Gardening in Virginia: A Practical Guide

vegetables

In recent years there has been a growing interest in natural and organic produce, free of commercial pesticides. And what could be more natural and organic than growing your own plants? Virginia has an excellent climate for gardening, being mostly quite temperate. Whether you have acres of farmland or just a small yard or patio in an urban area, anyone can start a garden. In this brief guide, we’ll explore the basics of gardening in Virginia and give you some ideas of how to get started.

KNOW YOUR ZONE

The first step to starting a garden is figuring out what will grow well in your area. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is an excellent resource. The average coldest temperatures for an area determine plant hardiness zones. Most of Virginia falls into Zones 6 and 7, with minimum temperatures of -10 degrees Fahrenheit to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

A small area of the highest mountain regions in Highland County fall into Zone 5 with minimum temperatures as low as -20 while some areas around Norfolk and the Chesapeake Bay fall into Zone 8, with higher minimum temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Virginia zone map provides more detail, and more information about plant hardiness zones can be found on the USDA website.

Virginia zone map

DECIDE WHEN TO PLANT

In general, the western portion of the state with its many mountains is the coldest, and the climate warms as you move east towards the coast. Most of the state has a relatively long growing season, and planting can begin sometime in March or April. In the western region, the growing season is shorter, and planting should not begin earlier than the middle of May.

Each plant will have a different ideal planting time based not only on your location, but also the particular needs of the plant. Some resources on planting schedules include:

KNOW YOUR GARDEN

Temperature is important to gardening, but it is not the only factor. Sun exposure, humidity, and soil quality are some of the other important considerations for your garden. Sunlight in particular can make a big difference.

If you have plenty of space and can choose the location of your garden, you will be able to control the amount of light and shade that your plants receive. If you have only a small area for your garden, though, you may have to work with what you have. Take note of how much light and shade your garden area gets during the day and choose plants that will thrive in those light conditions.

Consider, also, how much space and soil depth is required for each plant. Some plants will fare better than others in close quarters or in pots. If your gardening space is small, you will want to make the most of the space you have.

GETTING YOUR PLANTS

In general, you have two choices when it comes to acquiring plants for your garden: you can grow them from seeds yourself, or you can buy young plants from a nursery. Some plants are easier to grow from seeds than others. Consider your gardening skill level and do some research on your desired plants to decide what is right for you. You may decide on a combination of both.

If you choose to buy from a nursery, consider a smaller local nursery as your source. You can be guaranteed that these plants are grown locally, while this may not be the case for larger nurseries. In addition, you will almost certainly staff members who are very knowledgeable about your specific gardening area and, most likely, only too happy to share their expertise.

NATIVE PLANTS AND SUCCESSFUL TRANSPLANTS

Noted Virginian William Byrd II recorded extensive observations on the plants and crops found in Virginia in the mid 18th century. Below, you will find just a few suggestions, both from his writings and from other sources, that may be good choices for your 21st century garden.

Vegetables

  • Corn
  • Broad bean (fava beans)
  • Peas
  • Cabbage
  • Turnips
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Sweet peppers
  • Snap beans
  • Garlic
  • Snow peas
  • Squash (several varieties)
  • Lettuce

Fruits

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Watermelon
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes (some varieties)

Herbs

  • Fennel
  • Marjoram
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Dill
  • Coriander
  • Mint
  • Vervain
  • Sage
  • Lemon balm
  • Thyme
  • Chives
  • Parsley
  • Oregano

Flowers

  • Marigolds
  • Daffodils
  • Azaleas
  • Carnations
  • Roses
  • Violets
  • Sunflowers
  • Tulips

PART OF HISTORY

When you choose to start a garden in Virginia, you are part of a long tradition that dates back centuries. Virginia is home to some of the oldest gardens in the United States. If you want to gain inspiration or valuable knowledge about gardening in Virginia, you could visit one or more of these historic gardens.

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent home in Charlottesville, Virginia, is notable for many reasons, including its extensive gardens. The gardens at Monticello include flowers, fruits, and vegetables. The gardens you can see today were recreated from archival and archeological evidence to resemble the originals as closely as possible. In addition to these historic gardens, Monticello is also home to the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants. The center collects, preserves, and distributes historic plant varieties and works to build awareness and appreciation for the history of garden plants.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, founded in 1984, is newer than the other gardens mentioned here, but it is a valuable resource for any Virginia gardening enthusiast, boasting a huge variety of plants in over 50 acres of gardens.

Agecroft Hall and Virginia House, also located in Richmond, are English transplants. These manor houses were dismantled and brought to Virginia in the early 20th century. The gardens here are modeled the gardens of centuries past and include both decorative and functional gardens.

Westover Plantation in Charles City County was the home of William Byrd II. The grounds of the estate include formal gardens like those that would have been seen in the 18th century when Byrd was writing his botanical observations.

Colonial Williamsburg is the country’s largest living history museum. Hundreds of interpreters recreate 18th century Virginia life for visitors. The grounds include 90 gardens on over 100 acres of land, all made to resemble those of our colonial ancestors as closely as possible.

With a little inspiration and plenty of research, your Virginia garden is sure to flourish. Good luck, and don’t forget to like and share!

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