To get the most out of gardening, you need fairly good knowledge about the growing zone your location belongs to, as well as which plants thrive in that zone. According to the USDA zone map, zone 8 covers a wide band in the southern region of the United States, from Texas to Florida. Almost the entire United Kingdom and the Pacific Northwest also have a similar climate.
Defining Zone 8
Most parts of zone 8 enjoy a temperate climate with mild winters where the average low temperatures range between 10ºF and 20ºF. Summers are generally warm with cooler night temperatures. Due to the long growing season, this zone is home to many beautiful gardens.
Microclimates Within the Zone
Since the USDA zones are based on winter lows only, the variations in summer temperatures, especially in the Southern United States, are not given due consideration. The summers are hot and humid in the Southeast, while they are hot and dry in the Southwest, limiting the gardening season in these areas since some plants go into dormancy in the heat.
While it is the coldest zone for strawberry tree and rock rose, it's the warmest for others like Kousa dogwood, smoke tree and astilbe. Though zone 8 is too warm for lilacs, many other plants from zones 7 and 9 may actually do well in this zone depending on the microclimate of your location.
Sunset zones further subdivides USDA Zone 8a and 8b, taking into account other factors like:
- Summer temperature
The Sunset Zone equivalent of USDA zones 8a and 8b is 4, 5,6, 7 and 9. This specific zone structure gives a more comprehensive picture about the microclimate of your specific location and helps you select the best plants for gardening success.
- Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia): This plant bears large leaves and equally large but delicate, trumpet-shaped flowers. Available in a range of soft pinks and yellows, the pendulous flowers are best enjoyed from below.
- Astilbe (Astilbe chinensis 'Pumila'): The feathery, terminal plumes of Astilbe are quite striking in mass plantings. The colors range from white to pinks and purples. Even when not in flower, the fern-like foliage adds texture. Once established in a suitable site, these plants put up a reliable flower show year after year.
- Bee Balm (Monarda didyma): This plant is ideal for a sunny location. The rounded flower heads are held well above the foliage and come in hot pinks, reds, and purples. Bee balm also has medicinal value. The leaves are aromatic and a good source of thymol. They attract bees and hummingbirds to the garden.
- Blanket Flower (Gaillardia): A plant that thrives on neglect, Gaillardia is especially suited for the dry areas in this zone. The daisy-like flowers colored yellow, gold, and red, and in combinations of these colors, keep on coming. They work nicely in floral arrangements.
- Bleeding Heart (Dicentra): The heart-shaped flowers hang from long stalks and gently arch over the ferny foliage, which gives these plants a delicate and graceful look. They are best suited for shade.
- Columbine (Aquilegia spp.): The gently nodding, spurred flowers of columbine are an asset to any garden, especially since they are tolerant of shade and drought. The double-colored flowers present beautiful combinations of blues, pinks, yellows, and whites.
- Daylily (Hemerocallis): Bearing large flowers in solid colors or beautiful color combinations, these free-flowering, practically trouble-free plants deserve a place in every garden. The flowers are edible too. The clumps proliferate rapidly and are easily divided to increase stock.
- Cranesbill Geranium (Geranium himalayense): These hardy geraniums bring the charm of wildflowers into the garden. The simple flowers in shades of blue, pink, purple, and white cover the plant during the blooming season, but the leaves are just as delightful.
Perennials for Foliage
- Elephant's Ear (Colocasia): The large leaves of this plant add drama to the landscape. Since they love wet feet, they are suited for swampy areas of the garden. In zone 8, Colocasia can be over wintered in the garden.
- Hosta (Hosta undulata): These shade-loving plants come in different leaf sizes and variegations. They can be used as a ground cover to fill large areas under trees.
- Lilyturf (Liriope muscari): Ideal for edging or as ground cover, the thin grass-like leaves of Lilyturf may be solid dark green or variegated. These plants do put up blue or purple flower stalks, but they are mainly grown for leaf cover. They are deer-resistant too.
- Broom (Cytisus scoparius): This leguminous shrub bears a profusion of yellow, pea-like flowers on thin, arching branches. The flowers are fragrant. They do well in waterlogged areas and can become invasive if conditions are favorable.
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii): This drought-tolerant bush loves a sunny location. The tiny flowers come in purple and pink with orange throats, and they host a feast for hummingbirds and butterflies. When allowed to set seed, they can become invasive. Deadheading after the flowering spell keeps them in good shape and within limits.
- Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia): This drought-tolerant, low-maintenance shrub bears masses of pink, purple or white flowers through summer and fall. It can grow into a small tree if it is not kept pruned.
- Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla): These extremely drought-tolerant shrubs begin flowering in late winter. The powder puff-like flowers come in pink or red and are often the only flowers in the garden. They're ideal for the hot and dry Southwest part of the zone
- Bigleaf Hydrangea ( Hydrangea macrophylla): This shrub's large flower heads in white, pink or purple never go unnoticed, and they are an asset to any garden. The flowers come from old wood, and the soil pH affects the flower color in colored varieties. Alkaline soils induce pink flowers, and acidic soils turn the pink shade to blue. The blooms keep well as cut flowers, and mature flower heads can be dried and used for dry flower arrangements.
- Rhododendron, Catawba (Rhododendron catawbiense): There is nothing like Rhododendrons to herald spring. Zone 8 is the warmest zone for these natives of the Appalachian Mountains. The pink, violet or purple flower bunches attract butterflies. A partially shady location is ideal, and occasional pruning is necessary when the shrubs become leggy.
- Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum): This spreading shrub brings cheer to the winter landscape with a profusion of bright yellow flowers that cover leafless branches. Unfortunately, the flowers have no fragrance. The stems can be trained over trellises or walls.
- Beech (Fagus): This tree has small-toothed leaves and smooth, silvery bark. Tolerant of shade, it can live for over 300 years. The nuts produced by the tree are edible, but they mainly serve as feed for wildlife.
- Birch (Betula): This small to medium-sized hardwood tree is short lived. The white bark has characteristic markings, and the wood is commercially valuable. Birch sap is made into wine in the British Isles.
- Flowering Cherry (Prunus sp.): Cherry blossoms and spring go together. Flowering cherry trees can grow well in zone 8 if suitable varieties are selected. Some Japanese cherries are fast growing and have fragrant flowers and beautiful fall foliage.
- Maple (Acer): These lovely trees are usually grown for syrup or for their striking fall foliage. Either way, they are an excellent choice for cultivation. Their wood is also valuable and used in the food and wine industries for smoking.
- Oak (Quercus): These majestic trees are native to the Northern hemisphere. They are a symbol of strength and stability, and the leaves are beautifully lobed. Oak trees play host to a variety of wild life; the acorns produced by the trees is source of food to many animals.
- Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia durior): This perennial climber is mainly grown for its lush green foliage, but the flowers are interesting because they resemble a pipe, as the name implies. It can be trained on trellises or on wires.
- Goldflame Honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii): This climber bears pink flowers, and their yellow interiors earned this plant the epithet Goldflame. The delightful fragrance makes it a good choice for patios or near windows, and it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
- Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans): As the name implies, this vigorous creeper produces clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers in summer and fall. Colors may vary from salmon pink to bright orange, and the plant needs strong support.
- Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis): This leguminous, woody climber bears long tassels of pink, purple, blue or white pea-like flowers. Natives of China and Japan, this vigorous vine can be trained against walls for a beautiful display of flowers. The Chinese variety has fragrant flowers.
- Purple Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpurea, formerly Dolichos lablab): Easily grown from seeds, these vigorous climbers get established very fast. The light purple flowers are followed by deep purple bean pods. The beans are edible only after prolonged cooking.
- Moonvine (Ipomoea alba): It is a night blooming cousin of the morning glories. The flowers unfurl in the evening and last through the night spreading their fragrance. They are mostly white like most night blooming flowers but pink-tinged variety is also available
Fruits and Nut Trees
Several fruit and nut trees can be successfully grown in zone 8, including:
- Apricot (Prunus mume): This is a fast-growing fruit tree that is very attractive in the landscape and produces fruit in later summer.
- Fig (Ficus carica): These fast-growing tropical trees will reach their mature height of 15 to 30 feet within five years. Train them against a wall in the sunniest part of your yard, and be they are planted in soil that drains well.
- Pear (Pyrus sp.): These trees are very tolerant of wet soil, and a number of varieties are available to plant in Zone 8. Pears bloom about a week before apple trees and need protection from spring frosts.
- Pecan (Carya illinoinensis): You need to give pecan trees a lot of space because they can grow up to 100 feet tall. They tend to be messy trees, but they are well worth growing if you have the space for the valuable nut harvest you will get.
- Walnut (Juglans): These self-pollinating trees grow up to 100 feet tall. Once they begin producing, they will do so for up to 50 years. The leaves drop in the summer and should be raked up so that they do not kill grass or other vegetation. The most popular variety for zone 8 is the black walnut. You have to wait until the nuts drop from the tree to harvest them, but be sure to wear gloves because this nut stains.
This zone is suitable for growing many vegetable crops for the salad bowl as well as for cooking, including:
- Lettuce: Plant lettuce in the very early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Planting small batches of lettuce every three weeks will keep you in lettuce all season.
- Carrots: There are a number of different varieties of carrots all of which require fairly cool temperatures to thrive. Plant carrots early in the spring for best results, and be sure they are in full sun.
- Cucumbers: These extremely easy-to-grow vegetables can even be grown vertically in small gardens. There are loads of varieties to choose from, which makes them a fun vegetable to grow. Plant cucumbers in full sun once the soil starts to warm. Cucumbers need at least one inch of water per week and full sun to thrive. Grow bush varieties in containers if you are short on space.
- Tomatoes: With a number of popular varieties to choose from, tomatoes are one of the most popular home garden crops. Tomatoes require at least eight hours of full sun each day to taste their best, and they should be planted by late spring or early summer. Provide support with stakes, trellises or cages to keep the fruit from touching the ground.
- Muskmelon: Usually referred to as 'cantaloupe." muskmelon is a sweet summer treat that is easy to grow in warmer climates. Cantaloupe prefers light and airy soil that drains well. If pests are a problem, use row covers. For small space gardens, vines can be trained to a trellis.
- Summer Squash: Considered one of the easiest crops to grow, squash is a popular home garden vegetable. Squash grows best in warm, moderately-rich soil, and it comes in a variety of types from long and trailing vines to bush types. Be sure to provide a lot of organic material in the soil, and plant some basil between rows to repel squash beetles.
Long Growing Season
The relatively temperate climate of zone 8 allows gardeners to grow a wide variety of plants for both beauty and food. If you are new to gardening, be sure to plan your garden ahead of time and check with a local greenhouse or your Cooperative Extension Office for a list of plants that do well in your particular area.