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WHAT’S BLOOMIN’

Gardening advice: Plant hardiness defined by zones

Map shows areas where plants will survive winter.

Friday, July 26, 2013 - 12:01 am

Q.: I've heard that we live in Zone 5, but I'm not sure exactly what that stands for or why it is important. Could you explain?

A.: These zones are important because they show us what plants will survive and come back year after year in our area of the country. There is a USDA hardiness map that divides North America into 10-11 separate zones; each zone is 10 degrees warmer (or colder) in an average winter than the adjacent zone. Fort Wayne and Allen County are situated in a rather wide range of zones, 5a and b, and 6a and b.

In 1969, the USDA Hardiness Zone Map was developed, and it has been updated since. It is a reliable guide we use to judge whether certain plants are “hardy” enough to survive the winter or should be considered an annual that doesn't survive until spring.

Here is a link to the 1990 Indiana hardiness map, and this one is interactive. It has a plant list that allows you to shop wisely regarding certain plants: www.plantmaps.com/ interactive-indiana-usda -plant-zone-hardiness- map.php.

Your home is an excellent example of how these zones work and, if you map it, you will find that you probably have two or three zones at work right around you. Do a study of your property, such as when did certain plants come out of dormancy in the spring and when did they bloom? By having this knowledge, you can purchase a wider variety of plants — some you have noticed and coveted in southern Indiana nurseries or even in northern areas of Kentucky.

Q.: The cabbage moths are chewing my cabbage heads to pieces. I do not want to use chemicals, but I need alternatives. Do you have any suggestions?

A.: Companion planting is one suggestion. If you plant sage along with the cabbage, it is said to deter cabbage moths, bean beetles and carrot flies.

You can also purchase Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Commercial Bt products are powders containing a mixture of dried spores and toxin crystals. They are applied to leaves or other environments where the insect larvae feed and are marketed as not harmful to beneficial insects.

Bt is safe for humans and the environment. In fact, there have not been any reports of harm to humans in the nearly 50 years it has been used as an insecticide. The only concern is that eventually these insects will become immune to the bacillus. Mosquitoes and black flies are also controlled with Bt sprays, and it is used as treatment in ponds and standing water of all sorts.

Q.: My tomatoes have contracted blossom end rot and the plants wilted, the leaves curled, and I've had to pull up and toss entire plants this year. What is going on, and how can I stop this from continuing to happen?

A.: Blossom end rot and the wilting problem you mention are usually two different issues. Blossom end rot is mainly caused by too much water or too little. It usually happens when the season begins with too much rain, then goes to dry at a crucial time in the tomato development.

If your plants are exhibiting blossom end rot but look healthy otherwise, snip off the blemished tomato and make sure the plant is watered consistently. Also feed with a low nitrogen and high phosphorous fertilizer.

Plant wilting? Unfortunately, this sounds like Verticillium and Fusarium wilts, and there is nothing you can do except pull and destroy the plant.

I'll talk more about tomatoes, the good and the bad, in next week's column.

Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to jaf701@fron tier.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.