Zoned Out

Saturday, February 4, 2012

No way! I'm not buying it! Talk to the Hand, USDA man!

This is my somewhat personal reaction to the new Hardiness Zone maps unveiled by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Sacramento Bee's Debbie Arrington writes about them in today's Home and Garden section. The new maps can be accessed here.

So what's the big deal about a new Hardiness Zone map? Well -- I'll tell you what the big deal is!

The fine scientists who released this map have decided to switch Sacramento's Hardiness Zone designation from 9A to 9B. This isn't a subtle change. What the USDA is now telling you is that it's safe to run out and buy an avocado tree and plant it in your backyard.

USDA Hardiness Zone Map
Not so fast there buckaroo.

The new USDA Hardiness Zone Map is divided into 13 different zones. These zones are based on the average winter temperature, and are further separated by "A" and "B" regions. Zone 9A, for example, is somewhat colder than Zone 9B. The same would hold true with Zone 10A and Zone 10B.

Up until a few short and blissful weeks ago, Sacramento was stuck in Zone 9A. What does this mean? It means certain trees and plants just won't tolerate the snap freezes that can haunt a gardener during the months of December and January. One good jolt of Mr. Freeze can turned your prized avocado tree into a pile of blackened twigs. I should know. I'm "expert" at killing avocado trees.

Venus next to the Pinkerton Avocado (now gone)
The supposedly "cold weather" varieties of Bacon, Pinkerton, Zutano, Mexicola and Mexicola Grande have all had a date with Mr. Freeze in my North Natomas Back 40. And all five have reacted by biting the proverbial dust. It didn't matter where they were planted. Raised beds for good drainage? Yesiree! Christmas lights at night to keep them warm? Yes, once again.

Mr. Freeze laughed at every precaution. After four years of nothing but frost-kissed black-twig failure, I officially announced to the wife that loves all thing avocados (this would be Venus) that no matter how hard I tried, I could not fit that square peg into a round hole. I got tired of watching avocado trees die -- let alone watching that growth spurt on the Meyer Lemon turn black and die back.

Why Meyer Lemons can't experience growth spurts in the spring amazes me to no end. But -- NOPE -- they always flush with new growth during the fall months out in our Back 40 territory. And you can bet the farm that those new purple shoots will blacken and die back once they've been kissed by Mr. Freeze.

New Northern California Map (BAH!)
If these developments aren't bad enough -- imagine how you would feel if some dumb USDA scientists suddenly changed your zone designation from 9A to 9B? How does that make me feel? It makes me feel like shipping some dead avocado tree limbs and twigs to those clueless USDA scientists -- telling them exactly where they can stick their new zone designation.

The voice of reason in this discussion is none other than Master Gardener Fred Hoffman, aka, Farmer Fred of NewsTalk 1530 KFBK and Talk 650 KSTE fame. He tells the Sacramento Bee that, "I'm a little leery about extending 9b so far." This makes me feel somewhat better. Lord knows, I've cried on his shoulder enough about my avocado tree failures.

Bacon Avocado Tree (DEAD!)
Fred is also a strong believer in microclimates, which is why, he says "you can find bananas (growing) in Lodi." This I tend to believe since South Natomas grower Nels Christensen, who lives less than five miles from me as the crow flies, has two mature and productive avocado trees in his backyard. Nels is always kind enough to bring four or five over during harvest season. It's a supply that lasts exactly 90 seconds.

I did mention the wife likes avocados, right?

So, my invitation to these smart USDA scientists is this: Give me your best shot. If you can make an avocado tree -- any avocado tree -- last an entire winter in the Bird Back 40, I'll eat the words printed on this blog.

Until then -- I'm firmly planted in Zone 9A.