Heirloom Gardener Blogs > Gardening Guidance by GardenInMinutes

Heirloom Varieties for Hot or Cold Climates

Gardeners can control the type of soil, seeds, watering schedule, and spacing within their gardens, but climate can be more difficult to regulate. Short of a greenhouse or indoor environment, home gardens are subjected to the seasons’ whims. Temperature is an influential gardening variable capable of nurturing or killing gardens depending on the plant selection. Plant varietals, like people, have preferences regarding their environment. Some enjoy cooler climates while others thrive in warmer temperatures.

Gardeners can find plants suitable to their region based on the season and the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. The map identifies the lowest temperatures felt throughout the U.S. to narrow down what can and can’t be grown. After a gardener establishes their hardiness zone, they will have a clearer understanding of what temperature range the seasons are capable. Matching plants to their climate is not just advice, it’s necessary for the garden to thrive.

Organic and Heirloom

These terms are frequently used in marketing, produce descriptions, and seed sales, but the difference may not always be clear. Organic plants are grown under regulations prohibiting the use of sewage, genetically-fabricated materials, and synthetic fertilizers (among other standards depending upon the certifying body). Basically, organic plants are the product of organic materials and processes. Heirlooms are not defined by their growth, but by their heritage. They are open-pollinated seeds that reproduce bounty identical to the parent plant. In short, heirlooms come from one variety instead of a cross between two varieties. Which is “better” is a matter of opinion as they differ in taste, germination, season, bounty, and resiliency. In this article, heirloom varietals that perform better in different climates will be the major focus. Heirlooms are typically known for their taste, bright color, rich nutritional value, unique appearance, and the fact that they rely on small growers and gardeners for continued lineage. 

Different Potential for Different Climates

Every gardener is searching for the plants that work best for their region. Northern climates have shorter growing seasons, but also have very minimal risk of scorching their plants. Southern climates offer a longer growing season, but the heat can destroy crops and remove life-providing moisture from the environment. Gardeners who understand the risks can navigate them more easily and grow a more bountiful garden.

Tomatoes

Generally speaking, tomatoes are a warm-climate plant. They are known for withstanding heat and producing poorly in the cooler months. Tomatoes are mostly sown after the last frost has passed, giving the plant plenty of time to grow and produce multiple bounties before the autumn season ends. Heirloom varietals, such as the ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato, a sweet flavored and colorful fruit, will thrive in longer, hotter months. They will mature in 3 months and produce a hefty bounty through the heat’s help.

cherokee purple

However, there are tomatoes capable of growing in the cooler seasons. Varietals such as ‘Glacier’ and ‘Manitoba,’ for example, are heirlooms that prefer the cool to the usual heat. Glacier and Manitoba’s can be planted around an air temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and will germinate when the soil temperature reaches 70 degrees or higher. They are smaller, sweeter tomato plants that can bear fruit within 60 days of sprouting. For those gardeners in the northern U.S. hemisphere, ‘Glacier’ and ‘Manitoba’ tomatoes are the perfect start to a gardening season.

Glacier tomato 

Manitoba 

Eggplants

Eggplants generally prefer warmer temperatures. But, as evidenced by the different heirloom tomato varietals, there are eggplants that thrive in colder temperatures as well. For example, ‘Diamond’ grows well in the northern, shorter seasons and germinates easily. According to personal reviews from gardeners, ‘Diamond’ eggplants can survive temperatures under 50 degrees, which makes them perfect for regions with lower temperatures.

Diamond eggplant 

For gardeners who want a more traditional (e.g. warm weather) heirloom eggplant varietal, they can fill their garden with ‘Black Beauty’ eggplants. These dark purple eggplants are adapted to southern seasons, and can mature in as little as 74 days.

black beauty eggplant 

Beans

Fava bean plants break the typical bean mold due to their preference for cooler climates. Nearly all varietals are extremely hearty, requiring minimal water and able to weather frosts. They can grow up to 5 feet tall under the right conditions, such as temperatures under 70 degrees and moist soil. Plants that can tolerate cooler environments generally need to be planted after the last frost, but fava bean plants can be planted in the late autumn months. Pictured below is the ‘Masterpiece’ Fava bean.

Masterpiece fava bean 

Lima beans of nearly any varietal are perfect for gardeners in a warmer climate with longer growing seasons. Capable of growing in poor soil and dry conditions, they will mature in roughly 80 days. Lima beans — also known as butterbeans — are flat, green beans known for their resiliency. Pictured below is the ‘Jackson Wonder’ lima bean.

Jackson wonder lima bean

Gardening by Climate

Climate may be uncontrollable, but it’s also trackable. If a gardener is serious about growing strong heirlooms, some initial research is the key to success. Perusing the Farmer’s Almanac and checking your local hardiness zones will help narrow down plant options and season lengths. Although plants have general preferences, each plant varietal is different and may go against the usual growing guidelines. Technically, if a gardener wanted to grow tomatoes all year long, there are a variety of heirlooms that can be grown to correlate with the seasons (within reason). The result would be a tomato garden producing a wide variety of tomato types depending on the time of year.

Photos courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com.

Authors: Wiley Geren III and Bryan Traficante. Bryan co-founded GardenInMinutes.com in 2013, a family-owned venture focused on making it easier to start a quality garden with their tool-free, cedar raised garden bed kits and the Garden Grid™- the only planting guide and garden irrigation system in one. In addition to unique gardening solutions, Bryan and the GardenInMinutes team provide time-saving gardening insights on their blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages.