Watching the Weather

Now that I’m a gardener, I pay much more attention to the weather than I used to. Forecasts of temperature changes, impending storms, cold fronts, amounts of rain or wind, etc. are now critical information to me. Afterall, I have my garden “babies” to take care of. But what’s a gardener to do? We can’t change the weather, but we can’t garden without knowing it. 

The first thing we need to know is our local planting cycle, which is based on first and last frost dates. These dates are not set in stone, but are just the average dates for when the first and last frosts occur. Frost dates are based not only on hardiness zone, but also on proximity to coastal waters. For example, here in the Charleston, SC area, frost dates downtown/on the water vary by three weeks from where I live 20 miles inland. This information is critical so you won’t plant too soon or too late, which can kill your crops. So always know the first and last frost dates for your specific area.

After you have planted according to your local planting cycle, you will have to keep an eye on your local forecasts. The most critical thing you will have to look for are any impending drastic weather changes such as major cold or warm fronts, severe thunderstorms, hurricanes, etc. Although you can’t always protect your plants from major weather changes, sometimes you can do things to minimize the negative impacts. Potted plants can be taken inside when a wind storm or major cold front moves through. Some plants can be covered with plastic or extra mulch to protect them from a blast of cold temperatures. Tall plants, such as corn or raspberry canes, can be supported with stakes and twine to help them from blowing over in strong winds. You get the idea.

Not only do you need to know about any potential major weather changes, you also need to keep an eye on the day-to-day local weather and forecasts. I check the Weather Channel app on my phone several times a day for current temperature and weather as well as for the regional weather map and ten-day forecast. I also read the daily Farmer’s Almanac email I get. This information will tell you when rain is forecast, so you’ll know if you need to water your plants before the next rain storm arrives. Knowing the forecasted temperatures will allow you to better prepare your plants for what’s coming – making sure they have sufficient water and nutrients to bear long periods of heat, covering plants that are sensitive to cold, etc.

Finally, you can create your own mini weather station in your garden. I think every garden should, at least, have a rain gauge. They are very inexpensive and can tell you how much rain your yard has received. We all know that it can be raining in one place and be dry two miles down the road. This will help you easily assess the watering needs of your garden.

Rain guage in the garden

Rain gauge in the garden

Other useful tools are a thermometer (for actual temperatures in your yard), a barometer (for atmospheric pressure/weather changes), and a hygrometer (to measure humidity – a major issue here in the South). There are many types to choose from, including weather stations that include all three instruments. In my garden, I have a thermometer with hygrometer and wind chill/heat index meter, while my barometer is in the house.

In this day of inexpensive weather instruments, computerized weather maps, and access to instant weather information, we gardeners should never be caught by surprise. However, we still must realize that when we’ve done all we can do to help our plants, we are still at the mercy of the weather. If rain or drought or wind destroys our crops, we salvage what we can and immediately look forward to the next planting cycle when we can joyfully dote over our “babies” once again.

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