Vegetable plants are a gateway drug. You start out with a Burpee Big Boy tomato plant from Home Depot.
Like a first born child it consumes your time as you learn how to care for it. You water it, you feed it. At the end of the season, you get one small hard green tomato. In love and undaunted, you move on to multiple containers of tomatoes. Then heirloom tomatoes, green tomatoes, tomatoes in a husk. You are not satisfied. You want more. What if your tomato was purple? What if it was black? What if it had stripes? Would it taste different? Would it grow different? You have to know. You want more. You need more.
Multiply this scenario across squashes, herbs, eggplants, berries, trees, and soon you have become a full blown plant hoarder. You are jaded. Only the different will do.
Case in point: a friend told me on Sunday she got seeds for a black watermelon that cost eight dollars for 3 seeds and she had to jump through crazy hoops to pollinate the thing. It involved an oscillating fan and two other non black watermelons for pollination. Only one of her 3 seeds took.
Will I be buying some?
Does the pope wear a funny hat?
So if you are beginning to slide down this slippery slope and you want to make your constant quest for the different pay off, what can you do?
Well first, and seriously, make sure the plants you purchase will grow where you live. You can buy all the apple trees you want, but unless you have a walk in fridge to store them in over winter, you won’t be getting a lot of apples. Same goes for plums, pears, and even peaches. Mango and Papaya are tropical plants you can grow, but they will die dead in a hard freeze. So how do you know what you can have and how to keep it alive? The answer is zoning.
The entire US is mapped out into planting zones that tell you what you can plant where you live (how easy is that?). The zones are usually posted on plants and seed packets when you purchase them. Central Florida is a zone 9.
For the plant hoarders though, a zone is not a hard core law. It is a suggestion. We can get around it. All yards are created different. A hot dry yard with constant full sun is different than a shady wet one. Look at what you have and read up on zones. You can usually go one zone up or one zone down if you think about where you plant them. I grow rutabaga (a zone 8) in a cool, shady protected spot. I grow Mango (zone 10) in a hot sunny area in a deep container, which I pull into the greenhouse once it gets too cold.
Annuals can go up and down zones if you plant them at different times of the year than intended. Perennials can be moved into greenhouses in the winter, or under shade cloth in the summer.
For exotics and plants from other countries, if you can’t get the zone, look at the latitude on a map. If the latitude corresponds with a US latitude, then use the zone for that area and you can add those plants to your arsenal.
So for the beginner, look for the right zone, make sure the plants you are spending your money on will be here next year. If you want to grow a “northern” plant like peaches or pears, search for the varieties that do well in the higher zones.
For the hoarder, I don’t need to tell you. Just save me some clippings.