Growing in the Golden State

Dear California, I think we need to talk.

Those who have never experienced this gorgeous state probably have a picture of beaches bathed in sunshine and eternally warm rolling hills in mind, but the reality is that California is a massive place with sixteen unique climate zones. There is so much diversity in the state that they actually had to develop their own zone system to describe each of these unique regional climate conditions. California contains USDA planting zones from 5 to 10 which is very broad and gives us some ideas on why it can be difficult to advise on growing plants in this state.

One of the most challenging things about working with buyers in California is trying to bridge the gap between our knowledge of USDA Zones and the nature of their extremely diverse climates. A California Zone 9 environment might look VERY different from our Zone 9 here in Florida because these zones are based on average temperatures. Where we have temperatures ranging from in the 100s to a few days in the 40s, some regions in The Golden State achieve a similar average temperature (zone) by maintaining a dreary 70 degrees year round. These differences in temperature fluctuation and sunlight completely change the way that tropical plants grow.

Tropical plants usually flower and grow in response to weather fluctuations like exposure to sunlight and temperature. A region that experiences little fluctuation in these conditions will make it extremely difficult to successfully grow tropicals.

A prime example of this mismatch occurs all to often in San Francisco which is in USDA Zone 10. While San Francisco might sound like the perfect place to grow exotic warm weather plants, their hottest month is in September with highs in the 70s. Our most tropical of plants begin to ponder dormancy here in Florida when daytime highs are in this range.

If you are hoping to grow tropical plants in California, it is very important to closely examine the nuance of your climate. You may have to choose local native plants to craft a garden that is realistic.

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