Horticultural Applications of a Newly Revised USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

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Daly, Christopher
Keller, Markus
Kaplan, Kim
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Widrlechner, Mark
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North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station
The North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station manages and provides plant genetic resources and associated information. As a result of working at the station, student employees should improve their professional skills related to communications, ethics, leadership, problem solving, technical agronomy, international awareness, and an appreciation of diversity.
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The accurate prediction of winter injury caused by low-temperature events is a key component of the effective cultivation of woody and herbaceous perennial plants. A common method employed to visualize geographic patterns in the severity of low-temperature events is to map a climatological variable that closely correlates with plant survival. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map (PHZM) is constructed for that purpose. We present a short history of PHZM development, culminating in the recent production of a new, high-resolution version of the PHZM, and discuss how such maps relate to winterhardiness per se and to other climatic factors that affect hardiness. The new PHZM is based on extreme minimum-temperature data logged annually from 1976 to 2005 at 7983 weather stations in the United States, Puerto Rico, and adjacent regions in Canada and Mexico. The PHZM is accessible via an interactive website, which facilitates a wide range of horticultural applications. For example, we highlight how the PHZM can be used as a tool for site evaluation for vineyards in the Pacific northwestern United States and as a data layer in conjunction with moisture-balance data to predict the survival of Yugoslavian woody plants in South Dakota. In addition, the new map includes a zip code finder, and we describe how it may be used by governmental agencies for risk management and development of recommended plant lists, by horticultural firms to schedule plant shipments, and by other commercial interests that market products seasonally.


This article is from HortTechnology 22, no. 1 (February 2012): 6–19.