12

Are questions like "What is a fast-growing deciduous tree for shading house in summer? (Southern NY)" OK to ask here?

On one side I can see them being very helpful, but I can also see them becoming so specific that they don't get answered.

Maybe we limit them to USDA Hardiness Zones for USA Regional Questions? Is there some similar standard for other countries?

If so this should be in the FAQ.

  • 1
    Myself being from Europe... I sure hope so! – Czechnology Jun 8 '11 at 19:56
  • 1
    @downvoter - is there a reason this one was down voted? Seems like a reasonable Meta question to me. – wax eagle Jun 9 '11 at 12:29
9

USDA Hardiness Zones are based on the average minimum annual temperature. I live in "Zone 5" which means I can expect temps of -10F during the winter. You can look up the temps associated with the various zones in about a million places on the web, including (of course): wikipedia, which also has references to hardiness zones in a number of places around the world.

While annual minimum temperature is sometimes a useful bit of information, it is often useless:

  • A question about the best time to plant cabbages in the spring doesn't care about how cold it's going to be in January. This will be localized, requiring fairly specific information about when the really hard frosts have tapered off. (We get frosts a fair bit later than people who live just 25 miles down the road.)
  • A question about caring for plants in a warm area may care about how hot it gets in the summer time. Maybe it's ok to start lettuce in July in Fort Kent, ME, but you certainly wouldn't want to do it if you live in Dallas, TX.
  • And rainfall: Phoenix and Tampa are both zone 9. But Tampa gets 45 inches of rain a year while Phoenix gets 8. Answers to the question about fast growing shade trees will be radically different -- who cares how cold it's going to get!
  • And length of growing season. We have a short growing season (defined as time between frosts): roughly June 12 - Sep 7 (115 days). Last year we had snow on Mothers Day and again in mid-September! I put out my basil a week ago because it looked like it would stay warm and then we got a 38F night. There are annual vegetables that we can't grow outdoors because they won't mature in time. Topeka, Kansas is also in Zone 5, and they have a 175 day growing season -- that's an extra 60 days to ripen watermelon!
  • And soil type (clay, loam, sandy) and pH (acid, neutral, alkaline), urban vs suburban vs rural, pests (e.g. we have deer but not pocket gophers) and countless other considerations.

The Zones are useful for figuring out if perennials are likely to survive the winter where you live. Otherwise I'm not sure it has that much value. There are just too many variables that any kind of categorization system like the Zones can really have much value for a site like this. If you though rainfall, temperature, and length of growing season were worthy of categories and should be applied as tags, you've just used up 3 out of 5 possible tags.

I'm a big fan of detailed questions that contain the information needed to answer the question, and comments on the question to elicit information that is missing. (If the asker knew enough to include all of the relevant information in the question, he'd maybe have already figured out the answer!)

  • To whomever downvoted: doing so without a comment is unhelpful to the answerer. If you have a reason to downvote, mention it in comments and the individual may correct whatever it is that you feel is wrong with the answer. – Michael Todd Jun 9 '11 at 3:16
8

I like the idea of limiting US questions to USDA Hardiness Zones. Something like gardening is going to be somewhat specific to your particular climate zone and also soil conditions. Localized questions are inevitable.

However, helping our international friends may be a bit more difficult to figure out climate wise, they should probably be able to ask country or city specific questions(unless there is a more generic way of determining climate zone).

  • 3
    I'm an international f(r)iend! I have no idea about the USDA Hardiness Zones, so I'd be totally unable to answer questions that reference these zones. Is there perhaps a more international way to specify your location and climate? – Paul Turner Jun 8 '11 at 22:26
  • @Programming Hero: USDA Hardiness Zones are based on the average minimum annual temperature. So I live in "Zone 5" which means I can expect temps of -10F during the winter. You can look up the temps associated with the various zones in about a million places on the web, including (of course): wikipedia, which also has references to hardiness zones in a number of places around the world. – bstpierre Jun 9 '11 at 1:39
  • 1
    I'm not sure I agree with limiting them to hardiness zones. Answers could be radically different for Tampa, FL vs Phoenix, AZ (both zone 9). Rainfall may be more important than minimum temperature depending on the question. – bstpierre Jun 9 '11 at 1:44
  • @bstpierre - thats a very good point. When I wrote it I did not realize that hardiness zones were determined purely on temp per your comment above. You should add an answer dealing with this. – wax eagle Jun 9 '11 at 1:46
  • done, thanks for suggesting it. – bstpierre Jun 9 '11 at 2:18
7

I like regional questions. It is hard to answer non-regional questions in some cases (that question being the perfect example; a fast-growing tree in Florida is different than one in Stockholm).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .