Zones: What They Are and How to Use Them

“There is such a simple sweetness in being able to participate in creation.”

– Pamela S. Nadav

Like the rest of our garden fruits and veggies, strawberries taste best when they are fresh. They taste so great, in fact, that it might be hard to resist eating all the delicious, red gems while you pick to have enough left over for cooking with! Whether you snack in the garden or bring them to the dinner table, we have some tips and tricks for the best fresh and delicious strawberry treats in the summer.

USDA Zones

Take a moment to picture all the diverse habitats we have in North America. This massive continent is home to everything from tundra, to desserts, to tropical rainforests. We’ve got a big home and our climate can change a lot from one location to another.

By dividing things into zones, it gets a little easier to guess if a plant will make the cut in the worst of your weather. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) created a system that plots every region in North America, taking the guesswork out of selecting plants for our home climates.

The lowest temperature in the winter are what usually make the decision whether your plants will make it to the spring or not. The USDA Zones are all based on the coldest extremes in each region. These zones range from 0 (frigid arctic tundra) to 12 (balmy tropical forests). Canada has a massive diversity in our zones from the coldest 0 to tiny areas as warm as zone 8 on Vancouver Island.

What Zone Am I?

Our prairie home sits comfortably in Zone 3, with some areas just outside of Steinbach, to the North and East, being a little colder. Exploring further North in Manitoba, zones as cold as 2 and 1 can be found.

Many of the deciding elements in our zone are geography and climate, but also keep in mind that bigger urban centres, like Winnipeg, create their own tiny microclimates with slightly warmer temperatures. This usually isn’t enough to change your zone entirely, but it could mean you can cheat your zone a little with some extra work.

Am I Stuck in My Zone?

As we are comfortably within Zone 3, anyone could pick up a Zone 3 (or colder!) plant and have it thrive in their yard with very little work. Picking a plant within your zone means that it is practically designed to thrive naturally in our conditions. You can plant it and forget about it as it will only need occasional watering and no fuss over the winter. These plants tend to be absolutely gorgeous, but not very exotic. You’ll need to put more effort and TLC into the more exotic plants to make them more at home here.

It is absolutely possible to plant with some plants that are outside of your zone. Flirting with some of these exotic beauties will mean extra care and love for your plants. If you’re tempted to plant something from Zone 4, you’ll be asking yourself if you want to put a little more effort into everyday care and winterizing. If you’re ambitious, you might be setting your eyes on a Zone 5 plant, but at that point, it becomes more of a question about how lucky you feel – getting them to succeed will be much more of an uphill battle.

To nurture your warmer-zone plants in the winter, make sure you water them extra in the fall (and in the rest of their growing season) and mulch them before winter descends upon us. This is the minimum requirement, but the more you baby your tender exotics, the more they’ll reward you.

Zone numbers are a great, quick cheat to see if the plants that you love in the store will perform ok in the worst of conditions our winter has to throw at them. Given our famously harsh climate, the zone numbers are incredibly important to our gardens. While staying within your local zone is the safe and easy bet, dreaming outside your home zone doesn’t have to be impossible. You can make the more exotic zone 4 or maybe even zone 5 plants thrive in your own yard, but the charms of these plants comes with a price – and a bit of a gamble that the winter won’t be too extreme.