The Mid-Atlantic region garden offers a unique set of challenges and opportunities due to its climate, weather, soil characteristics, rainfall patterns, and average temperatures. We have a diverse geography, from the coastline with it’s sandy beaches and tidal marshes, to the Appalachian Mountains, with the rolling hills and the Piedmont plateau in between.
Here are some key aspects that make the Mid-Atlantic region garden distinctive:
- USDA Gardening Zones in the Mid-Atlantic
- The Diverse Mid-Atlantic Climate
- Moderate Temperature Extremes
- Ample Rainfall in the Mid-Atlantic
- Rich Fertile Soils
- Native Plants in the Mid-Atlantic Region
- Regional Growing Seasons
- Mid-Atlantic Flower Gardening
- Pest and Disease Challenges
- Gardening in the Mid-Atlantic
USDA Gardening Zones in the Mid-Atlantic
The region spans several USDA hardiness zones (click for an interactive map), which determine what plants can thrive in a particular area. Gardeners in Maryland, District of Columbia, Delaware, New Jersey and most of Virginia garden in zones 7a and 7b. West Virginia and most of Pennsylvania are zone 6. Here is a map for quick reference:
The Diverse Mid-Atlantic Climate
The Mid-Atlantic region experiences a diverse climate, with varying weather patterns throughout the year. Summers are typically warm and humid, while winters can be cold and sometimes snowy, but not extreme. This diversity allows for a wide range of plant choices, from cold-hardy varieties to those that thrive in the short-lived heat.
Moderate Temperature Extremes
While temperatures can occasionally reach extremes, they typically fall within a moderate range. We don’t often have extreme temperatures either in winter or in summer, with the exception of the Appalachian Mountain regions, because of their higher elevation. This allows for the cultivation of a variety of plants, including both cold-season and warm-season crops.
Hardiness zones are most helpful when you are deciding which perennials to grow. When choosing annual garden plants, it’s much more handy to know the length of the growing season. You can easily calculate that by knowing your average last frost date and your average first frost date. (Google those terms with your zip code).
Ample Rainfall in the Mid-Atlantic
The region generally receives a good amount of rainfall, which is good for most types of plants. On average, the Mid-Atlantic receives about 40 to 45 inches (about 101 to 114 centimeters) of rainfall per year. However, this can vary significantly by location.
It isn’t common, but we can have periods of drought here in the Mid-Atlantic. Practicing regenerative gardening methods, like mulching, can help soil retain moisture during times of drought. It can also help regulate soil temperature during bursts of hot temperatures during the summer.
Rich Fertile Soils
Mid-Atlantic soils can vary, but many areas have rich, well-drained soils that are suitable for gardening. The Piedmont region, which stretches across parts of Maryland and Virginia is known for its clay-rich soils. It’s a rich fertile region where people have farmed for hundreds of years. However, it’s essential to test and amend the soil as needed, as specific soil characteristics can differ within the region.
Many areas of the region have clay soils. Clay soils are known for their ability to retain water, but they can become compacted and drain poorly. To make gardening in clay soil more successful, it’s often necessary to amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost, to improve its structure and drainage.
Native Plants in the Mid-Atlantic Region
The Mid-Atlantic region is home to a rich diversity of native plant species and wildlife. Gardeners can incorporate native plants to support local ecosystems and attract beneficial insects and birds to their gardens.
If you are in the Metropolitan D.C. area it’s fun to explore the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., or the National Arboretum. Maryland Botanical Society Garden in Ellicott City, Maryland focuses on native plants.
Other possibilities include: Delaware Center for Horticulture in Wilmington, Norfolk Botanical Garden in Virginia, Longwood Gardens, or Morris Arboretum in Pennsylvania. These botanical gardens offer opportunities to explore and learn about plants, gardening, and horticulture. They often host educational programs, workshops, and events, making them valuable resources for gardening enthusiasts in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Consult our gardener’s ultimate resource to native plants in the Mid-Atlantic region for all the information you’ll need to explore native planting plants in your garden.
Regional Growing Seasons
The length of the growing season varies depending on the exact location within the region. Growing seasons can range from 170 days in cooler areas to 220 days on the coast. Generally, it allows for both spring and fall planting, with a longer growing season in the southern parts of the Mid-Atlantic.
The spring weather can be somewhat erratic in the Mid-Atlantic. One day in mid-April you will be gardening in shorts, and planting out your tomatoes. The next day you’ll don your winter coat as you frantically cover up your precious seedlings. We generally say it’s not safe to plant frost sensitive summer plants until Mother’s Day.
Mid-Atlantic Flower Gardening
The Mid-Atlantic region boasts a rich diversity of native perennial flowers that thrive in its climate and soil conditions. Perennial flower gardening is popular because we have so much to choose from. Here is a list of some of the most popular perennial flowers:
- Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea): Known for its distinctive pink or purple daisy-like flowers, coneflowers are a favorite in Mid-Atlantic gardens. They attract pollinators and are easy to grow.
- Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): With vibrant yellow petals and dark centers, black-eyed Susans are iconic Mid-Atlantic wildflowers. They thrive in sunny locations.
- Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris spicata): This tall, spiky flower produces stunning purple blooms and is a magnet for butterflies and bees.
- Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis): The red and yellow nodding flowers of wild columbine are a favorite of hummingbirds and other pollinators.
- Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica): These blue, bell-shaped flowers are a delightful sight in spring woodlands and are known for their ability to naturalize.
- Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum): With its large, pinkish-purple flower heads, Joe-Pye weed is a great choice for attracting pollinators and adding height to the garden.
- Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): This milkweed variety boasts bright orange flowers and is a host plant for monarch butterflies.
- Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis): The brilliant red spikes of cardinal flowers are a magnet for hummingbirds and add a splash of color to moist garden areas.
- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata): Ideal for wetter areas, swamp milkweed has clusters of pink flowers and provides nectar for butterflies.
- New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae): These purple to pink asters are a fall favorite, providing late-season nectar for pollinators.
- Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): Often wrongly accused of causing allergies, goldenrod’s bright yellow plumes are a late summer and early fall source of nectar for bees.
- Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata): This low-growing phlox produces clusters of fragrant, blue or purple flowers and is a lovely addition to woodland gardens.
Pest and Disease Challenges
Some pests and diseases are more prevalent in the Mid-Atlantic, so gardeners should be prepared to address these challenges, whether through organic pest control methods or other means. These challenges can be part of a typical summer garden:
- Hot, humid summers can mean powdery mildew or blight. Air circulation is very important.
- Aphids, spider mites, slugs and snails are particularly bad when it is hot and humid.
- Japanese beetles are the bane of many Mid-Atlantic gardeners. They particularly love roses and fruit crops.
- Squash bugs, squash vine borer, and tomato hornworms are a given in a Mid-Atlantic garden.
- The spring garden is challenged by cabbage worms,.
We also have the usual suspects in terms of wildlife: deer, rabbits, squirrels, moles, and groundhogs. Oh my!
Gardening in the Mid-Atlantic
Overall, gardening in the Mid-Atlantic region is marked by its ability to support a wide range of plants, making it an exciting and rewarding area for gardeners. I feel like we have the best situation in the garden: we don’t experience sweltering summers or frigid negative temperature winters. It rarely gets into the teens.
We have a fairly long growing season; it is long enough to have a fall garden, which we often consider our second chance to grow those brassicas! You’ll find the ability to grow fruit and vegetables that don’t tend to do well in the heat of the south. Fruit trees, berry bushes and tulips come to mind. Lilacs and hydrangeas are a lovely bonus in this region.
There are many positives to growing in this beautiful area of the U.S. We hope that you are learning and growing in your Mid-Atlantic garden, and enjoying the many benefits we experience in our temperate climate. Happy growing!