Kathy Van Mullekom
3:57 PM PST, February 3, 2010
When gardening experts say Hampton Roads is in a transition zone, they aren't kidding.
No matter what gardening guide I check, southeastern Virginia is caught in the middle — squeezed between southern and northern climates.
In the 2010 Old Farmer's Almanac, we're between the Southeast region, which begins with Raleigh, N.C., and ends at Savannah, Ga., and the Atlantic Corridor which goes from Richmond to Boston, Mass.
Having gardened here all my life, it doesn't take a guide to tell me what I've learned working my own yard. Some years, rains avoid us — some years rains pester us. Some winters are mild — some winters are severe. Some winter weekends are 60 degrees — some winter weekends are 20 degrees. Some years breezes barely blow — some years, it's gale-force winds almost weekly.
These variables make it difficult to keep a yard thriving and looking good from year to year — which is why I ditched fussy plants like azaleas and dogwoods in favor of forgiving plants like wax myrtle and eastern red cedar. It's why I'm pulling out disease-resistant Indian hawthorns that are too wet and beginning to develop fungal leaf spots; in their place, I'll probably plant some kind of nandina, which thrives in any weather any time of the year. Maybe my yard won't be as diverse as it should be but my back and pocketbook will be happier.
Mother Nature's fickleness also taught me to forego a fine fescue lawn in favor of a sturdier warm-season grass. Right now, my brown, dormant Bermuda looks ragged and rough from so much moisture — even tire tracks from careless driving when we back out of the driveway — but it will rebound and look as green as any gorgeous golf course this summer.
If you believe in long-range weather forecasts, here's what the farmers' almanac says growing conditions above and below us will be the rest of the year.
South and north of us, April and May will be warmer and drier than normal.
Further south, summer will be cooler and slightly rainier than normal; above us, it's going to be cool but dry, with a possible drought despite heavy rain in June from a tropical storm.
All around us, September and October will be drier than normal, with near-normal temperatures.
Through February, look for above-normal snowfall along the Atlantic Coast.
What we get remains to be seen. In the meantime, I'm not betting on a cool, warm, wet, dry — or sane — growing season, so I'll continue to prep the yard to endure whatever blows our way.
I'm not into fickle plants because there are too many forgiving plants to enjoy.
Hence my gardening motto: You grow or you go.
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