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Growing the garden of your dreams is possible when you learn a few gardening fundamentals and local growing zone principals.

ZONE 8a HERB PLANTING GUIDE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture divides the U.S. into eleven growing zones. These are determined by weather patterns, and this system helps gardeners identify plants that grow well in their region. Those who are planting a garden in zone 8a are able to choose among a wide variety of herbs, flowers, vegetables, crops, and ornamentals. Zone 8a has a moderately long growing season that lasts about eight months, with an annual low temperature of about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The first frost is around November 15th, and the last frost is around April 15th.

How much time do you have to devote to the garden?


Be realistic about the time you have to devote to gardening tasks!

·        2 Hours Per Week: Small Herb, Container, or Ornamental Garden.

·        2-4 Hours: Small Vegetable, or Medium Ornamental Garden.

·        4-10 Hours: Small Vegetable and Ornamental Garden.

·        4-10 Hours: Medium Vegetable Garden.

·        10-20 Hours: Large Vegetable or Large Ornamental Garden.


If you must hand water, the time investment increases significantly!

What Type of Garden Do You Want to Grow?

·        Do you want to grow edible plants?

·        Do you want to grow ornamental plants?

·        Or do you want to grow a combination?

·        Vegetable gardens take more time than flower gardens.

·        Plant vegetables that you and your family enjoy.

·        What plants would you grow in your dream garden?

·        What plants make you the happiest?

·        Do you want plants on your porch, deck, or patio?


Container Gardening is an easy way to start a garden. Herbs and annuals grow well in containers.

Do Specialty Gardens Appeal to You?

·        Cutting Garden: Daffodil, Gladiola, Lily, Rose, Sunflower, & Tulip.

·        Drought-Tolerant Garden: Bee Balm, Purple Coneflower, Daylily, & Yarrow.

·        Medicinal Herbs: Calendula, Comfrey, Lavender, Mint, Rosemary, & Thyme.

·        Native Plant Garden: Black-eyed Susan, Elderberry, & Lobelia.

·        Pollinator Garden: Aster, Coreopsis, Yellow Jasmine, & Passionflower.

Organic or Conventional Gardening?

ORGANIC PROS: most organic products are safer for people & pets, use what is otherwise waste material such as alfalfa and blood meal, and are slow released by nature.


ORGANIC CONS: organic products are harder to find, more expensive, and must be broken down by soil organisms before they can be available to the plant roots.


CONVENTIONAL PROS: products are easier to find, are less expensive, are easier to apply, and are scientifically tested to produce specific outcomes.


CONVENTIONAL CONS: products are toxic to people, pets, and beneficial insects, and can damage the garden if not used properly.

Understand Your Garden Climate:

Map the garden’s direct sun exposure by taking photos of the area every hour on a sunny day. Full Sun is 6+ hours of direct sun, Part Sun is 4-6 hours, Part Shade is 3-4 hours, Full Shade is less than 3 hours, and Bright Shade is no sun exposure at all.


·        Growing Season: number of frost-free days in the season.

·        The average growing season for Zone 8a is 8 months.

·        Use first and last frost dates as guides for planting.

·        The Farmer’s Almanac is an excellent resource.

·        Use the local hardiness Zone 8a when choosing plants. 

Design the Garden:

Decide how big your garden will be and where it will go, then mark out the garden location. Spend a few days looking at it before you commit to that shape and size.


·        Measure your existing landscape.

·        Draw your yard on graph paper.

·        Start with property lines.

·        Add buildings, walkways, patios, water sources, & fences.

·        Create a color palette.

·        Plan the plantings in natural groupings.

·        Place tall plants at the back, then work your way to the front.

·        Group plants by water needs.

·        Draw all of the plants on your plan, to scale.

·        Use colored pencils to get a sense of even color distribution.

Choose the Right Plants:

Know the mature height and width of all the plants on your list. Make sure every plant has enough room to grow to this size. Only choose plants that will thrive in your unique garden climate and microclimate.


·        Is the soil clay, sand, loam, or a combination?

·        Does the area tend to be dry or wet?

·        Is the area on a slope, in a low spot?

·        How windy is the site?

·        Balance the design by planning for a succession of blooms.

Start a Garden Journal:

·        Consistent and careful observation is key.

·        Identify insect, disease and weed problems.

·        Use a journaling method that works for you.

·        Draw or sketch pictures of the garden in each season.

·        Use photos to capture your observations.

·        Look for and record signs of over and under watering.

·        Note any nutrient deficiencies or seasonal changes.

·        Record animals that are visiting the garden.

·        Visit and walk through the garden regularly.

·        Turn over leaves and look between the foliage of the plants.

·        Pay careful attention to plants prone to disease or pest infestations.

Start from Seed or Buy Plants?


Once you can keep the plants alive that the professionals started for you, that’s the time to get into seed starting.

·        New Gardeners: don’t plan on starting anything from seed.

·        Vegetables do better when sown directly in the garden.

·        Buy seedlings from a local nursery, especially flowers.

·        Start plants from seed only after a season of gardening experience.

What Type of Plant(s) Suit Your Needs?


Annuals: must be replaced yearly. Annuals that thrive in Zone 8a include Impatiens, Lantana, Marigolds, Nasturtium, Pansies, Sunflowers, and Zinnias.

Biennials: bloom every other year. Biennials that thrive in Zone 8a include California Poppy, Foxglove, and Hollyhock.


Herbs: most will bloom year after year once established. Herbs that thrive in Zone 8a include Fennel, Lavender, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Tarragon, and Thyme.


Perennials: bloom year after year once established. Perennials that thrive in Zone 8a include Aster, Bee Balm, Clematis, Daisy, Echinacea, Iris, Peony, and Phlox.


Vegetables: most need to be replaced yearly. Vegetables that thrive in Zone 8a include Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Okra, Peas, Peppers, and Tomatoes.

ZONE 8a HERBS & FLOWERS: When choosing herbs and flowers for zone 8a, if a perennial herb that isn’t suited to this zone is desired, grow it in a container and then bring it indoors over the winter. If the difference is minor, between zones a and b, plant the herb in a protected area, in an alcove, or between a solid fence and a building. If this isn’t possible, mulch heavily around the plant in the fall and the plant may make it through the winter.

THE BORAGE FAMILY: FORGET-ME-NOTS: (Boraginaceae): herbs, shrubs or trees that are perennial and herbaceous. Most are grown as ornamental plants, a source of dye, or for medicinal use.

The stems are usually covered in rough hairs, as are the leaves and inflorescence. The leaves are generally alternate, simple and entire, without stipules. The flowers are borne in a characteristic coiled inflorescence, the lower ones opening first. There are five sepals, free or joined at the base, and a five-lobed corolla which may be tubular or salver-shaped. There are often scales or hairs at the base or mouth. The flowers are usually regular and bisexual, with the female flowers frequently borne on separate plants. There are five stamens attached to the corolla. The flower color is predominately blue, but may also be pink, purple, yellow, or white.


Borage species that grow in Zone 8a include Borage, Comfrey, Heliotrope, and Yerba Santa.

THE DAISY FAMILY (Asteraceae): are characterized by a composite of many smaller flowers that look like one large flower. Look closely at a sunflower in bloom, and you can see that there are hundreds of little flowers growing on a disk, each producing just one seed. Each "disk flower" has 5 tiny petals fused together, plus 5 stamens fused around a pistil with antennae-like stigmas. Look closely at the big "petals" that ring the outside of the flower head, and you will see that each petal is also a flower, called a "ray flower," with its petals fused together and hanging to one side. Plants of the Daisy family will have either disk flowers, ray flowers, or both. When the seeds are ripe and fall away, a pitted disk is left that looks like a garden plot where all the tiny flowers were planted.


One of the best clues for identifying members of the daisy family is to look for the presence of multiple layers of bracts beneath the flowers. Next, look inside the flower head for the presence of the little disk and ray flowers. Even the common yarrow, with its tiny flower heads, usually has a dozen or more nearly microscopic flowers inside each head, and the inside of a sagebrush flower head is even smaller. Keep in mind that many members of this family have no obvious outer ring of petals.


Daisy species that grow in Zone 8a include Aster, Calendula, Chamomile, Chicory, Chrysanthemum, Dandelion, Echinacea, Sunflower, Tarragon, Wormwood, Yarrow, and Zinnia.

THE GRASS FAMILY (Gramineae): lack petals and sepals because they are wind pollinated and do not need to attract insects. The flowers typically have 3 stamens, and the ovary consists of 3 united carpels forming a single chamber. It matures as a single seed called a grain, and the flower is contained by modified leaves called bracts. These are the chaff that is later winnowed out of harvested grain. All cereal grains belong to this family, including wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley, millet and rye. The aromatic oils found in grasses are air-cleansing, calming, sedative, restorative, and refreshing.


The grass family has a variety of medicinal benefits, including a respiratory disinfectant, a circulatory and digestive stimulant, and a skin tonic. These plants deodorize the air, calm digestion, and cleanse and balance the skin.


Grass species that grow in Zone 8a include Lemongrass, Citronella, Palmarosa, and Vetiver.

THE LILY FAMILY (Liliaceae): have six plain or strikingly marked petals that are often trumpet-shaped, sitting atop a tall, erect stem with narrow, long, lance-shaped leaves. They come in many beautiful colors, including pink, gold, red, orange, and white. Lily species that grow in Zone 8a include:


Asiatic lilies: bloom first in early May or June, right after peonies. They are not fussy as long as they are grown in well-draining soil. They are the shortest type of lily, growing to 3 feet tall, and come in many colors, from pastel to tropical. They don’t have much of a fragrance, but they do add bright color to the garden.


Easter lilies: are most commonly grown indoors as a holiday plant. They are typically forced into bloom around Easter, in March or April. Outdoors, they are better suited for warmer regions of North America, where they can be planted in the garden after blooming has finished.


Oriental lilies: have that famously strong fragrance. They are tall and stately, growing to 4 feet tall, and tend to grow more slowly, often blooming about the time when Asiatic lily flowers are fading in mid- to late-summer.


Trumpet lilies: are similar to oriental lilies, producing many blooms with a nice scent. Their flowers tend to be smaller and more closed, like a trumpet, than those of other lily species.

THE MINT FAMILY (Lamiaceae): are characterized by square stems, paired and simple leaves, and two-lipped and open-mouthed tubular flowers. Mint Family species are easy to grow, sun loving, and drought tolerant. Many have purple or blue flowers, however, there are also species with red, orange, yellow, pink, and white blossoms. The foliage is often as attractive as the flowers, with interesting textures, fine hairs, and colorful markings. Members of the Mint Family are extremely important plants for pollinators, including honeybees, which make good use of the abundant pollen for food, and nectar-rich flowers for honey production.


Mint family plants are used in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, incense, insect repellant, household cleaners, potpourri, and sachets. Members of the Mint Family are also medicinal plants, thought to cure indigestion, headaches, insomnia, and many other ailments.


Mint species that grow in Zone 8a include Basil, Bee Balm, Catnip, Hyssop, English Lavender, Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Spearmint, Marjoram, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Self-Heal, and Thyme.

ZONE 8a VEGETABLES: Zones 7 to 10 are considered warm climates, and gardening activities are determined by heat, not by cold. During the hottest part of the summer, only a few vegetables will thrive, but during the rest of the year, gardeners are able to plant and harvest almost continuously.


Gardening in zones 7 to 10 can be even more challenging than gardening in the North because planting times vary, depending on the crop. Northern gardeners may grumble about the long winters, but that cold weather does a lot to minimize insect and disease problems. Fungal diseases, such as late blight, do not survive harsh winters, but they do survive in the southern states. Gardeners in the South need to seek out locally grown seeds and plant varieties that have been bred to resist the pests, diseases, and heat that can cripple northern-tier varieties.


In zone 8a, cool weather vegetables can usually be planted outdoors in early February. These crops include arugula, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Plant corn in March. Then, in April, plant the warm season crops such as beans, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, melons, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.


Late-summer and fall offer zone 8a gardeners a second chance to plant. The trick is to wait until the really hot weather has passed, but not wait too long or the plants won’t have time to mature before the cold and dark of midwinter. Cold-hardy plants can be planted in late August, September and even early October.

Check out the recipe tab on my website for ways to use the plants mentioned in this post.

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