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What Are "Sunset Climate" Zones?

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What exactly are sunset climate zones? I tried to look it up and basically every site just says, "it takes in all the factors of growing in a climate" and then doesn't really explain it. Is a higher number good or bad? What's the scale? 

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17 minutes ago, PalmTreeDude said:

What exactly are sunset climate zones? I tried to look it up and basically every site just says, "it takes in all the factors of growing in a climate" and then doesn't really explain it. Is a higher number good or bad? What's the scale? 

At least in Califorina / the west, Sunset broke up the overall USDA zones by incorporating how such things as marine influence, terrain, high/ low desert, etc effects both high and low temperature exposure.  Lower zones typically = colder ( eg: 1-5) though there are exceptions. Zone 24 would be the most "ideal" when considering tropicals, in California at least,  followed by zone 13 here in the low desert.

 Have seen other maps they did that add zones like 25/26-7?? for Florida and/ or southern Texas. Not sure how accurate they are though. 

Me, Myself?, not totally sold on their theory.. Not sure they update their maps to reflect changes. I haven't seen anything updated anyway..  Then again, a bit skeptical on the accuracy of USDA zones since data from Plant Maps, for  example, can be different from some other source. ( 9b here according to some sources, 10a according to others )  Have a little more trust in what I can get away with, see growing in the neighborhood/ around town. imo. 

Edited by Silas_Sancona
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The Sunset zones are a reference to a zone system by Sunset magazine.  They attempt to take more into account that annual average lows.  They were mostly geared toward the western side of the USA originally. 


Florida has Sunset climate zones 25, 26, 28, and 31.  I'm in 26. 


You can typically find your Sunset zone by doing an internet search like "Sunset zone Virginia."  You may need to search for images as well to find a map graphic rather than just a description of the zone.

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They have a few plant encyclopedias geard toward sunset zones as well. At least out here they give a lot more detail for an area on what you can actually grow. I got the western garden book by sunset and it has a lot of usefulness information in it. A lot of plant nurseries will use sunset zones as opposed to USDA zone, especially in the desert Southwest. 

They are a completely different system. A lot of the big zones are broken up more specifically from 1-24. Alaska and Hawaii have their own sunset zones separate from these. For example: I’m a cold USDA 8b, but a warm Sunset 10. 

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The Sunset zones and the Sunset Western Garden book are useful tools, as has been stated, particularly in the Western US, and even more particularly, California. I have referred to my Sunset Western Garden Book on countless occasions. The Sunset zones take more into account than USDA zones, but still, just like the USDA zones, they are not iron-clad, it’s just another tool to be used in consideration with all your other tools and personal knowledge. 

For a book similar to the Western Garden Book but focused on the southeastern US, try the Southern Living Garden Garden Book, it’s another imperfect but useful tool. It does not use the Sunset zones, but uses zones it calls things like “upper south” “lower south” “tropical south” etc. really these names just coincide with USDA zones, “tropical south” is really just USDA zone 10+ and so forth. 

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Thank you for your explanations, I have noticed that California came up in most of my searches about the sunset zones. The ones for the East Coast don't make much sense to me, so I'll probably just stick with using USDA zones as my go to zone map. The sunset zones are an interesting system. 

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