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 Hardiness is most commonly understood as the ability of a plant to endure low temperatures. More appropriately, it should be considered as the ability of a plant to thrive in a variety of physical conditions.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone Map provides a recommended range in which a plant will grow well. The map identifies eleven zones according to climate : the colder the winter temperature, the lower the zone number. Zone ratings are designed to indicate that a plant will not merely survive in a zone, but thrive. Other factors--such as high temperatures, rainfall, altitude, soil and drainage, available light, and air quality--should also be considered when choosing plants for your area.

Using Climate Maps
The climate maps are an excellent starting reference when you want to know if a specific plant might grow successfully in your garden. If you are new to the area you live in, or if you are thinking of buying a plant or seeds that you've never grown before - looking at a map like the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map is a great place to begin.

But it takes more than matching up your location zone number with a zone number from a book or catalogue to ensure the chosen plant will thrive in your garden. Factors like last-frost date, rainfall, and summer high temperatures are all important to consider.

Each map highlights certain factors. The USDA Hardiness map shows the average minimum temperature for each region in the United States. The lowest temperatures were recorded across each region and then developed into a range of temperatures zones that were mapped across the country. There are 11 hardiness zones with this map with Zone 11 as the warmest, and Zone 1 as the coldest. Hawaii and the southern part of Florida are Zone 11 while Fairbanks, Alaska resides in Zone 1.

The Heat Zone Map was developed by the American Horticultural Society to help gardeners determine what plants will survive the summers in their climate, as the USDA map enables gardeners to determine what plants will make it through the winter. The map has 12 zones that indicate the average number of days each year that an area experiences "heat days", which are days over 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). The "heat day" point was set at that temperature because that is the point at which plants begin suffering physiological damage from heat. The twelve zones start with less than one heat day, Zone 1, and range up to more than 210 heat days, Zone 12.

There are usually microclimates within gardens. What might thrive on a south-facing wall in your yard might not survive planted in a pot on your exposed patio. Use the maps as a reference for choosing plants, but more importantly check with your local university extension agent for guidance and observe the gardens around you to see what's flourishing.

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