Here is the gardener’s weather calendar I go by based on my 36 years of gardening and farming in Durham, North Carolina. In 1984 I came to Durham from steamy South Carolina. I was delightfully shocked by the long spring and fall. But whether you call it climate change or global warming (I prefer the more accurate term “climate disruption”) some things changed and some remain the same. Rainfall has gotten more intense and summer is longer and hotter. But the high and low points of winter weather have been consistent.
January & February Are For Pruning, Planting, and Mulching
We can get glimmers of sharp weather in December, but January and February are the unheated, windowless rooms of winter. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t good gardening months. On a sunny day with a high in the 50s, I can work all day without breaking a sweat: pruning, mulching, and planting bulbs that didn’t get in the ground over the fall. I rely on the period between Christmas and Valentine’s Day to get my mulching chore behind me for several reasons:
1) Perennials have gone dormant and bulbs haven’t started coming up. That leaves plenty of room for spreading mulch.
2) Tree leaves have all fallen by then, so I either shred them with a mower for mulch or blow them into beds and cover them with a thin layer of pine straw, so they don’t blow around. Why spend time and money bagging leaves for the landfill and then buying processed mulch when free mulch throws itself on your garden?
3) Most of the weed seeds that dropped over the summer and fall will need sunlight to germinate. But covering them with mulch in the winter keeps them in the dark. Mulch is like birth control for weeds.
Bonus: we often get a warm spell around the third week of January. That’s why Congress set Inauguration Day for 1/20.
March and April Are For Planting
Spring is the unreliable season that doesn’t know its name. One day it’s sunny and 60 and the next it’s snow and the next it’s threatening to be 80 degrees. May and June used to be warm spring months, but they belong to summer now. So spring is more fleeting and flightier than ever. Be dogmatic about getting outside during these great planting months. They will vanish too soon.
Mid-May through September Is For Planning (Indoors)
Summer used to be just July and August, but our climate foolishness has brought us these too-long summers. This is also what I call Thunderstorm Season. That’s when we are all qualified to be a weather forecaster and say: “There’s a 50% chance of rain, here or there. Or maybe not.” It could be raining at your house, but not mine just a dozen blocks away. Weather radar is a more reliable predictor of rain than a forecast. And when summer turns off the spigot, there will be no rain for a while. Aren’t you glad you got your mulching done over the winter? I let my garden coast through these months with little attention except watering and planning.
October, November, and December Are For Clean Up And Planting
These are the best months for gardeners in the Triangle: warm sun, cool air, and no humidity. And the cold spells have a reliable rhythm. The first frost is a light one within two weeks on either side of Halloween. No need to cover anything. Then the temps bounce up until a killing frost arrives within two weeks on either side of Thanksgiving. Then temps bounce up again for a few weeks. Perhaps we’ll be lucky and get a snow day around Christmas: my favorite snow is one that melts the next day. And of course, you’ve submitted your Christmas wish list of plants, books, and tools in a timely way, right? At least that season isn’t subject to climate disruption.
Frank Hyman has a BS in horticulture and design from NSCU and was an organic farmer in the 80’s. He is the author of the backyard chicken DIY book Hentopia.