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An Unseasonably Warm Winter Gives Way To An Early April Spring

Leafy vegetables growing in raised garden beds at Maymont
Kale planted in Maymont's garden late last fall is still producing leafy greens.

April is one of my favorite months in Virginia. While it is mud season up north in the mid-Atlantic, the month fills many with joy as the sun climbs higher on the horizon and the soil begins to warm to the touch. In the mountains, each day reveals new blooms to enjoy and the bare branches of trees soften with blossoms and tiny emerging leaves. In the piedmont, spring hits full speed with millions of blooms opening each day along with the soft green of new tree leaves. Regardless of the location, April in Virginia is a treat for the senses.

This year, the unseasonably warm winter has brought on an early spring. The season is running about two to three weeks ahead of schedule depending on specific local conditions. However, cold air can still randomly venture down from Canada, so be mindful of jumping into planting summer annuals and vegetables. If the gardening itch needs to be satisfied, then have season extenders on hand to cover up the tender plants from a surprise freeze. While weeding the other day I noted small micro-climates in my home landscape by noticing where weeds were blooming and setting seed sooner than in other areas. I can use this information in the future when determining locations for specific plants. The warm weather has everyone excited. At Maymont, zone 7b, we are still harvesting the collards and kale planted last fall in Jack’s Vegetable Garden.

Green, leafy kale growing In Maymont's raised garden beds.
Leafy vegetables planted in late fall last year are still yielding crop at Maymont.

Very soon they will bolt - meaning the flowering stalks emerge and elongate - then the plants will be removed and composted to make space for seeding in the root crops, leafy greens, beans, turnips, parsley, dill, and more. To thwart the invasive potato beetle, the staff rotates their location around the garden as the larvae overwinter in the soil. Wait for warmer soil to plant the corn, tomatoes, peppers, melons and squash, typically in early May, but this year may be earlier. There is always the goal of bragging rights for harvesting the first ripe tomato and last year, well, I finally won the honor with the heirloom cultivar, ‘Black Cherry’. Thank you, Amy Hicks!

Peggy's crop of Black Cherry Tomatoes from last year.
Peggy got the first tomato crop last year with Black Cherry.

The warm weather has impacted everything growing and bulbs are no exception. Maymont’s tens of
thousands of daffodils have been blooming since January and the tulips started in March.

Yellow and white daffodils in bloom.
Daffodils bloomed in January at Maymont after the unseasonably-mild winter and warm spring-like temperatures.

In zone 7a we dig up the tulips before planting the summer annuals but in zone 6 the weather is colder and the soil more porous which is perfect for these perennial bloomers that hail from colder mountain climates. Unlike tulips, daffodils and jonquils remain in the ground creating bigger displays each year in zone 7. Don’t tie up or braid bulb foliage, instead hide it by planting other plants in between, as the leaves store energy in the bulb for next year’s blooms. Removing the foliage reduces next year’s flowers so be patient and garden around the leaves until they turn yellow, when it is safe to cut them off.

I set personal goals for each season and last year’s was to grow more basil to make pesto. This year I am growing more stevia at home to make extract with.

Green stevia plant growing in Peggy's garden.
Peggy grows stevia at home to make her own extract with.

I am also growing more green beans to blanch and quick freeze rather than tomatoes. Finally, I have decided it is time to expand my gardening beds at home so I will spend the summer testing plants against the deer in my area, and I will keep you posted on which survive.

At Maymont the goal is to grow a big pumpkin,  and we are hoping the rain will come to help us grow a
big one. To have a pumpkin to enter in the State Fair garden volunteers will plant the seed in early June.

What are your gardening goals for 2020? Please share them on Virginia Home Grown’s Facebook page.