January 29, 2012

Do I dare to plant a peach?

The backyard possibilities may be growing for plant enthusiasts in the Pine Tree State as hardiness zones shift northward.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Anne Hagstrom of Yarmouth shops for plants at Skillins Greenhouses in Falmouth on Saturday. Hagstrom said she is looking forward to experimenting with different plant species in her community garden plot, but worries that her expanding choices may be the result of climate change.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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He said it feels as if the summers are getting warmer, making for a long and productive growing season.

"As a professional grower, the map doesn't have a great impact on me, but it should help some of the new gardeners decide what to grow," according to Kroeck.

Kroeck is already thinking about the upcoming growing season. Seed catalogs started arriving this month.

"It's a good time to curl up next to the woodstove with a seed catalog," he said.

Richard Brozozowski, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator from Falmouth, teaches master gardener classes and said the new map does open the door for gardeners to try new varieties.

"Gardeners in Maine have tried growing everything, from peanuts and figs to sweet potatoes and kiwi," he said. "They pushed the envelope."

Brozozowski said peaches, grapes and okra might be able to thrive in Maine.

He suggested that gardeners keep an eye on their property and watch where the snow melts first. He said warm pockets of land are good places to start a garden.

Tom Settlemire, retired from a career of more than 35 years as a biology professor at Bowdoin College, gardens and raises sheep in Yarmouth.

Settlemire is excited about the new map because it shows that ryegrass might grow in Maine. Ryegrass is a high-energy, high-protein grass that cattle and sheep graze on. It is grown extensively in places such as Australia and New Zealand.

"The problem has been that our cold winters freeze it out," he said.

But if ryegrass could be grown here, it could have a positive impact on the cattle and sheep industry.

Not everyone is excited by the USDA's new zone configurations.

Jeffrey O'Donal, who owns O'Donal's Nursery on the Gorham-Scarborough town line, said the new map did not contain any surprises. He doubts that gardeners in Maine will start to grow plant species that might not otherwise have thrived here.

"The real proof will be in the pudding," O'Donal said. "If you plant a plant and it dies, it doesn't matter what the map says."

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:



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