What is a Growing Zone and How to find yours!

A Growing zone (also called Hardiness zones) are areas that determine what plants are likely to thrive in that locations. The average winter extreme low temperature is what the USDA uses to determine growing zones. This means the USDA has collected data from hundreds of research stations across the country to determine what the lowest average temperature is in each spot every year.  They then build or adjust the map of Hardiness Zones to illustrate what kinds of plants will survive the winter temperatures in each area.

This doesn’t take into consideration any abnormal extreme low temperatures. So sometimes there can be lower than average temperatures to watch out for.  Luckily, natural forces aside, the USDA Hardiness Zones map is usually very accurate. When used correctly, it can be one of the most useful tools you can use to determine which plants will grow and thrive in your garden, and survive your winters and/or summers!

Finding your Growing Zone

To see an interactive and more detailed map (including a zoom function and to search by zip code) please visit the USDA’s map website: here:http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/phzmweb/interactivemap.aspx

Here is the current USDA Plant Hardiness Zones Map, with half-steps.


To find your zone, look for your region, state, and approximate city area.  Then use the key to determine what zone the color represents.  That will be your Growing Zone.  For best results in your garden, only purchase and plants rated for your zone. Plants that do not mention your particular zone may not survive the average winter/summer temperatures in your area.  

Growing zones that plants are rated for are usually on their tags and/or online descriptions when they’re sold.  For example, if you are in Zone 4, and check a tag/description that says ‘Zones 4-8’, you can grow that plant! If the tag/description says ‘Zones 3-9’ you can grow that one, too!  If the tag/description does not cover your zone, it’s not a good idea to grow that plant in your garden.  We’ll talk more about that later.  

Marginal Growing Zone Areas

If you are in between zones near a zone boundary line, for example where zones 3 and 4 meet you may want to be extra careful with your plantings.  Being cautious and purchasing/planting for the lower-numbered (in the example’s case, zone 3) or colder zone is a good idea.  

If you’d like to plant for the higher-numbered (in the example’s case, 4)  or warmer zone, proceed with caution. Experiment with the knowledge that some of your plants might not ‘make it’ through the winter cold or may ‘die back’ in the summer heat.  

You can also utilize a winter mulch/covering to increase your chances of winter survival. You could also use extra shade/water in summer to increase your summer survival rate. But that may not make 100% of plants tolerant of the temperatures involved.

Growing Plants Out of Your Growing Zone

If you want to try growing a plant rated higher than your particular growing zone, you can also try winter mulch and summer shade/extra water. However, your plant has a good chance of not making it. For any plant grown out of its zone, that’s normal. There is nothing wrong with that plant. It just means the plant cannot survive a place to which it cannot adapt.

We cannot recommend growing perennial plants in zones they are not rated for.  If there is a plant you enjoy rated out of your growing range, consider planting it as an annual. Have the expectation it will die at the end of your growing season. But you can always replant it next year and enjoy again.

Growing Perennials as Annuals

Plenty of our customers have a great time growing their favorite perennials as annuals!  Most gardeners the world over have planted annuals to brighten up their yard for just one season (or replant every year). Annual plants fill out most container gardens!

When you think of how you use plants like geraniums, petunias, impatiens, and marigolds (to name a few popular annuals in our area), know you can also use perennials out of your growing zone that way as well!  Why not try some interesting perennials like penstemon, euphorbia, geum, and more in your containers and beds?

Remember, your plants will only have one season of growth. So they may not get to their full mature size, or have as profuse of blooms as they would if they had more years to accumulate growth. But the plants grown by you can still be enjoyed in the garden for what beauty they provide!

Can you grow Hostas, Heucheras, and other Perennials Indoors?

One of the questions people like to ask is if you can grow Hostas, Heucheras, and other Perennials indoors? The short answer to this question is, unfortunately, no.

The long answer is maybe, but it is very difficult. If you love a challenge, you can give it a try!

Hormonal Reasons

The main reason why it’s not a good idea to grow temperate perennials (perennials that need a seasonal temperature change, or a ‘winter’ period) indoors is that they absolutely require a cold, winter ‘rest’ period.  This primes them for their annual cycle of new growth in spring, summer filling out, fall die-back, and winter rest.  

The cells in plants secrete hormones that control their growth. Hormones also control how they grow, and when they grow. In addition, hormones are responsible for seasonal light and temperature changes that happens naturally outdoors in temperate perennials.

Basically, when you give temperate perennials a fairly unvarying temperature and light levels (like in indoors environments), their internal systems aren’t working quite right!  The symptoms include a lack of vigor or being excessively stretched, pale plant stems, and a slow decline to eventual plant death.

Environmental Reasons

They can also suffer from environmental stresses, due to the fact they’re in an unnatural environment.  We’ve created an ideal indoor environment for human beings – we have vents that blow out heat in winter, keep it chilly in summer, made our buildings air-tight and dry (no wind or humidity!) and have developed low glare, dim lighting in the spectrums that work best for the human eye.  These are, regrettably, very poor and confusing situations for temperate plants!  

Now for the challenge! You can almost certainly grow just about anything indoors, but you have to modify your growing space accordingly in order to do so

Requirements to Grow Temperate Perennials Indoors


The first requirement (and frequently most important for all indoor plants) is light.  Light is sunlitwindow1commonly measured in footcandles. It’s the amount of illumination the inside surface of a one foot radius sphere would be receiving if there were a uniform point source of one candela in the exact center of the sphere. It is defined as the illuminance on a one-square foot surface in which there is a uniformly distributed flux of one lumen.

The average light level outdoors on a sunny day is around 1200 footcandles.  

In the shade, that drops to 350 footcandles.  

Inside a room with a window, about 200-800 footcandles (depending on how close to the window you are, the orientation of the window, direct sunlight, etc).  

Inside an interior office (no windows, overhead lighting) only 30 to 40 footcandles!  

A desk lamp only provides 30 to 80 footcandles, directly underneath!


Example of a light meter

To acquire as much light as possible, place your plant near a sunlit window.  Supplemental light is recommended as well as frequently required (especially for full-sun plants!).  

If you’d like to find out exactly how much light you have in any given area, you can buy a light meter on many hobby websites and Amazon (Professional Light Meter)


LED grow light

Plants need special light spectrums. While humans enjoy the full spectrum or close to it, plants on the other hand can only use certain sections of the spectrum (mostly red and blue) and require more of those.  Plant ‘grow lights’ are sold in many stores as well as online (here’s an example TaoTonics LED) – if you’re serious about growing plants indoors, it’s best to do your research and invest in a grow light if needed for best results!

Seasonal Temperatures


A selection of hostas in pots

The other most important requirement is seasonal temperature.  If you want to grow temperate perennials (like Hosta, Heuchera, anything grown outdoors in USDA growing zones 1 through 12) they will absolutely need a ‘winter’ cold period.  The cold period can be attained through many different ways, but it depends on the size of your plant and pot.  

For the largest plants and pots, the only options tend to be either leaving them outside (covered or insulated) or in your garage over winter (if you live in the plants’ growing zone).  Similarly, you can also test how cool your basement gets.  By chance it does get cool enough (check the plants’ requirements, and growing zone winter temperatures), place the pots there for a cooling period.  

hosta in round container

Hosta in small pot

If you live in an area where you have no winter cooling (or inadequate winter cooling for your choice of plant) I recommend sticking to smaller pots, or growing temperate plants indoors as annuals, and replacing them every spring.

For smaller plants and pots, you may be able to fit them in a fridge. To prevent drying out or excessive moisture, these plants will have to be carefully covered and checked frequently.  You can always follow the same instructions for large pots, and place small pots in basements, garages, or outdoors for winter as well.

If you are prepared to cater to your temperate perennials’ needs for light and temperature, the third requirement is water and humidity.


Indoor plants require much less frequent water than plants grown outdoors.  That’s because indoor plants do not transpire (water evaporation from leaves) as much as outdoor plants. That’s due to the fact they don’t have wind or breezes to ‘pull’ the moisture away.  Therefore, they also tend to grow at a slower rate, so they just don’t need as much water to drive their food production system.  This makes it easy to overwater indoor plants!  


Example of a digital soil probe

Make sure to always check the soil moisture levels before watering. This creates an idea of how often the plant truly needs to be watered. There are commercial ‘soil probes’ available to measure soil moisture by either electronic means or physically pulling a soil sample from lower in the pot. Here’s some examples of soil probes of the electronic variety (Dr. Meter)

and the physical variety


Example of a physical soil probe

(Alien Soil Probe).

Symptoms of overwatering include brown leaf tips, a funky smell to the potting mix, and stem or root rot.  Fungus gnats are hard to get rid of since they love overwatered plants. So if you hear small and irritating black flies buzzing around, that means no more water please!



Example of a plant mister

Some plants require more moisture in the air, rather than at the roots. These would benefit from a light misting daily or frequently.  You can purchase a squirter or sprayer bottles for these plants, and use as recommended for the plant family/variety. An example here (Coolrunner Vintage).

Potting Mix/Soil


First of all, ALWAYS plant indoor plants in a soilless media mix. Your local garden store should easily carry soilless media mix.  Garden or outdoor soil or dirt can frequently be problematic indoors, US-Miracle-Gro-Potting-Mix-75637300-Main-Lrgdue to the fact it can be contaminated with insect pests and diseases.  Soilless media is ph-balanced which makes the ph-balance is neutral. It has good large pores to store water or air for growth, as well as allowing easy root growth.  

Garden soil (your own or purchased in bags) can tend to either be clayey (can ‘bind’ nutrients, making them difficult/impossible to access), or ‘sandy’ (refuse to ‘hold on’ to any nutrients, letting them leach out of the pot entirely).  Similarly, it’s prone to compaction. Compaction makes it smaller for no pores for water or air which makes it unnecessarily difficult for roots to grow through.  Make sure you’ve purchased ‘soilless potting mix’ instead of bags labeled ‘garden soil’ or ‘potting soil’!  Indoors is already a hard environment, let’s make it easy on the roots!


Indoor Plant Alternatives

If temperate perennials sound like too much work indoors, there are other plants that are much more easily adaptable to indoor environments!  The Tropicals!  Stores often sell tropical plants as ‘indoor’ plants. That’s because their ideal habitat is quite close to our indoor environment!


One of the many varieties of Draceana

Tropical plants (like Dracaena, Pothos, Ficus, and other plants native to USDA growing zone 13) require constant, fairly warm temperatures, and plenty of moisture. Many plants are able to adapt for being in the shade(understory natives)! These plants have the best chance of surviving and even thriving in an indoor environment without significant modifications.  If you want to build yourself a lush, green indoor paradise, we recommend exploring these great families!


Here’s some links to articles with lists of easy-care tropical indoor plants!







(file:///C:/Users/Hostasdirect/Downloads/Lightlevels.pdf) (University of Denver, DU Portfolio – What do light levels really mean)





The Right Heuchera for You! How to Choose These Colorful Shade Plants for Your Garden!

Heuchera General Information

Heuchera, or Coral Bells, have hundreds of varieties available on the market. They prefer shade to part shade, with a few varieties able to tolerate full sun in cooler climates.

Heuchera flowers are typically showy, bright colors that attract pollinators like butterflies and bees to your yard, and ALL species are native to North America. They grow in USDA zones 4-8 only, so if you live outside of those areas, it’s probably best to pick a different perennial, or grow Heucheras as an annual.

Heuchera are available in a bewildering array of colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. But which one fits in with your growing zone and climate?

In this blog, I’ll take you through the most common Heuchera species (the wild origin ancestor plants) and into the newer developed hybrids and crossbreeds produced by plant breeders for better performance in the home garden, with photos and variety examples for Northern states and Southern states to guide you to the right choice for you!

Heuchera americana

Heuchera americana

This is a straight species H. americana.

Originally native to the Central United States., H. americana withstands both hot and cold temperature extremes. The plant has a neat mound habit, and seems to prefer woodland locations. It is very commonly hybridized with other species to produce many colorful varieties.



See all our H. americana lineage Heucheras at our Buy Heuchera Page – H. americana.


Heuchera cylindrica


This is a straight species H. cylindrica.

Sometimes known as Roundleaf Heuchera, the leaves can vary but are commonly a little ’rounder’, lacking the sharply defined lobes of some other Heuchera species. Native to the Northwestern United States and Canada. Of course, hybridization mixes traits, so lineage is not always immediately apparent. The flower stalks of H. cylindrica are quite rigid and can fare better in windy conditions.

See all our H. cylindrica lineage Heucheras at our Buy Heucheras Page – H. cylindrica.

Heuchera sanguinea


This is a straight species H. sanguinea.

The first heuchera commercially available and may be familiar from your grandmother’s garden, H. sanguinea frequently has the showiest blossoms of the Heuchera varieties. This species is native to the Southwest United States and can maintain its flowers even in dry, hot weather.





See all our H. sanguinea lineage Heucheras at our Buy Heucheras Page – H. sanguinea.

Heuchera villosa


This is a straight species H. villosa.

H. villosa are native to the Eastern United States. Hybrids using this species are typically recommended for the deep South, as they can survive very hot, humid conditions. They typically have large, hairy leaves.






See all our H. villosa lineage Heucheras at our Buy Heucheras Page – H. villosa.



This is a straight species H. micrantha.

Heuchera micrantha

This Heuchera species is native to the Western United States and Canada. The origin species for the ‘ruffled’ look in Heuchera leaves, they are also the most cold-tolerant Heuchera.

The ruffled shape of the leaves may have something to do with it, since it naturally insulates by trapping air pockets beneath and between the leaves themselves. H. micrantha are also very variable in size and color, with some displaying intense ruffles and others less.

See all our H. micrantha lineage Heucheras at our Buy Heucheras Page – H. micrantha.

Heuchera Hybrids

H. 'Green Spice' (americana lineage)

H. ‘Green Spice’ (americana lineage)

Nearly all Heuchera on the market today are a mixture of any and sometimes all of these species! Heuchera hybrids are designed to give you the best selection of colors, sizes, leaf shapes, and textures for your garden, while trying to maximize and/or target growing areas.

While color, leaf shape, and texture are important to your garden design, the species lineage of your Heuchera can frequently determine how well it will grow for you.

For Hot and Southern Climates

If you live in an area with predominantly hot weather (Deep South, SouthWest, etc) you may want to specifically look for Heuchera hybrids with plenty of H. villosa or H. sanguinea lineage.

Here’s a few examples of some Heuchera hybrids with villosa and sanguinea lineage.

H. ‘Autumn Leaves’ (villosa hybrid)

H. ‘Southern Comfort’ (villosa hybrid)

H. ‘Champagne’ (villosa hybrid)

H. ‘Obsidian’ (villosa hybrid)

H. ‘Plum Royale’ (sanguinea hybrid)

H. ‘Lipstick’ (sanguinea hybrid)

H. ‘Havana’ (sanguinea hybrid)

H. ‘Glitter’ (sanguinea hybrid)

For Cold and Northern Climates

If you live in an area with cold winters (especially zone 4 areas), you may want to look for hybrids with H. micrantha or H. cylindrica lineage.

Here’s a few examples of some Heuchera hybrids with cylindrica and micrantha lineage.

H. ‘Ginger Ale’ (cylindrica hybrid)

H. ‘Peppermint Spice’ (cylindrica hybrid)

H. ‘Paris’ (cylindrica hybrid)

H. ‘Rave On’ (cylindrica hybrid)

H. ‘Forever Purple’ (micrantha hybrid)

H. ‘Ginger Peach’ (micrantha hybrid)

H. ‘Blackberry Crisp’ (micrantha hybrid)

H. ‘Lime Rickey’ (micrantha hybrid)


While all Heuchera are rate at USDA growing zones 4-8, both ends of that range come with their own challenges for plants. Be sure to set yourself up for success and choose Heuchera that will work for you and with you to thrive and add beauty and color to your garden for years to come!

How to Purchase

To see ALL the 50+ varieties of Heuchera we offer, see our Heuchera Buy Page! You can filter by species lineage to shop Heuchera for your area!

We also offer their other native relative, Tiarellas, and Heucherellas too, a hybrid between them!

If you need help planting your Heuchera, or tips on caring for and maintaining your Heuchera, see our Heuchera Care and Maintenance Page.

We also have a series of Heuchera Information Pages, with fun information on Heuchera in Hanging Baskets, Heuchera in Containers, and more!

Garden Tasks for Spring!


How to get your garden ready to start a healthy and productive year!


This season is mostly preparation; laying the groundwork so your plants get a good start and everything they need to grow large and healthy! Spring can be defined as the season (typically 3 months) after the snow melts, overnight freezes cease, and the soil warms up. Above ground, the trees and shrubs’ buds swell and bloom.

Trees & Woody Perennials (Plants that leave woody stems aboveground over winter)

First, fertilize any deciduous trees and woody shrubs like rhododendron/azaleas and roses. If you can see their bare stems, place a granular, all-purpose fertilizer (special acidic one for acid-loving plants like rhododendrons) in a circle around them (not too near the stems) and water it in thoroughly. The water will take it down into the soil profile and make it available for the roots!

2011-04-2010.16.34Fertilizer note: Most fertilizer will have a xx-xx-xx number; this is its NPK (Nitrogen, Phosporus, Potassium). All-purpose fertilizer often has ‘balanced’ numbers like 10-10-10. Some plants require more Nitrogen, so a higher number in front (like 25-10-10, etc) may be a better choice.

Blooming plants often require more Phosporus, so a higher middle number (10-15-10, etc) could be an option. Please be careful, however, to use it sparingly – Phosporus is easily mobile in water, and is a major pollutant in many ecosystems due to runoff.

climbing_roses_561824Prune roses and place peony support rings in position. Repair, replace, or position any support stakes or trellises as needed.

Remove winter mulch CAREFULLY, and only when danger of chilling temperatures is gone. If you can, remove it in steps, taking away some each day to acclimatize the plants to the temperature/light changes. If weather is up and down, remove during the day and CAREFULLY recover for cool nights to prevent damage to tender shoots. It’s better to remove too late than too early.

Herbaceous Perennials & Tender Bulbs

If you find any frost-heaved plants (plants pushed up out of the ground by freeze/thaw cycles) you can

  • Carefully tamp down with your foot and sprinkle extra soil over the crown
  • Lift/dig entirely out and replace deeper
  • Lift/dig entirely out and divide, replacing part and moving part

hosta varietiesOnce herbaceous perennial plants’ shoots are 2-4 inches tall (and not more!) you can dig and divide to share or increase your garden! ‘Herbaceous’ plants are plants whose stems are not woody and do not persist above-ground over the winter. All above-ground plant parts die back to soil level. We have a guide to digging and dividing hostas at Digging and Dividing Hostas!

If you’re not digging and dividing (or have just finished) once shoots are up you can fertilize your herbaceous perennials too! Again, a granular fertilizer applied in a circle (not too close to shoots!) and then watered in Coral Bellswell is a good head start for plants.

Trim off old, weathered foliage and spent flowers on perennials like Heuchera (Coral Bells). We have a video on how to do it at Heuchera Videos!

Plant tender bulbs like Lilies, Gladiolus, and Dahlias after last average frost date (look up average frost dates for your area online, or contact lwallpapers_tropical_flowers-dahlia_pink-1600ocal university or county horticulture extension program). Be ready to cover them if there is a late freeze!

Remove all spent flowers from Spring bulbs as they die (leaving foliage intact) and fertilize after with bone meal or bulb fertilizer.

Lawns & Vegetable Gardens

Rake lawns (especially dead, matted spots) when they come out of dormancy and start greening up (helps introduce light and air to waiting shoots) and reseed bare spots. Once seed starts germinating/getting established, fertilize.

Amend annual vegetable beds with fertilizer and manure, working it into 1-1204019023FA3pthe soil or topdressing as you prefer. Fertilize and/or topdress manure on perennial vegetables like rhubarb, berries, asparagus, etc.

Hardy vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, peas, spinach, etc can be seeded or planted outside now. Non-hardy vegetables like tomatoes can be started indoors at this time.

Check all your raised beds, fences, and trellises carefully, and repair where necessary.

Hoses & Tools

If you want to try more low-key irrigation (saves water and money!) purchase or make DIY ‘soaker hoses’ (hoses with holes along the length) to slowly water trees and shrubs. These hoses apply water at the soil level, meaning water isn’t wasted to wind or excessive evaporation; frequently it allows you to water less.

Place them around/through plantings (you can cover them with mulch to hide them and make an attractive bed!) and hook them up to a faucet you can either set on a timer or turn on/off as needed.

Check any ‘soaker hoses’ you already own for blockages. Check any trowel_pic_of_102s‘regular’ hoses for holes/leaks and repair as needed. Set any irrigation timers.

Clean and sharpen any garden tools like shovels, shears/clippers, trowels, hoes, etc.

Finally, weed any perennial beds and apply/freshen any summer mulches around trees and shrubs. Remember not to apply mulch too close to crowns/trunks! Pests can hide or tunnel through to get to them!

You can also begin to lay down slug bait/deterrents and treat lawns with Japanese Beetle larvae pesticide.








Photo sources:





Hosta Changes | Why is My Hosta Changing?

The following hosta changes are natural (with the exception of the last one), and should not be things you panic, or become concerned about.  In some cases you might have something very exciting happening!

Hosta can have five (5) natural forms of transformation.  Each transformation is independent to the other.  Each of these hosta changes occur under its own set of conditions.  These transformations are: Aging, Growth Rate, Reversion, Sporting, and Radiation.


Some hosta have immature forms and later develop into its mature forms as the plant age; and some have early season forms opposed to late season forms.  As personal experience.  I am currently observing Hosta ‘X-Ray’.  In this case the plant came up as a curly grouping of chaotic leaves.  One might say it kinda looked like a rats nest.  It looked no where close to what the plant was supposed to as far as I could research or find.  

Over this summer (2014) the leaves are very slowly straightening up, flattening out, correcting their coloration, and evening out their transpiration rate (the water flow process from roots to leaves to ‘exhaling’ the water) to cause the leaves to become the correct texture and shape.

For me this is a plant I will watch for the next few seasons to see if this is a normal cycle of growth towards maturity or if is growth that is strictly found in immature plantings of X-Ray.  In either case this plant is exhibiting characteristics that change as the plant ages.

Growth Rate

Some hosta changes will exhibit a coloration change IF the plant has grown too compactly.  Montana ‘aureomarginata’ is one such example where the leaves can become solid green if it is not divided regularly.  In these cases if the offending division is separated it will, in many cases, return to its correct coloration.


Reversions can be exciting in that you get an extra hosta type as a bonus!  As far as I am aware reversion is a natural process which will just happen from time to time.  All parts of the plant are perfectly healthy,  It is a condition where the plant itself is ‘rewriting’ its own genome one division at a time to return it to the existence of one of its parentages.

The hosta will pass the coding from one division to the next until the entire round has changed back.  It can be slowed, and in some ways stopped from advancing.

To do this the hosta in question needs to be fully divided: reversion segment(s) in one round and the unaffected divisions in another.  These rounds probably ought to be replanted some distance from each other.


Where hosta can revert back to one of it’s parents; hosta can also decide to go rebel!  These are the times hosta growers get VERY excited.  These are not to be confused with new hybrids which come from cross pollination between two hostas and germinated from seed.  A ‘Sport’ is when a division of hosta decides to be something different. It actually becomes a new variety on its own.

Growers like to separate these, keep them ‘hidden’, and watch them grow for about 8 years to see just how stable these new genetic arrangements are, and also to see exactly what these sports will turn out to really look like.  One of the MOST prolific hosta for sporting is Sum and Substance with close to 40 sports, and hybrids to its credit. Sports of Sum and Substance.

Before you get too excited about a possible Sport in your garden do your homework to see if it has occurred previously.  Make sure that what you have is truly UNIQUE and one of a kind.  Work with someone you can trust, and knows about Hosta to guide you to document your plant correctly – and accurately.  

When all the work is done you will either have a well documented hosta and/or evidence you can carry with you to the American Hosta Society (they maintain the global registry) to register a new species.  

You might also want consider petitioning for a Plant Patent in your respective country for the same plant if you plan to distributing the plant on the retail market.

Radiated Plants

Ninety nine and nine hundred ninety nine thousandths (99.999%) percent of our readers will never do or see this process with a hosta.

Hosta can be altered by some wavelengths of radiation.  It has to be done under controlled conditions and with very specialized equipment.  The most famous of these hosta is Embroidery.  This hosta is famous not only because it is a radiated variety, but also because the effects of the radiation caused it be the FIRST ruffled edge hosta.  

For many many years this variety was sold at a price well over $1000. per division (and no that is not a typo!).

This blog edition is about the most common changes that Hosta might exhibit.  This does not include virus or other disease conditions, so if your hosta is changing in a way that isn’t covered in this blog, you may want to investigate disease as a possible cause.

Author: Peter Kelley, Content Manager