There are two standard hardiness zone maps used in the United States—one created by The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the other by Sunset Magazine (a popular lifestyle publication). Both maps divide the country's diverse geography into different climate zones which help gardeners determine when and what to plant in a given location. Seed companies and online plant retailers most commonly reference USDA hardiness zones, and sometimes they also use Sunset zones.
Florida USDA Hardiness Zones
Also known as plant, growing, or climate zones, the USDA hardiness map defines 11 total hardiness zones for the minimum range of temperatures that a plant can survive. The higher the zone number, the warmer the minimum temperatures are for the survival and growth of plants.
As the southernmost state in the 48 contiguous United States, the climate of Florida is dramatically different from much of the country. Florida hosts some of the only areas in the United States that can maintain both tropical and subtropical plants. The mainland Florida is divided into USDA zones 8 through 10, and the Florida Keys reside in zone 11.
Miami falls under zone 10b where the minimum temperatures are between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This zone requires plants that can survive colder temperatures in addition to the humid, tropical weather that characterizes the majority of the season. Knowing when and when not to sow seeds in each particular hardiness zone is very important due to frost dates. Northern parts of Florida located in zone 8a experience the coldest winters with lows dipping between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit—the first frost occurs around November 20, and the last frost is around March 15.
Florida Sunset Hardiness Zones
Sunset hardiness zones differ from USDA zones because, in addition to winter lows, they consider summer highs, elevation, rainfall, aridity, growing seasons, and proximity to mountains or coasts. Sunset zones are often referenced at local nurseries because the criteria used to designate the zones is more thorough.
Orlando is located Sunset zone 26 and experiences a long, 300-day growing season with the last frost taking place around the first of March. Orlando gardeners work in a subtropical atmosphere that features high humidity, year-round rainfall (the least after the final frost dates in late December), and hot summer temperatures.
Common Plants in Florida
Florida’s subtropical and tropical climates and coastal influences allow an abundance of plants and flowers—native and exotic—to prosper amidst the area’s rain patterns, soils, and pests. Wildflowers, ornamental grasses, and ferns are in generous supply. Other celebrated natural plants of Florida are the native palm trees. Their high salt tolerance, need for lots of suns, and the ability to produce fruit year-round make them perfect for growing throughout the state.
According to the University of Florida, there are thousands of plant species native to the state, including mahogany trees, live oak, and coral honeysuckle. Popular garden plants that thrive in Florida include tomatoes, strawberries, sweet peppers, carrots, and lettuce. During the colder months, Florida gardeners can cultivate cool weather crops such as kale, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and beets.