The climate change is shifting, the ground is shifting, and now the planting zones even in Northern Virginia are shifting.
How about that 3.6 earthquake we experienced early this morning from Gaithersburg to the heart of DC?! That isn’t a phenomena that many of us are used to, even if you have lived in the DC Metro area for a long time… Moving to a different region with a new climate zone is something that usually takes a person a little while to adjust to; I don’t think anyone really adjusts to earthquakes! How about being a plant who has evolved over time in its own habitat to be strong enough to sustain itself and its species throughout time?! When we first arrived in Northern Virginia, it was quite a difference to see all of the tall deciduous trees interspersed with the evergreen pines; it was a far stretch from the cedar scrub “back home.” The plants that grow up in the DC Metro area are more typical of greenery that enjoys warm, moist soil that is highly alkaline which is something that I’m not used to as an avid gardener. You all know that I’m from Central Texas- a place that yes, the weather can be incredible strange and change even from minute to minute, but at least there, drought tolerant plants are the hearty, plants which people have known and loved for centuries. I am very familiar with the mountain laurels, salvia greggi, rambling roses, and rosemary about. Man… we used rosemary so much as a hedge that when people cook with it up here, I wonder why I feel like I am sitting infront of a hedge at the dinner plate… I digress…
Strange enough, the rich, deep soils that most Northern Virginian’s enjoy is not the same thick, clay soil that we have in our Arlington front yard, so it seems that where we happen to live in Arlington is a microclimate of Northern Virginia, so trying to find plants that will be happy at my house, might be a bit different than what my “neighbor” could plant. So I start to wonder: What should I look for when I want to buy plants that will flourish in my own garden?
As I start to look through all of the literature about the hardiness zones, and what plants I should plant where, I get leery and maybe even a bit frustrated… Remember those insane snow storms that every DC Metro area resident had to contend with this winter? We called it the Snowpocolypse or Snowmagedon… Well, everyone claimed that was not normal for the area- but then it happened again and again. Not normal, huh? Ok. Then in the Spring, the beautiful DC Cherry blossoms which , per the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History stated used to bloom an entire week later in 1970 than they did in 2000- now in 2010 are blooming earlier and earlier. These weird weather scenarios make me wonder- if I go out and buy a bunch of plants that I see around my neighborhood, does that mean they will do well in my yard, too? Will these plants possibly die in a crazy storm that seems to come out of nowhere?
What we see with these strange weather patterns is called climate change and it has become very apparent by the incredible amount of weird weather that the East Coast has been experiencing over the last year that it is going to continue to change. In a recent article in Organic Gardening, contributing author Cristina Santiestevan goes into great detail about the climate change and how it impacts the plants we have in our landscapes and their futures in our current hardiness zones. Hardiness zones are specified through research by the USDA as average minimum temperatures across North America so that gardeners will know when plants will “winter over.” These maps are currently being revamped, since the average minimum temperatures have shifted. Santiestevan states in her article that “It’s hard to believe, but by the end of this century, New Hampshire is predicted to have summers similar to what we currently see in Virginia and North Carolina.” Something that I have found interesting since moving up here, is how everyone keeps saying that this weather isn’t normal. Well, after the crazy snow storms of early 2010 and the most recent heat wave that stretched across Northern Virginia and even caused rolling blackouts, I hope that this isn’t normal! This change “may increase the likelihood of summer droughts or leaf shedding hailstorms.”
What does this mean for the average gardener such as you or me?
- Learn about your plant purchasing options
- Look into buying totally drought tolerant plants
- Take note as to your yard’s own microclimates
- Understand the type of soil you have
- Learn about the impact of the heat island effect has on your garden and home
These are all things that you should take into consideration regarding your garden and the selection of the right plants for your microclimate. The newly updated hardiness map should be ready soon..In the meantime, hold tight! We may be able to ride out this crazy weather and still have the same beautiful gardens that Virginians are famous for.