Apr 7, 2023 - News

Climate change will shift Richmond's gardening season

A plant. Photo: Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

It's the start of the spring planting season in Richmond. But what we plant and when could be changing due to climate change.

Driving the news: A recently released map from the Department of Agriculture highlights the coming transformation for planting zones, which dictate when and what gardeners should plant.

Why it matters: "This is the thing that connects our backyards to the broader global impacts of climate change," Jeremy Hoffman, chief scientist for Science Museum of Virginia, tells Axios.

What's happening: The USDA uses average winter temperatures to create its Plant Hardiness Zones map — the gold standard for planting. But winters are warming — by a lot.

"We're already seeing it now. ... Spring and the last frost are happening earlier. The winter season is the most rapidly warming season here," Hoffman said.

Today, Richmond is in planting zone 7, straddling the 7a and 7b line, based on temperature.

  • By 2070, Richmond will likely be in zone 8, per USDA's prediction, which is the zone that today includes South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

Zoom in: Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots and beets are traditionally planted in the early spring in Virginia, per the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

  • In 30 years, April planting in Richmond could look more like tomatoes, watermelon and even peaches.

But it's not just our backyard garden that's affected, Hoffman notes. An entire ecosystem of plants, trees and pollinators thrive — or don't — off each other.

And earlier spring means an earlier bloom — and possibly wilted flowers before pollinators can get to them.

  • The best example of this is the flowering dogwood, Virginia's official flower and tree. They're not very heat tolerant and could be at risk in a much warmer future.

The bottom line: "A tree planted today will still be alive today in 2100," but how that tree or plant is nurtured will likely change, Hoffman said.

  • And that care will fall to the kids born today, he added.
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