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When to Plant Perennials in Northern Virginia

april7_2007-003This weekend was the sort that gets me really excited for the growing season. It was warm and sunny, although I could have done without the gusty winds Saturday. Times like that, I could get lulled into a false sense of security and decide to hurry the season a bit and start planting perennials. That’s why I’m glad I have photos like the one above, snapped on April 7, 2007, to remind me that Nature will do what Nature’s going to do.

I’ve only lived in Virginia since 2005, so I don’t have the same wealth of experiential knowledge that my neighbors do. What has kept my plants healthy, however, is a respect for late frosts (I grew up in New England, after all), the knowledge of the pros who I count as part of my team, and cool little tables (love tables!) like this one. Or, the Virginia Cooperative Extension- probably the absolute BEST resource around- has a handy little map here.

Honestly, this is the time of year that you have to exercise amazing levels of self-restraint. Trees and shrubs are no problem at this time of year, and I’ve been planting those left and right. Perennials, though, can get zapped pretty hard, and that’ll impact how they look and grow all season long. Where I used to work in Northern Virginia, we served primarily Prince William and Fairfax Counties. We used May 1st as our cutoff date and that worked really well. If you observe conditions on your property closely over time and have a good understanding of microclimates, you may be able to cheat a bit- but think of it as an adventure club experiment, with the associated potential consequences. Microclimate gardening takes advantage of the variations that can occur on a single lot, as a result of specific site conditions: cool temperatures may be moderated by a masonry wall or pond, both of which absorb heat, as an example. If you really enjoy spending time in your garden, this is where keeping a gardening journal can help you in the long run. If you make a note of where the frost seems heavier, lighter, or non-existent, you can establish a pattern and find the places where you can squeeze out a longer planting season, or even plant something that our climate zone says we “can’t.”

The bottom line is, be patient. That’s what I keep reminding myself.

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