Beginner Basics

If you are a beginning gardener, get familiar with the basics first.

Annuals are grown from seed (although we often buy them already grown), bloom, produce seeds, then expire.

Biennials live for two years, producing the plant itself in the first year, the blooms and seeds in the second year.  The seeds generally drop and produce new plants next year.

Perennials live for more than two seasons.  A “hardy” (for us Midwesterners) perennial will tolerate freezing temperatures.  If you are interested in perennials, check your hardiness zone.  The zones separate the country into areas based on the average low temperatures.  Plants may not survive unusually cold winters for your zone.  The zone only accounts for temperature, not rainfall, humidity, winds, etc.  Also consider regional factors.  For example, the Midwest and Northeast have hotter, dryer summers than the Pacific Northwest. Plants purchased, or grown, in your zone and region should do well for you.  The National Arbor Day Foundation zone map below was revised to reflect changes in our climate conditions.  You may find yourself in a different zone if you check the USDA zone map.  The USDA has continued to use a longer statistical period, so changes from global warming are not reflected in their data.  Just be aware, if the NADF map shows you in zone 5, and the USDA map in zone 4, you may be taking your chances with a plant hardy to zone 5


Microclimates are conditions in small spots that affect conditions or change the zone rating.  A north corner of a structure which is exposed to wind may get substantially colder than other areas.  A planting area sheltered on the south side of a home or building will be protected from cold north winds, and the soil will absorb heat from the structure.  Such an area may be a zone warmer than other areas.  Large cities also create heat islands, that too, is a microclimate that could be a full zone warmer than the surrounding area  Microclimates are explained in detail in the next article.

Propagation is producing plants by seed.  Asexual propagation is producing plants by other means, such as cuttings, divisions and grafting.  In general, gardeners discussing propagation are referring to asexual propagation.  Some plants’ parts will grow roots and produce a new plant when treated in a specific way - this is a cutting method.  Division is separating plants that have grown closely in a “clump”.   A portion, or portions, removed from the clump can be replanted.  Grafting is attaching a branch from one woody plant to another.  Not easily done even for the experienced, this method is generally used with roses to graft to hardy rootstock.

Sharon Dwyer