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Climate, Virginia

Warmer weather in Virginia means earlier planting times, longer harvest season, more bugs

Crystal Graham
woman planting a flower garden
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Due to warmer weather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has updated its plant hardiness zone map for Virginia.

The map was released in November and is based on weather data from 1991 to 2020 using data from 13,412 weather stations nationwide.

The majority of Virginia shifted to the next warmer half zone based on the new data.

“For all plant lovers, farmers and home gardeners alike, the release of the updated plant hardiness zone map is something they will find invaluable,” said Sanjun Gu, a Virginia Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist. “Simply put, the higher extreme minimum temperatures allow more plant species to survive Virginia’s winters and help adapted species thrive long term.”

Gardeners and growers can incorporate more flowers, shrubs, trees and other plants that would not previously have survived winter.

Additionally, annual cold-hardy vegetables have a longer harvest season, some flower bulbs may not require removal before winter, and winter cover crops have more flexible sowing dates.

“Typically, when you have warmer temperatures, your last frost date will be advanced,” Gu said. “Assume that in most regions of Virginia, you can probably plant about 7-10 days ahead of a regular planting date.”

He added that gardeners and growers should monitor regional weather forecasts about 10-15 days in advance of planting. The map is only a reference tool and can’t provide a guaranteed forecast for future variations in weather.

“Just be cautious before planting things outside,” Gu said. “If you’re not careful with looking at the long-term forecast and run into some frost issues, your plants may not survive.”

Farmers and gardeners can expect to encounter bugs, disease pathogens and weeds that typically would be killed or weakened in colder winters.

“If you run into some bugs you’re not familiar with, reach out to Extension, and they will find the answer for you,” Gu said.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.