Category Archives: gardening zones

Gardening Zones in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Sunset_zone_map
Sunset Gardening Zone map

You know when you walk out the door how hot or cold it is, how windy, shady, moist or dry. You know if your soil is pure sand or hard clay because you’ve dug a few holes in your time. You don’t need a book to tell you these things. So why are the gardening zones described in Sunset Western Gardening book important when you add a new plant to your garden ? And why are they so confusing in our area?

I hear it all the time when garden consulting. “What zone am I?” “My plants keep dying, what can I do?”
The growing conditions in your garden determine how successful your plants will be. Besides weather and climate your soil affects how plants grow.

For decades, climatic data has been compiled and maps generated to help make sense of local growing conditions. In the 1930s, Sunset Magazine began mapping the western states, taking into consideration the unique climatic growing conditions along with the traditional data of minimum and maximum temperatures, latitude, elevation, ocean influence, continental air influence, mountains and hills and the local topography.

Today the map has become known by many as the gold standard for western growing advice. Zones are numbered from the harshest (Zone 1) in the north to the mildest (Zone 33) in the south.

To accompany the map a plant encyclopedia was developed that assigned the appropriate zone(s) for each plant. The system helps take some of the guesswork out of plant selection if you take into account your microclimate and how your garden differs from areas close by.

Soil quality is not taken into consideration in zone mapping. Since the soil houses the water and nutrient uptake system for most plants, it plays an important role. Most plant guides describe soil requirements in terms of well-drained, acid or alkaline, poorly drained or high organic matter. Many soils can be modified with amendments or by the use of raised beds.

The zone system isn’t perfect. After all, the data collectors don’t live here in our neck of the woods. We are unique and they are looking at the entire western United States. Still, it’s a good idea to take a look at the Sunset zone you live in to see if a plant might survive in your garden but keep these exceptions in mind.

We really only garden in three zones around here – zone 15, 16 and 17. With each new edition of Sunset’s Western Garden Book I eagerly look to see if they’ve figured out that Felton is not in zone 7 but they haven’t done so yet.

The Sunset map shows Felton as being in zone 7 and described as a ridge top instead of on the valley floor. This is the most confusing part of the map in the current edition of Western Gardening. Based on my experience even ridge tops like the highest portions of Bonny Doon and the Summit area that get an occasional dusting of snow fall mostly in a colder zone 15. Zone 7 areas like the Sierra foothills have a much colder winter cold average than any place around here. It’s confusing to both new and seasoned gardeners alike. Here are some tips to help you determine in what zone you garden.

Zone 15 – this zone encompasses most of our area. Winter lows average 20-30 degrees although we are trending toward warmer winters these last few years. The valley floor of both San Lorenzo and Scotts Valley lie in this zone and are what I call “a cold 15”. Cold air sinks and is trapped in these areas. Often there is damage to the tips of oleanders and citrus and fancy succulents need extra protection. There are warmer parts of this zone though where the growing season starts in March and ends in November. These areas rarely get a freeze after March 15th or before Thanksgiving. This zone is influenced by marine air approximately 85 percent of the time and the remaining 15 percent of the time by inland air. In general this zone has a moist atmosphere, cool summers and mild winters. Afternoon winds are common. Lows over a 20-year period ranged from 21 to 28 degrees.

Zone 16 – those who live up off the valley floor but below ridge tops live in this “banana belt”. Pasatiempo also falls in this thermal zone. Light frost can occur during the winter but mostly the winter lows in this zone stay above freezing. The area has a temperate feel from the combination of thermal belts and the coastal influence, with summers warmer than Zone 17 and winters warmer than Zone 15.

Zone 17 – This zone hugs the coastline on the west side of Highway One.  Mild wet usually frostless winters are accompanied by almost daily blankets of fog.

Beside the zone you also need to note how much sun or shade you get during the growing season- April through September. Most plants can survive without sun during the winter as they are either dormant or semi-dormant but need good drainage. It’s those areas that get a blast of sun from about 11 am to 4 pm in the summer that you need to plan for more carefully.

There may also be microclimates on your property. Are you near the river in a canyon or gulch or up on a south facing slope? Some areas in your garden may be several degrees warmer than other spots such as up against a brick wall or at the top of a slope from where cold air drains. Planting a citrus at the top of a slope that drains away the cold will make your tree much happier than if planted in a low open area.

If you have questions about which zone you are in, email me and I’d be happy to help. I hope this helps in choosing plants that will thrive in your garden.

Zones in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Seems like I "Google" something nearly everyday. I can barely remember what life was like before the information highway. For subjects like gardening however information from your own neck of the woods is the best. Locals have knowledge of weather patterns, plant behavior, pests and diseases, flowering sequences- you name it – there's a neighbor or friend or local expert who can help you. I'm fortunate in that lots of people ask questions of The Mountain Gardener about gardening here in our unique part of planet earth. Here are some recent inquiries. You might be wondering about the same things.kale covered with frost

We all rely on Sunset's Western Garden Book as the bible for gardeners. With each new edition I eagerly look to see if they've figured out that Felton is not in zone 7. Sure it was pretty cold around here in January but even with climate change the San Lorenzo and Scotts Valleys are not as cold as a zone 7. Even considering microclimates we can grow a wide variety of plants that would not survive in the Sierra foothills, the Gabilan range, the Coast range or other zone 7 areas. Wish they would ask local nurseries and knowledgeable horticulturists what the weather is really like here.

Knowing the climate in your area helps determine what you can grow in your garden.  It's confusing to both new and seasoned gardeners alike. Here are some tips to help you determine in what zone you garden.

Zone 7 has the coldest winters in our area.  Very high ridge tops like the Summit area and the most northern portions of Bonny Doon lie in this zone.  My records show average winter lows ranging from 15-25 degrees based on 20 years of input from gardeners in these areas.  This does not apply to other areas of zone 7, just those around here.   Record lows have occurred during freezes in 1990, 1996 and 2007 but as gardeners we rely on average highs and lows to help guide our planting times.  Spring weather comes later in this zone with the growing season mainly from April – October.

Zone 15 encompasses most of our area.  Winter lows average 20-30 degrees. The valley floor of both San Lorenzo and Scotts Valley lie in this zone and are what I call "a cold 15".  Cold air sinks and is trapped in these areas. Often there is damage to the tips of oleanders and citrus while gardenias and tropical hibiscus need a lot of extra protection.There are warmer parts of this zone, though, where the growing season starts in March and ends in November.  These areas rarely get a freeze after March 15th or before Thanksgiving.

Zone 16 – those who live up off the valley floor but below ridge tops live in this "banana belt". Pasatiempo also falls in this thermal zone.  Light frost can occur during the winter but mostly the winter lows in this zone stay near or above freezing. You might have cold pockets on your property however so plan accordingly.

Some gardening tasks are dependent on the weather. Many shrubs,perennials and grasses are to be pruned after danger of frost is past and many vegetables should be started after this time as well. As a reminder the estimated date of our last hard frost is March 15th. I've kept a weather journal for my area, the San Lorenzo valley, since 1992.  Based on my records, we may get a few frosts, especially after a storm, in late March or early April but for the most part, we have mostly passed the chance of having a heavy frost. Still it's a good idea to have a cardboard box or blanket ready to protect your young seedlings.

I hope this helps in choosing plants that will thrive in your garden.
 

Lake Tahoe vs Santa Cruz Mts

Boy are we spoiled living here like we do. Our climate is just cold enough in the winter to grow delicious fruit that likes a bit of chill but not so cold that we're forced inside during those months. Our summers are warm and long allowing vegetable gardens to thrive as well as people.

Not so at Lake Tahoe where I recently spent some time. Here cold winters make snow sports reign supreme and summer brings a short growing season. Locals told me that their lilacs are just now blooming, the peonies are in tight bud and many gardeners don't bother growing vegetables. Late snow often in June and early snow sometimes in late August make gardening in the Sierra so much more difficult.

I visited a beautiful nursery in Tahoe City, the Tahoe Tree Nursery to get a feel for what's popular in these parts. This destination nursery is landscaped for weddings as well as bringing in perennials, trees and shrubs to sell from their growing grounds in Loomis in the central valley. Quaking aspen grew in lovely stands providing shade for ferns, hostas and ligularia.  Favorite perennials are echinacea or cone flower and were offered in all the hot new colors: Hot Papaya, Raspberry Truffle, Marmalade, Primadonna White as well as the beautiful magenta standard, Magnus. Many varieties of coreopsis, stachys, lonicera, rudbeckia, kniphofia and hardy geranium are also popular. Rugosa roses do well in this climate also.

On a hike to Shirley Lake in the Squaw Valley area the wildflowers were in full splendor. Fields of Indian paintbrush, mules ears, penstemon, lupine, phlox and delphinium and Mariposa lily covered the slopes. Early summer starts off this areas growing season and everything was lush with new growth and color.

In our part of the world, our early wildflower season is almost over but perennials and flowering shrubs are at their peak and need a bit of attention about now. Here are some tips of what to do in the garden in July.

Make sure vines have support. Some grow so fast that if you look away for a week they become a tangled mess. A little maintenance goes a long way in this department.

Trim back early flowering perennials to encourage the next flush of blooms.

Turn the compost pile often and keep moist.

Add additional mulch to planting beds to keeps roots cool and preserve moisture.

Check ties on trees to make sure they aren't cutting into the bark.

While your out in the garden, take some cuttings from favorite plants like roses, hydrangeas, geraniums, trumpet vine, blackberries, lavatera and salvia. Softwood cuttings are taken during the growing season from relatively soft flexible growth.  Gather 8-12" cuttings early in the day. Discard flowers, buds and side shoots. Then cut the stem into 3-4" pieces, each with at least 2 nodes. Keep track of which end is the bottom and dip in rooting hormone. Poke holes with a pencil in a rooting medium such as half peat moss or potting soil with half perlite, vermiculite, or sand or use perlite or sand only and insert cuttings. Enclose each container in a plastic bag to maintain humidity, opening the bag for a few minutes each day for ventiliation. Place the containers in bright shade.

Some cuttings take 4-6 weeks to root while others take longer. Once they have taken root and are sending out new leaves, open the bags. When the new plants are acclimated to open air, transplant each to its own pot of light weight potting soil.

Enjoy your garden even more this summer by rooting your own plants for yourself, to give away or trade. This is how early settlers filled their gardens, too.
 

Zones for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Gardening is a tricky thing up here in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Recently I got an inquiry from a new resident to the area. She moved up here last year from the west side of Santa Cruz. Not that far away on the map. A world of difference in soils and climate. She lamented, "I Can't believe the difference in the soil here. I lived a mile from the beach and now that I'm miles away, I have the sandiest soil ever."  Welcome to our wonderful world.

Our soils were formed from marine deposits and from molten rock emerging from the earth's crust. Areas underlayed with shale creep and slide during wet weather. Serpentine and granite soils crisscross the mountains.
What's a gardener to do?

It helps to know which zone you garden in. So here's a review. Sunset Western Gardening Guide is confusing as our area has many microclimates and their map is not detailed enough to reflect this. They even show Felton as being on a ridge top instead of on the valley floor. Hopefully, the new Sunset book out this month will be more accurate. Here are some tips to help you determine which zone you live in.

Zone 7  has the coldest winters in our area.  Very high ridge tops like the Summit area and the most northern portions of Bonny Doon lie in this zone.  My records show average winter lows ranging from 15-25 degrees based on 20 years of input from gardeners in these areas.  This does not apply to other areas of zone 7, just those around here.   Record lows have occurred during freezes in 1990, 1996 and 2007 but as gardeners we rely on average highs and lows to help guide our planting times.  Spring weather comes later in this zone with the growing season mainly from April – October.

Zone 15 – this zone encompasses most of our area.  Winter lows average 20-30 degrees. The valley floor of both San Lorenzo and Scotts Valley lie in this zone and are what I call "a cold 15".  Cold air sinks and is trapped in these areas. Often there is damage to the tips of oleanders and citrus while gardenias and tropical hibiscus need extra protection.There are warmer parts of this zone, though, where the growing season starts in March and ends in November.  These areas rarely get a freeze after March 15th or before Thanksgiving.

Zone 16 – those who live up off the valley floor but below ridge tops live in this "banana belt". Pasatiempo also falls in this thermal zone.  Light frost can occur during the winter but mostly the winter lows in this zone stay above freezing. Lucky you.

Beside the zone you also need to note how much sun or shade you get during the growing season- April through September. Most plants can survive without sun during the winter as they are either dormant or semi-dormant. It's those areas that get a blast of sun from about 11 am to 4 pm in the summer that you need to plan more carefully for.  

There may also be microclimates on your property. Areas in your garden that are several degrees warmer than other spots. Maybe a brick wall or the top of a slope from where cold air drains generates a few extra degrees.  Planting a citrus at the top of a slope that drains away the cold will make your tree much happier than if planted in a low open area.

If you have questions about which zone you are in, email me and I'd be happy to help.
 

Gardening zones & last frost in the Santa Cruz Mtns

The weather this winter has been fairly mild. Rainstorms since mid-January have kept the average low temperatures at night from dipping very low. Spring is right around the corner and on time. As your thoughts turn to gardening  make sure those new plant choices are the right ones for your area.

Some gardening tasks are dependent on the weather. Many shrubs,perennials and grasses are to be pruned after danger of frost is past and many vegetables should be started after this time as well. As a reminder the . I’ve kept a weather journal for my area, the San Lorenzo valley, since 1992.  Based on my records, we may get a few light frosts, especially after a storm, in late March or early April but for the most part, we have mostly passed the chance of having a frosty morning. Still it’s a good idea to have a cardboard box or blanket ready to protect your young seedlings.

Knowing the climate in your area helps determine what you can grow in your garden. Notice how much sun or shade an area gets during the growing season, from April through September. Every year I get asked which zone we are in. It’s confusing in Sunset Western Gardening Guide as our area has many microclimates and their map is not detailed enough to reflect this. They even show Felton as being in zone 7 on a ridge top instead of on the valley floor. . Another problem with Sunset’s current book is the typical winter low they show for each of the three zones around here. For example, zone 17 ( Pasatiempo  and the banana belt ) is described as having lower temps in winter than the summit. It’s confusing to both new and seasoned gardeners alike. Here are some tips to help you determine in what zone you garden.

Zone 7
  has the coldest winters in our area.  Very high ridge tops like the Summit area and the most northern portions of Bonny Doon lie in this zone.  My records show average winter lows ranging from 15-25 degrees based on 20 years of input from gardeners in these areas.  This does not apply to other areas of zone 7, just those around here.   Record lows have occurred during freezes in 1990, 1996 and 2007 but as gardeners we rely on average highs and lows to help guide our planting times.  Spring weather comes later in this zone with the growing season mainly from April – October.

Zone 15 – this zone encompasses most of our area.  Winter lows average 20-30 degrees. The valley floor of both San Lorenzo and Scotts Valley lie in this zone and are what I call "a cold 15".  Cold air sinks and is trapped in these areas. Often there is damage to the tips of oleanders and citrus while gardenias and tropical hibiscus need extra protection.There are warmer parts of this zone, though, where the growing season starts in March and ends in November.  These areas rarely get a freeze after March 15th or before Thanksgiving.

Zone 16 – those who live up off the valley floor but below ridge tops live in this "banana belt". Pasatiempo also falls in this thermal zone.  Light frost can occur during the winter but mostly the winter lows in this zone stay above freezing.

I hope this helps in choosing plants that will thrive in your garden.