When the USDA made adjustments to their Plant Hardiness Zone maps, placing Columbus and the surrounding communities at Zone 6a instead of 5b, it sounded like such a small shift, didn’t it? It officially acknowledged what many Central Ohio gardeners already knew, and encouraged us all to try plants that were firmly established as hardy in Zone 6. In the three years since, we’ve seen a slow shift in what local plant buffs have been willing to invest in, in hopes of successful overwintering. We’ve even seen a shift in the stock available to us in garden centers.
Changing Zones, Changing Gardens in Columbus Ohio
Local gardeners have noticed for years that woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary, thought to be annuals based on our former zoning, were overwintering quite well and greening up again in the spring like perennials. We had thought it was a fluke of windbreaks and luck. Now we plan for them to survive. Leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, and spinach are allowed to go to seed at the end of the fall growing season and we’re no longer surprised when they self-sow and sprout again in spring. We even splurge on a hope, and bet that stone fruit trees will survive and set fruit more reliably than the old zone map told us they should. One Clintonville neighbor even reports planting a fig tree that has survived without special care! Although, it should be pointed out that there are microclimates that vary within zones, and even within neighborhoods and backyards. Not everyone will have the same successes with the same plants.
It’s easier for local gardeners to find varieties of Crepe Myrtle, Magnolias, and Azaleas that weren’t commonly grown here four or five years ago. Now, with the reassurance of the zone change, some are branching out past the dogwood, privet, and boxwood traditionally found in Columbus suburbs. Stone fruit trees are easier to find, and reliable fruit setting is being seen in stone fruit trees that aren’t espaliered or covered. Now that we accept the Zone 6 designation, the gonzo gardeners amongst us are flirting with Zone 7 plants, settling them close to the house to see if they’ll make it! We still won’t be growing avocados in our backyards or overwintering birds of paradise in our front flower beds, but there is a decided change in the landscape after several years of being officially Zone 6. Teacup magnolias are here to stay, and will be delighting generations to come.
Far more exciting for snow-bound gardeners in the cold and dark of winter’s grip, zone classification change also means our planting and first frost dates have shifted back by a week or two. Planning time and PLANTING time come earlier! JOY! Seed catalogs are found in our mailboxes with our Christmas cards instead of our Valentines. Our last frost day is now April 30, and we’re loving it. Yes, we are all still jealous of lakefront communities like Cleveland and Port Clinton that get to enjoy peppers and beans into November some years…but we’ll take our shift in frost dates and hover over our seed catalogs and our gardening gadget catalogs and plan for warmer days while we’re still deep in the snow.
As every Columbus gardener knows, springtime can come early or later…and we always know this year’s garden is going to be the very best garden ever!