It’s a guide

The long-anticipated, revised USDA hardiness zone map was introduced late in January, and sure enough, within days we started to hear griping. Not that this would make any difference to several of our local big box stores, whose “certified” garden center staff have never understood what zones mean. (Until the new map was released, my little corner of the world was situated comfortably in Zone 5. A little bit 5a, a little bit 5b, but you get the picture. According to the new map, it now leans toward 6a.) Can’t count the number of times I’ve spied clearly labeled, enticing plants with a Zone 7 – or 8 – designation promoted as perennials. No wonder gardeners are frustrated.

But the new zone map is not to blame. Neither was the old one. It’s a tool, it’s a guide; it’s not the absolute answer to all climate and weather questions. So when we hear, “but sometimes we get colder than that,” do we shrug? Or do we explain that these zones are based on averages, and sometimes Mother Nature likes to mess with our heads? As late as last October, folks in the Chicago area were told to hunker down for one of the most brutal winters in terms of early arriving, sustained, bitter cold and heavy snowfall. As it turns out, we’ve experienced one of the mildest seasons on record. At the end of January, in fact, we reached the 50s – again. Oops.

But that’s a fluke of weather, not a long-term, average winter. To ease the anxiety of gardeners thrown for a loop by the changes, the USDA offers helpful “however” hints. Go to to read the agency’s explanation of how other environmental factors, such as light, humidity, snow cover … and on, and on … can affect plants’ survival.

It all comes down to this: it’s a guide, folks. Just a guide. Don’t dismiss it because of occasional temperature fluctuations.

60 is the new 30

Maybe it’s the arthritis talking, but it seems that all we’re hearing lately is “youth.” Courting the youth vote; how to capture youthful customers; new business paradigms to keep young workers engaged and productive. All truly valuable – and critical – initiatives, but let’s not throw the seniors out with the bathwater. Where younger workers bring to the table fresh perspectives and enviable technology skills (how do they do that?), older workers contribute something just as valuable: the wisdom of experience. Yes, many of us can get stuck in a rut, relying on old, timeworn habits. And no one wants to hear “… but we’ve always done it that way.”

Imagine, though, the awesome brainpower of intergenerational teams. Where one set of workers can look at a challenge with new eyes, another group can provide the perspective of time-tested, sound horticulture and business principles. If we don’t recruit, train and maintain a youthful, new generation of green industry professionals, there’s not much of a future. But if we don’t also heed those who’ve blazed the trail, there’s not much of a present to become the future.

Strength in numbers

At a few trade shows lately we’ve heard kudos as well as grumblings about the trend toward cooperative agreements, and possible (emphasis on possible) mergers, among associations – OFA and ANLA in particular. Lots of positive, “it’s about time” comments; several “let’s see what happens” musings. But one person offered, “it’s a pathetic act of desperation.” Really? This is just my opinion, mind you, but a statement like that smacks of bitterness. If we’re honest, we all need to recognize that across the board, things have changed. And there’s no going back, because what used to be just ain’t no more. So let’s assess the strengths, combine forces and do what needs to be done to advance the industry and our businesses. A desperate move? Hardly.