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Gardening in Changing Times


By Kerry Lake, Master Gardener

Fall lingered on this year and I was caught up in its lazy vibe. In late November, a few nippy mornings with a light coating of frost told me to get going on planting my remaining Allium bulbs. Finally in early December I was digging the still warm garden soil to plant these bulbs.   The worm frass is abundant under the leaves I push away.  The worms are large and plentiful in the soil.  Will this be another warm winter where the ground doesn’t fully freeze like the winter of 2011-2012?  Two days later we receive our first snow of the season; not just a dusting but a full 4 inches here in South Hadley. The remainder of December has been snowy and this last week is brutally cold.  Somehow we jumped right into mid-Winter.


Will this cold and snowy weather continue in 2018, or will the weather turn warm and dry? We’ve had both ends of the warm vs freezing cold weather spectrum here in Western Massachusetts in the last 5 years.  What is going on with our weather and how does this effect our gardening season?  Remember the Peach and Cherry Bud break a few years ago due to some 80 degree days in March, followed by a week of heavy frost killing any chance of pit fruits? Don’t forget the winter with two feet of snow still in the garden on May 1 nixing the possibility of planting peas that day. 

Why did we have a drought in 2016 and then ‘almost’ normal rain-fall this year? Why do some of our rain storms resemble torrential tropical storms, not our ‘normal’ gentle rains? What is all this talk about non-native plants moving into our area displacing native species?  What about the record number of voles and chipmunks eating my plants? What about the insects? Gypsy Moths at the eastern end of our region will be marching and munching their way west toward us this coming summer. Emerald Ash Borer is now in Longmeadow.   What about honey bee colony collapse along with the diminishing number of native bees and pollinators?

What are these weather - plant - animal changes in our gardening world in Western Massachusetts?  Will this continue? If so, how can we adapt? Will we need to make changes in our gardening style and habits? What kind of changes?  Where can we find this type of information? 

This year, our WMMGA website Articles and Book Reviews will be dedicated to Gardening and the Changing Times. Just like you, we want to know what is happening and how it will affect our gardens here in Western Massachusetts.   Join us this year as we dedicate our feature topics to the changing garden landscape. Our intent is to help you plan and adapt your gardening practices to these changing times. 

We will take a look at changes in weather and climate and how this affects our plants and animals i.e. phenology. We will look at weather tracking data that shows new trends in weather patterns for our area. We will take a look at the changing landscapes of Western Massachusetts and the invasive pants and insects that have gotten a foothold here. We will introduce you to our native Bumble Bees and how most are declining while a few may be thriving.  We will look at pollinator needs to show how just a few specific flowering plants in your vegetable patch can bring more native pollinators to your garden the entire growing season that not only benefits your garden, but also the pollinators. 

Each month we will look at different gardening strategies to adapt our gardens in a more sustainable way to these changing times.  We plan to include some of our conversations with local Horticulturists, Naturalists, and Ecologists for their viewpoints on our changing environment. We will include links to websites with more detailed information for you to pursue. Our monthly book reviews will include books with pertinent information on this topic of changes and what it means for our garden landscapes.  This month’s book review is The New American Landscape, Leading Voices on the Future of Sustainable Gardening edited by Thomas Christopher to give you a head start on understanding what it means to garden in changing times.

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