First-time gardeners have a steep learning curve—how much water, how much sun, best location, when to prune, what kind of fertilizer. Fortunately, help exists in some book or magazine for all of these. However, the weather is trickier. All guides, articles, and websites assume the usual four seasons when giving advice. But, I’ve learned the hard way the standard four seasons never happen in my garden. Something more bewildering and unexpected occurs. Since 2014, only a few months have behaved as the calendar suggests they should.
Atlanta has its own peculiar seasons that confuse the plants and me, so in the interest of neighborliness and public service, here are the seasons that actually occur here from a gardener’s perspective. I like to think of the gardening year as starting in winter when everything is quiet, and one can prune and clean while planning for the upcoming season. Thus, we begin with True Winter.
True Winter: January 15 – February 15
True winter sounds like exactly what it is. It’s cold and grey and cloudy. Days are short, and if ice and snow are going to happen, it’s now. If mosquitoes and aphids are going to die and make your life better, it’s now. The plants get a rest, and so do you. Sweet!
Just Kiddin’ Spring: February 16 – March 7
No, it’s not spring—it’s a weather joke. It’s nice and warm and sunny enough to make plants sprout and trick trees into blooming. Then it’s freezing temps every night for three days in a row. Just Kiddin’ Spring is the guy you work with who tells the dumb jokes and stupid puns who always traps you in the lunchroom, and you can’t escape. It’s a bad joke—no one is laughing.
So Much Rain: March 8 – April 15
All the rain you will be asking for in July and August comes now. Daily. New seedlings, set out in cheerful optimism in Just Kiddin Spring, float away along with your dreams. The mulch you bought in plastic bags somehow gets soaked and weighs twice as much. Happily, True Spring arrives to save the day.
True Spring: April 16 – April 30
Ahh, spring…flowers, sunny days, perfect temps. Okay, wake up. Stop dreaming; it’s over. Showtime.
Summer Preview: May 1 – May 31
Usually, previews are good things–little peeks of something wonderful on the way. Nope. Summer Preview is a warning to be prepared to suffer. The temps go to 90, but it’s the good kind of 90, where the sun is unrelenting, but the shade is still useful. Here’s your chance to read up on heatstroke, pull out the hoses, and prepay the water bill. Be warned. And, BTW, there will be no more rain until September.
Just Hot: June 1 – July 31
It’s just hot. And humid. And Mosquitos. And Weeds. But mostly, it’s just HOT!!!
Just Hot—Still: August 1 – September 10
Sorry. That’s just the way it is. Yes, you must go pull weeds and deadhead flowers in unbearable heat. Don’t look at the water bill; there’s nothing to be gained by crying about it.
Fall Tease: September 11 – September 25
Two weeks of the most beautiful weather imaginable. Perfect. Do some grilling. Enjoy this, and be thankful. It will actually rain once or twice. Coming up—Summer Rerun
Summer Rerun: September 26 -October 15
Fall Tease was a ruse, like the German festival prank on Community. The sole purpose of Fall Tease is to throw you off your game. You dig out sweaters for those wonderfully brisk evenings, get logs for the fire pit, maybe buy cider. PSYCH!!! It’s 90 again, and the rain has disappeared. Those shrubs you just planted? Yep, get out the hose —again. Don’t feel bad; we all fell for it.
The True Fourteen Days of Autumn: October 16- October 31
The colors are here! Crisp evenings lead to romantic walks. There are festivals, parades, and parties. It rains just enough, the plants are slowing down, there’s less work—it’s the perfect time to do a long weekend and take in the foliage. Laugh and enjoy it!
The Calendar Says Autumn: November 1- November 21
You wake up one morning and look out the window. All the plants are drooping, and some have ice. Look at the calendar. It says autumn, right? A sudden cold snap dropped the temperature to 26F—for one night only. The plants are dead, and historical weather data says they should be alive still. But, what does a calendar know? Sorry…
Holiday Season and Spring Preview: November 22 – January 14
The days grow shorter, and the cold starts in earnest around Thanksgiving. Decorations go up, and hot drinks are taking hold. Everyone is singing and preparing and welcoming the chilly air. That is, until mid-December, when suddenly it’s Spring Preview. Toss the sweaters– it’s shorts and polo shirts to buy that tree. Three of the last four years, I’ve had flowers blooming on New Year’s Day. Two years ago, it was in the 70s for the first two weeks of January.
There you have it. If you plan to have a garden in Atlanta, remember: you are in Zone 7B, and there are twelve seasons, not four. Hope this helps.
* Featured image is a black-eyed Susan taken January 2, 2016. It was killed by frost a few weeks later…