Lee Valley Tools    Gardening Newsletter
   Vol. 6, Issue 1
   February 2011
   Hard-to-Grow Plants

  Rhododendron blooms
  Beautiful rhododendron blooms
Every part of the world has its own growing challenges, but my part seems to have more than its fair share. I live near Ottawa, Ontario (American zone 4 / Canadian zone 5a), where we have very cold, dry winters. The most coveted plants to grow tend to be the ones that prefer warmer winters, such as rhododendron and magnolia. Our local gardeners can be roughly split into two categories — those who like to push our hardiness-zone boundary, and those who prefer the tough, tenacious plants that grow well here. While I appreciate the ease of growing a hardy plant such as spiraea, I lean toward the first category.

Plant Hardiness
An interesting local gardening paradox is that some native plants are difficult to grow. Many lovely mosses, ferns and orchids that spring up in our woods require years of work and dedication to cultivate in our gardens. To help these plants along, it's important to recreate their natural environments. The same holds true for nursery stock. Garden centers often sell plants that are less winter hardy than advised for the area but they don't always provide information on how to coax them through tough winters. The best you can usually expect is a supplier tag with a picture of a sun or a half sun and possibly the plant's zone, although some suppliers exaggerate hardiness to sell more stock.

The lower a plant's hardiness zone number, the more resilient it is to climatic variables. What's tricky is that one backyard may be more temperate than another. For example, one might have mature trees that provide shelter or a sturdy fence that cuts the wind. Even the direction your house faces can make a big difference. So, one gardener might be able to grow plants that are hardy to zone 6 or 7, while a neighbor struggles with those hardy to zone 5. Without analyzing the temperature and exposure of your yard throughout the year, there are some things you can do to help tender plants thrive.

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