One of the biggest learning curves in growing your own food is considering what plants grow well in your area. Zone 8 has the added complication of being considered a transitional zone in which there is wide variation. Here are some tips and tricks for selecting plants and seeds in zone 8.
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Benefits of growing in zone 8
Gardening in zone 8 is pretty mild. The winters are usually not long, snow covered or below 10F. This means that many cool season vegetables can survive, especially with a little mulch, throughout the winter. Many such as carrots get sweeter as the cold sets in and can be simply stored in the ground until you need it.
Almost anything can grow in zone 8, from tomatoes to cherries. There is such a wide range of temperatures you can grow everything including hot pepper, heat loving squash, cool season cabbage and frost tolerant kale. But it’s tricky. I’ll explain in a bit how to pick which varieties will thrive and which are just ok for the zone.
Downside of growing in zone 8
Because of the mild winters, some pests survive and wreak havoc come spring. Also, zone 8 includes much of the south, which often has to contend with extreme heat in the summers. The transition from spring to summer in southern states that are in zone 8 is rapid. Which is why is can be very difficult to grow lettuce and other cool loving plants that do not handle any frost well. These sensitive plants need to be partially shielded in the shade and planted early in order to make it.
Selecting fruit trees
Luckily, many fruit trees are suited to zone 8. However, in general, there are some that do not do well. For example, you can grow banana plants in zone 8 but you should protect them or bring them inside for the winter. Or, if you choose not to, they make a wonderful perennial landscape plant, it just will not produce bananas.
On the other end, are trees like sweet cherries. They are best suited for zones 4-7. While there are some that can be grown in zone 8, it typically does not get enough chilling hours to produce a good crop. Chill hours are the number of hours below 45F. For my region, northwest Louisiana this is 700-800 hours, but just barely. For others in zone 8, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, the chill hours are over 1000, which is why it is such a suitable place for sweet cherries and other longer chill requirement fruits.
This is due to the buffer of the ocean, which allows for less freezing temperatures. However, because the Pacific Northwest is further north, there are longer periods of cold and less sunlight. Keep those things in mind when selecting fruit trees, do not simply select based on zone.
Fruit trees for zone 8:
Stark Bro’s has a good selection and will customize based on your zone. However, for specific varieties for your area, be sure to go to a local reputable nursery or the local agriculture extension office. At one of our local nurseries they stock varieties developed by the large agricultural college.
There are lots of different varieties and kinds of fruits you can grow if you venture out a little. Check out some fun ones!
Selecting vegetable seeds
Most seed packets include the geographical range with planting dates. This is usually based on zones but those tiny pictures and the details are often scant on the packets themselves. Luckily, many seed providers, have an online presence or even better a detailed seed catalog, that provides much more information.
Almost anything can grow in zone 8. The average last frost date is around mid- to late March and the average first frost date is mid- to late November. This gives you over 200, close to 250 frost free days in which to grow all of the things. Luckily it is usually above freezing, warm enough for long enough that heat loving plants like squash, corn and tomatoes do well. They may struggle the further north you go, such as the Pacific Northwest.
Good vegetables and vining fruits for zone 8:
Squash (winter and summer)
Peppers (sweet and hot)
The key to growing vegetables well in zone 8 are distinguishing between cool season and warm season plants and planting accordingly. For example, many people struggle to grow lettuce, particularly in the southern portions of zone 8 because of the short spring. It quickly warms up and lettuce bolts. And at the end of the summer, when ready for the fall crops, the soil and surrounding area is too warm for the seeds to germinate and any seedlings will simply burn up.
One strategy to combat this is to plant them at the end of fall and then wait until spring. Because the ground does not freeze in zone 8, you can plant lettuce all the way through winter. That way the seedlings do not get caught by a sudden heat wave in late fall.
If you want more information about gardening in the south, picking varieties specifically suited to the heat, humidity and climate of the south you can get my gardening checklist and guideline!
There are many seed companies that will give you information about when to plant and how to plant your seedlings, especially based on zones and even local climate. You can find some great seed companies here.
There is a wonderful sale going on at one of my favorites, Seeds for Generations, for all of this week! Check it out!
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