New Jersey is no stranger to discussions on geographic boundaries. For instance, the age-old debate on what separates “North Jersey” and “South Jersey” wages on, along with whether or not “Central Jersey” should be part of the debate as well. But when it comes to gardening, there is a far more clear-cut way of defining New Jersey.
That would be the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which divvies up the state into four gardening zones: 6a, 6b, 7a and 7b. Knowing your zone helps determine which plants are most likely to thrive in your garden.
These designations might come as a surprise to New Jersey gardeners with longer memories, who were accustomed to buying plants in accordance with the 1990 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which was in use up until 2012. In that map, New Jersey was represented by zones 5, 6 and 7. The discrepancy is mainly due to how much data was collected for each map. The 1990 map used temperature data collected between 1974 to 1986, while the 2012 update used temperature data collected between 1976 and 2005.
The 2012 map offers up many surprises that go beyond zone changes. For one, those who live in Cape May (7b) share the same zone as Raleigh, North Carolina. A pocket of Southern New Jersey around the Swedesboro area and the northern Monmouth County coast near Keansburg and Leonardo fall within this zone too. But head up the coast from Cape May to Long Beach Island and you’ll be in zone 7a.
With all the variance in zones, it’s likely that your garden might fall on the border of two different zones. If that’s the case, follow the advice of Bruce Crawford, Director of The Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick. “Typically, I would pick a plant for the colder zone,” he says. “However, there are often micro climates in every garden (a protected spot next to a building or wall for example) that would be conducive for a warmer zone plant to thrive.”
Some interesting choices for New Jersey’s zones are found on the website for the Rutgers Gardens Spring Flower Fair. Suggested varieties include the April Blush Camellia (zone 6), the yellow-flowering Stachyurus praecox (zone 6), the silvery Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ (zone 7) and the dark green Cast Iron Aspidistra (zone 7).
Another option is to keep it simple and follow the recommendations of Tom Wolfe, Store Manager at The Home Depot in Freehold. “The average growing season ranges from April to November in the coastal areas and from May to September in northern inland regions. Green and fertile, all vegetables and annuals grow well here,” he says. A good variety of perennials, ferns, flowers and herbs is also a great choice for New Jersey gardens. Wolfe’s recommendations include petunias and geraniums for annuals or daylilies and daisies for perennials.
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