the USDA.

Daly says the new map means about half the country has transitioned into a new region and the other half has not. In some locations, people may find that they can grow new types of flowers, fruits, vegetables and plants.

Many gardeners in the country are not surprised by this change.

“I’ve been saying all year, ‘This needs to be updated!'” Megan London, a gardening consultant in Hot Springs, Arkansas, says in a video she posted on Facebook. London has been gardening for 26 years, and has seen her region warm.

In the new map, the London District of Central Arkansas moved from District 7B to District 8A. What that means for her is that she is now considering growing kumquats, mandarins, and ginger, which is a tropical plant.

But London says the excitement she and other gardeners feel to plant new things is tempered by another feeling: anxiety about human-caused climate change.

The USDA has updated a map that helps gardeners see which plants are most likely to survive cold winter temperatures in their locations. About half the country has turned into a new region.

Robin Beck/AFP via Getty Images


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Robin Beck/AFP via Getty Images


The USDA has updated a map that helps gardeners see which plants are most likely to survive cold winter temperatures in their locations. About half the country has turned into a new region.

Robin Beck/AFP via Getty Images

“We’re excited, but deep down in our minds, we’re also a little bit cautious,” London says. “In the back of our minds, we’re like, ‘Oh, this means things are starting to get better. So what does this mean in the long term?’

The scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that humans burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas is the main driver of global warming. The summer of 2023 was the hottest meteorological summer on record in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Daly says he’s hesitant to explicitly attribute specific changes from the 2012 map to the 2023 map to climate change because of the volatility of the key statistics they used to create that map. They’ve been charting “the coldest night of the year, every year, for the past 30 years,” says Daly, a highly variable number.

“Changes in plant growing areas do not necessarily reflect global climate change due to the highly variable nature of this year’s maximum minimum temperature,” a USDA press officer says in an email.

But in the big picture, Daly says, climate change plays a role in changing what grows in the United States: “In the long term, we expect to see a slow shift northward in areas where climate change takes hold.”

However, for gardeners like Rachel Patterson, in Port St. Joe, Fla., an updated USDA map showing a warm zone is a sure thing, if not comforting. “I feel like I’m not crazy,” she says.

Patterson moved to her new community two years ago to help rebuild after the hurricane. Now gardening with her three-year-old and his wheelbarrow, she has witnessed the effects of climate change in her gardening community in Florida.

“The sweet little grandmothers here are so sad, they can’t grow tomatoes. It’s hotter, and the tomatoes are burning,” she says.

Patterson is helping her community adapt to the heat by growing heirloom tomato varieties that are more resistant to fungi that spread more quickly in warmer climates.

She says the updated map is a reminder of the need for climate action: “The temperature will continue to rise. So the government must make policy changes to slow climate change.”

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