When gardening experts say Hampton Roads is in a transition zone, they aren't kidding.
No matter what gardening guide I check, southeastern Virginia is caught in the middle — squeezed between southern and northern climates.
In the 2010 Old Farmer's Almanac, we're between the Southeast region, which begins with Raleigh, N.C., and ends at Savannah, Ga., and the Atlantic Corridor which goes from Richmond to Boston, Mass.
Having gardened here all my life, it doesn't take a guide to tell me what I've learned working my own yard. Some years, rains avoid us — some years rains pester us. Some winters are mild — some winters are severe. Some winter weekends are 60 degrees — some winter weekends are 20 degrees. Some years breezes barely blow — some years, it's gale-force winds almost weekly.
These variables make it difficult to keep a yard thriving and looking good from year to year — which is why I ditched fussy plants like azaleas and dogwoods in favor of forgiving plants like wax myrtle and eastern red cedar. It's why I'm pulling out disease-resistant Indian hawthorns that are too wet and beginning to develop fungal leaf spots; in their place, I'll probably plant some kind of nandina, which thrives in any weather any time of the year. Maybe my yard won't be as diverse as it should be but my back and pocketbook will be happier.
Mother Nature's fickleness also taught me to forego a fine fescue lawn in favor of a sturdier warm-season grass. Right now, my brown, dormant Bermuda looks ragged and rough from so much moisture — even tire tracks from careless driving when we back out of the driveway — but it will rebound and look as green as any gorgeous golf course this summer.
If you believe in long-range weather forecasts, here's what the farmers' almanac says growing conditions above and below us will be the rest of the year.
South and north of us, April and May will be warmer and drier than normal.
Further south, summer will be cooler and slightly rainier than normal; above us, it's going to be cool but dry, with a possible drought despite heavy rain in June from a tropical storm.
All around us, September and October will be drier than normal, with near-normal temperatures.
Through February, look for above-normal snowfall along the Atlantic Coast.
What we get remains to be seen. In the meantime, I'm not betting on a cool, warm, wet, dry — or sane — growing season, so I'll continue to prep the yard to endure whatever blows our way.
I'm not into fickle plants because there are too many forgiving plants to enjoy.
Hence my gardening motto: You grow or you go.
Blackbird BlitzVolunteers are needed for the annual Rusty Blackbird Blitz taking place now through Feb. 15. To participate, report sightings via the eBird program led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, in cooperation with the International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
Rusty blackbirds have pale "staring" eyes. This time of year, males appear mostly black while females have rusty edges on their wings and bodies.
In the past 40 years, the rusty blackbird's population has plunged 85 to 99 percent, according to Cornell. Loss of habitat is one reason for the decline, but bird sightings will help determine more causes. Virginia is listed as one of several states where the bird hangs out during winter.
Two other blackbirds commonly mistaken for the rusty blackbird include the common grackle with a long tail and larger bill and the female red-winged blackbird with its bold streaking on its under parts (the rusty is plain without streaks). For more information, visit www.eBird.org.
Things to doPruning clinic. 10 a.m.-noon Saturday. York County master gardeners teach you the right way to prune the right plants this month during a workshop at Grafton True Value Hardware, Route 17, York County. Free, register email@example.com or 890-4940.
Grasses for the masses. 3-4:30 p.m. Monday. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation teaches volunteers — families, schools, clubs and businesses — how to grow underwater bay grasses in containers at home during a workshop at the Virginia Living Museum, 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News.
The grasses, which are easy to grow, will be planted in the James River this spring as part of a larger effort to restore underwater grasses to the Chesapeake Bay watershed. $40, includes instruction and materials. Register in advance at www.cbf.org/gras ses.
Maintain your Victory Garden. 7 p.m. Tuesday. Teresa Cummings of Ken Matthews Garden Center in York County discusses organic weed and pest control at the Kingston Parish Hall in downtown Mathews. The event is part of the Winter Lecture Series sponsored by Mathews County master gardeners. Free, bring a nonperishable food item for the Hands Across Mathews Food Pantry. 804-725-7196.
Horticultural Extravaganza. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. March 13. Register now for the Horticultural Extravanza sponsored by the York extension office at York High School in York County. Attend workshops on more than 15 gardening topics for the novice and advanced gardener; the afternoon features Linda Pinkham, horticulturist and plant breeder, discussing the Beautiful Garden program sponsored through the Virginia Nurseryman and Landscape Association. $14, includes lunch. Register at firstname.lastname@example.org or 890-4940.
Kathy Van Mullekom is home and gardening columnist for the Daily Press. Learn more about local gardening at www.dailypress.com; e-mail Kathy at email@example.com or call 757-247-4781. Find her gardening tips on Twitter as @diggindirt and at Facebook.com/Kathy.vanmullekom.