If you've been gardening for a while, no doubt you know what hardiness zone your pride and joy grows in. You know what plants need winter protection, what plants need to be moved indoors for winter, and what plants won't be bothered even by arctic winters.
A few amendments to the general hardiness zone information. Strange as it may seem, it is not set in stone. The trend in recent years has been for the zones to shift towards the warmer range. Don't get excited about it, whether or not your zone 5B officially became a zone 6, winter will still be gruesome.
One of the most important reasons for knowing your hardiness zone is the expected date of the last frost, which, I learned the hard way, is approximate. Have contingency plans to protect those tender shoots you just planted, just in case another frost visits in May.
The hardiness zone refers to the larger area you live in, but your site specifics will modify it significantly: a sheltered position, southern exposure, surfaces that reflect heat can offset the development of plants in different areas of your garden by almost a month. If the cold tender perennials in your back yard manage to make it through winter after winter, you should believe them, not their hardiness guidelines, no matter what zone is listed on their label.
The hardiness zone of a plant is based on temperature expectations for an average year. Even the most resilient and cold hardy plants will die during extreme winters.
As far as planting and harvesting are concerned, if you must err, err on the side of a long warm fall, not an early spring. The earth takes a long time to warm and cool, and it is very likely that summer temperatures will linger way past mid-October, but I don't ever remember spring coming early. Of course, there is always a first time for everything.
According to long range weather predictions, (see Farmers' Almanac), we're looking at mild weather patterns for next year, a warmer than normal winter, a long, dry spring, and a cool summer with less than average rain, at least for this area.
My garden isn't much fazed by weather variations, as long as they are not extreme. I guess I can try sweet peas again. Of all the weather patterns, it fares worst during rainy summers. Everything grows out of control and gets overcrowded, and there is no keeping up with the blackspot, the mold, and the weeds. Any other type of weather, the plants will take in stride, even drought conditions.
I hope relatively tame weather next year will give the young perennials good conditions to get established, free from the stress of deep freezes, heat or drought.
Cooler temperatures will probably favor the cucumbers, which tend to wilt at the first sign of heat or dry weather.
With any luck, the tree bloom will last more than a few days, and maybe the little apple tree will decide to set fruit again. A long spring would be nice, to give the bulbs and the woodland flowers some time to shine. Despite the fact that the weather predictions suggest it, I have my doubts that it's going to happen. Lately, spring almost ceased to exist: one random day in April, the season decides to switch from winter to summer and that is that.