Pine and oak pollens surged recently as the warmest air of the spring poured into Virginia.

Although it has been a little bit dry since the first of the year, many gardens are doing well so far this season. Tulips have been in full bloom at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Lakeside.

Brian Trader is a professional horticulturist, a native of the Eastern Shore, and a Virginia Tech alumnus. Last year, he became the President and CEO of the Garden.

Not surprisingly, he has noticed changes in the pollen season over the years in central Virginia.

“We’re seeing earlier pollen bursts than maybe what we would’ve had 15 or 20 years ago. But the species we suffer from, especially with our sinuses — they’re pretty much the same species.”

He has also noticed changes to plant species as the climate of Virginia has warmed, especially over the last couple of decades.

“It’s really hard to know where to start. Plants that used to be heardy here, but not invasive, are now starting to become problematic.”

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Nandina, commonly called heavenly bamboo, is one example.

“My grandparents, and maybe their parents, would’ve planted it as a specimen in their garden. It’s non-native, but typically the winters were harsh enough that it would not spread. But now nandina is becoming invasive in our area.”

Plants that had been exclusive to climates warmer than Virginia are also edging north.

“We can get away with growing a little bit more tropical specimens now. Like figs … we can grow different things that we … maybe 20 years ago … were not able to.”

Pest control is also becoming a challenge.

Deep purple and white tulips in bloom at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, April 13, 2022.

Sean Sublette

“Fifteen or twenty years ago, our winters would be harsh enough — meaning we’d have freezing temperatures over a longer duration of time — which would kill off insects like ticks. Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have imagined getting a tick in December. Now if you go on a hike in December, you might find a tick on you.”

Adapting and growing the garden for the future remains in the forefront, as Trader wants to be sure it is prepared for the long-term.

“We’re certainly not looking to plant any sugar maples. They’re not going to thrive here in the heat and humidity now, especially as that exacerbates in the near future.”

Allergy season in Richmond is getting worse

And if you think the spring pollen season in central Virginia is worse than other parts of the country, you may be on to something.

Despite the challenges, he says their outlook is good. In addition to keeping the garden at its best, they are bringing back M&T Bank Butterflies Live! this weekend and continuing it through early October. They are also are bringing back their emphasis on the importance of pollinators, not just for ornamental plants, but for crops that are grown for food.

And in the longer term, the Garden is renewing its emphasis on highlighting the ecological importance of plants native to Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic, especially for landscaping at the local level.