Sunset Magazine’s Take on Zones

A Sunset Magazine zone map

Yesterday we posted a USDA zone based vegetable gardening planting guide. But the problem with USDA zones, as many readers pointed out, is that they aren’t specific enough. For instance, all of the city of Los Angeles is in USDA zone 10, but the difference between where we live and the coast is significant.

This is where Sunset Magazine’s more detailed zones maps come in handy. Sunset has divided the entire country into more finely delineated micro-climates. You can find your Sunset zone here. With your Sunset zone you can then use their handy online plant finder or one of their many books.

While an excellent resource, unless I failed to find it, I couldn’t locate any vegetable planting schedule based on Sunset zones. Perhaps its an impossible question, proof of the adage that “all gardening advice is local.”

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  1. Sunset’s planting “schedule,” such as it is, appears in the magazine every month. They spec out things by zone–“zones 22-24 set out…seed”. They also include perennials, flowers, ornamentals. But yeah, they do assume a certain amount of knowledge.

    Dree, zone 24 (aka “can’t grow tomatoes or melons zone”

  2. re: the “local” adage, don’t forget local universities that have ag programs. We found, as Westerners moving to the Southeastern US several years ago, that a combination of detailed USDA zone finders like the one at the National Gardening Association’s website (, and local ag-school online resources (in our case, North Carolina State University – but you could probably use Cal-Poly Pomona or SLO there in Southern California), we were able to find pretty detailed, localized information by plant. The trick then, was locating acclimatized, organic seeds and plants but that too was easily solved by talking to farmers at our local grower’s market.

  3. This is a great resource – I live in an ‘inter-zone’, at the first ridge between plains and the Rocky Mountain foothills, so it’s awesome to get more detail!

  4. The Sunset Western Gardening Book does have planting schedules for the specific zones. For the one published in 2001 (with roses on the cover) there are both cool season and warm season charts starting on page 715. So for example in zones 20 & 21 they say I can plant peas in Aug and Dec-Mar. In zones 22-24 peas can be planted in Sept-April. I don’t treat them as absolute authority cause the weather is so different each year. Most years I do best with peas when I plant them in Nov.

  5. How often are USDA or Sunset zones checked and updated? It would be interesting to see a map or chart of some kind noting climate shifts over a chunk of time.

  6. Odd, along the Gulf Coast, where I live, the USDA zones are actually better than the Sunset ones. Sunset lumps most of the area directly north of Lake Pontchartrain in with the land along the coast as zone 28. The USDA defines those as zone 8 and zone 9 respectively, and for good reason. North of the lake gets more extreme temperatures than areas closer to the coast, including more frequent and harder frosts in winter. This is an important thing to keep in mind if you’re going to try growing, say, citrus fruit. I guess it just goes to show that you can’t consider one source of information to be the end-all-be-all.

  7. The Sunset map is still very rough when it comes to the Bay Area. The weather here is just so particular – you can travel a mile or two and things can be significantly different.

  8. I quit using the Sunset planting guides five years ago. It was just too maddening. And they actually have extra detail about microclimates and all in CA.

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