According to The United States Department of Agriculture, everyone is facing temperatures that are slowly changing. The process of measuring the low and high temps of any given region started in 1960 by Henry Skinner. He worked at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. In 2012, the climate records were updated and changes were noted. They haven’t been reassessed since then. Records of climates around the states and around the world have been recorded and tracked year after year. What was discovered is that the climate zones are shifting northwards. In other words, the south is getting even hotter than it ever was. We are slowly warming up everywhere.
Temperature is extremely important to those of us who put plants in the ground at a specific time of the year for eventual and optimal growth. Back in the 90’s, our hardiness zones were a half a zone less than today. That means that if you lived in hardiness zone 5 in the 90’s, for instance, you are now considered to live in zone 5A or 5B.
Hot and cold temperature changes affect our seasons and health including our physical and mental well being. How about heating and a/c bills? We in the mountainous areas of Greenbrier County don’t really require air conditioning… yet. It stays pretty cool here, especially at nighttime when the sun drops. The multitude of trees produce plenty of shaded areas. Outdoor temperatures are taken in the shade because that is the true air temperature. Temperatures monitored in sunshine indicate the heating up of the thermometer along with air temperature and solar radiation.
Our house is mostly in the shade of large oak trees and feels about 10-15 degrees cooler than a home in say, Lewisburg. Will your house benefit with the addition of trees to help it stay cooler in the hot summer sun? Yup. Even bushes around your house keep the surrounding ground and outside walls from heating up. Of course, this works conversely too. In the winter, sunshine hitting your home or your skin, will make you feel warmer. If you enjoy cooler temps, you’ll be happy to know that the average temperature listed for May-September in Greenbrier County is a high of 73; it can reach into the 80’s in July. Cloudless days with the sun beating down can make everyone and everything, including your garden plants, feel warmer. The soil dries out quicker, too. In the past few years, we have experienced some 90 degree days here.
The change in climate is producing warmer temperatures and thus we will and do see changes in our gardens. Plants can get “confused” with warm spells and they put out flowers before they should. Night temperatures can drop and kill blossoms. Most native plants can withstand hardiness zones 3-10, zone 3 being the coldest temps that can drop to -30F.
Nowadays some plants will continue growing past the fall and into early winter months, November even. So we see an extended growing season and that is a good thing. But let’s remember that we need cold temperatures too. The freezes that come with winter kill off bugs. Some insects can survive mildly cold months because their bodies have lots of water which just freezes and they become suspended in time, just like frogs. Frogs can be frozen to below 20 degrees for many weeks and still come back to life. Toads hibernate in the ground and burrow down deep below the ground even when it is 65 degrees or below. Any gardener who works their garden soil by hand, up close and personal, has experienced unearthing a bumpy, wide eyed toad when pulling weeds. It scares me every spring and I bet it scares the toad even more to find himself face to face with a human!
So, is it possible to slow down the warming trends, perhaps return to the snowy, frosty winters, too? Vegetables, herbs, flowers, bushes, and trees can help reduce carbon emissions. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their roots, so add plenty around your property. All of these green living “beings” act to remove the carbon dioxide that warms the atmosphere and in turn, they release oxygen. This helps to keep our surroundings filled with clean levels of air.
Little steps…we can work collectively…we just need to zone in.
(Karen Cohen writes her gardening journals called Nature’s Way. She is an organic home gardener, seed saver, and avid explorer. Please send your tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And Happy Gardening!)
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