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Cheating Your Zone

March 31st, 2011

It’s always sad when you find a plant you want to grow but it’s not hardy to your Northern climate (I’m sure it’s equally frustrating for you Southern gardeners who can’t grow plants that need chill hours). There are ways that you can cheat an extra zone or two with a few techniques like planting on a south facing slope, covering with mulch and protecting plants with styrofoam cones, or burlap. Another great way is to surround plants with rocks. The rocks will absorb heat from the sun and then radiate that heat to keep the plant warmer. It creates a microclimate that helps plants survive in a climate a little out of their zone.

I have this beautiful Mediterranean Pink Heather growing on my front hillside. It’s technically not hardy in my zone 5 as it’s a zone 6-7. I have a few that hrive on my front hillside which faces south and that are surrounded by very large rocks. I never really thought about this until I planted a few in the back garden which are struggling. Then I realized that they aren’t on a south facing slope and they’re not surrounded by large rocks, I’ll have to move a few that survived. One year I had a black eyed Susan vine survive in my front flowerbed, most likely because of the heavy layer of mulch and it was under a rock because these are a zone 10-11.

Do you ever cheat the seasons with rocks, south facing slopes, mulch, or other forms of protection?

14 Comments to “Cheating Your Zone”
  1. Dave on March 31, 2011 at 8:19 am

    I’ve cheated some but mostly just with the plants that right on the edge of our zone. Borderline hardy stuff. Planting near the house is a good way to cheat. I have the white heather but it really hasn’t done so well for me.

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  2. Emily Jenkins on March 31, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Awwww… I have wanted to grow heather and gorse ever since visiting Ireland while in college. I, however, do not have the attention span or perseverance to grow things out of their zone. I know there are hardier heathers, but none so as beautiful as your Mediterranean beauty. Very nice!

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  3. Brittany P. on March 31, 2011 at 9:31 am

    I have cheated a little by using mulch on plants that are just out of our zone. Sometimes it works, sometimes not but it does not keep me from trying.

    I received the giveaway package of cookbooks yesterday and I am so thrilled with them! They look to be full of great recipes and it will keep me busy for a while looking through them all. I can’t think of anything else I would rather do right now, it has been RAINY here all week and is said to continue like this for a while. *sigh* At least we are getting some much needed rain and I have a good excuse to stay in and look at my new cookbooks. ;)

    Reply to Brittany P.'s comment

    • Susy on March 31, 2011 at 9:39 am

      You may find notes in the cookbooks, I sometimes write changes, dates tried, whether we liked it or not, can’t remember if I did that in any of these, but many of my other cookbooks are filled with stars and notes.

      The recipe for Irish Oatmeal Bread on page 16 of one of the cookbooks (can’t remember which) is really fantastic.

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  4. Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig on March 31, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I have cheated…but not on purpose! It’s usually some random volunteer that I could never grow in “that ” location on purpose! lol

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  5. Teresa on March 31, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I tried that same heather in the front yard of my old house and lost it. Maybe some rocks would have helped :)

    Reply to Teresa's comment

  6. bonnie on March 31, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    I usually put any outdoor potted plants against the south end of my house for the winter. I bank pinestraw around them. In this way I’ve sometimes had pots of petunias or mini-petunias (calibrachoa) survive the winter.

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  7. Sincerely, Emily on March 31, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    I live more on the side of wanting to grow some things that require more chill hours…like rhubarb. I am TRYING to learn how I can cheat with that. I haven’t done enough research on it yet to see if I can pull it out, dry it and cool it down so it thinks it is winter. Your pink heather looks beautiful. I am glad you found a way to grow it. It has a wonderful color to it peeking out amongst the rocks. Emily

    Reply to Sincerely, Emily's comment

    • Susy on March 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

      Yes, that could be a problem, you’re in TX right? I know there is one kind of rhubarb that can be grown in CA. Perhaps growing as an annual like this article suggests would work best. You’d have to raise it from seed every year.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Sincerely, Emily on April 3, 2011 at 11:32 pm

        Yes, that is exactly what I have found…growing it as an annual. Thanks for the link to the article, that is what they recommended also, so it sounds like I am on the right track. I need to order some seeds and be prepared for that next season. (yup, I am in TX) Emily

        to Sincerely, Emily's comment

  8. MAYBELLINE on March 31, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Cheaters never prosper. At least, I never prosper. Chill hours aren’t so much a factor in the San Joaquin Valley than the enormous amount of burning sun time. Tucking tender plants away in a shaded area may work but it’s simply so much easier and satisfying to grow plants that can take the zone.
    Please know that we’re pushing 90 this week (YUCK) so only the hardy will make it to December (Reference local boy, Merle Haggard hit. I live right on Merle Haggard Dr.). Enjoy your spring. We’ve sprung on to summer. Next stop…Hell.

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

    • Susy on March 31, 2011 at 3:57 pm

      UGH – gladly we don’t have too many days in the 90’s here in Ohio, the days we do are muggy and unbearable – spent indoors sipping iced tea and looking at the garden through the window.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  9. Sarah on March 31, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Definitely! Garden design is all about finding, creating, and exploiting micro climates. We engineered our gray water system to create a wet zone through our garden, and have built up lots of rocky areas to allow sedums to be extra happy. I dream of experimenting with citrus and kiwis (not normally found in S. Oregon), I’ve read that it can be done with the right placement, a lot of mulch, and proper insulation.

    I also have that same heather, by the way!

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  10. Barbara on March 31, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Never thought of trying to pull a fast one on Mother Nature like this, but now that you’ve suggested it … ;)

    Reply to Barbara's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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