To Mow Or Not To Mow

Frosts have arrived. They’re not happening everywhere. Whidbey Island is big enough to hold several climates, and then there are the micro-climates. Welcome to a world where one model isn’t enough. Whether it is the lawn or the garden, mid-October is the transition between plant seasons. Depending on the place, this can be the time to harvest crops, pull plants, and maybe use the lawn mower another time or two.

Take your pick of planting advice sources, or maybe even check out more than one. Here are four to play with:

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All agree Whidbey Island is moderate and temperate, at least for climate. Sea level makes a difference, as does the sea water. The Pacific Ocean temperatures don’t fluctuate much, typically around 50F. Not exactly beach weather for the masses, but also not the setting for icebergs. With the highest elevations barely rising above 500 feet, there is less thermal differentiation. Sounds fancy, but 500 feet is basically sea level compared to the local peaks that rise past 14,000 feet. So, not too hot, and not too cold.

Not too hot and not too cold are subjective. There are days when the shore gets rain but the Puget Sound Convergence Zone dumped six inches of snow on top of a hill. Dips and hollows carved by glaciers also create cold sinks that frost early and may not get as warm in the summer.

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Sunset Magazine labels the climate Zone 5, basically northern maritime, an “English Garden” climate. In proper governmental fashion, the USDA tags it as 8b, probably correct and accurate, but not descriptive. The Farmer’s Almanac acknowledges a bit of the variation from north to south, but the island is so long that it has to use various mainland reference points that hopefully agree where they overlap.

  • Oak Harbor – begin planting April 4
  • Coupeville – March 31
  • Freeland – March 6
  • Langley – March 21
  • Clinton – March 21

Evidently spring comes early to south Whidbey. What a difference a few dozen miles can make.

Unfortunately, the Almanac isn’t as clear about the last frost dates. But as mentioned above, for some neighborhoods it is already come and gone.

Whidbey Island’s climate is moderate enough that it’s possible to need to mow in any month. It’s also possible to let the spiders play with the mower for weeks during the summer drought or winter storms. The shoulder seasons can be busy, though. Mowing twice a week in the spring is common. The same is almost true in the autumn. Spring and autumn can become races and negotiations as grass happily grows while homeowners wait for breaks in the weather to catch up and cut down lawns that are trying to become forests.

Gardens are different. Of course the summer is the prime time followed by autumn’s harvests; but many varieties adapt well to winter harvests or over-wintering to be harvested in the spring.

The guides are only that – guides. A house in Hilltop will see different weather than a farm in Ebey’s Prairie or the shoreline along Dugualla Bay. Magazines, almanacs, universities, and the federal government are impressive resources, but the best advice probably comes from neighbors. Whether they are farmers, gardeners, or someone simply trying to keep the weeds down, they know best when to plant and harvest, and when To Mow Or Not To Mow.

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the natural, though not necessarily effective, lawn crew working during a drought

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