Four Winters of Spring

Now that it is Spring – let’s talk about winter.

Seriously, small mini-winters happen after the official start of spring. Oh, these winters are not what the meteorologist talks about, and they are not marked on our hallmark calendars. These are the winters, appearing and disappearing quickly, used by generations of farmers and growers long ago to gauge the correct time to plant crops.

Redbud Winter happens in late March or early April when the redbud trees start to bloom. By this time, snowdrops, hellebores, early crocus, and daffodils have begun to bloom. The calendar says spring. Excited spring breakers have made plans, and gardeners are getting antsy to be outside, but be prepared for a temperature drop.

Don’t be lulled into a false sense that the calendar Spring brought permanent mild weather. Warm days are still mixed with cool winter-like days.

Dogwood Winter occurs in late April to early May – when the dogwood trees are in bloom. Oldtimers and even new generations use these blossoms as an annual marker to plant corn. But heed the warning that most tender crops planted too soon or before the dogwoods bloom are likely to freeze. This winter snap often brings several days of low temperatures and often a heavy frost.  

I remember clearly the first time someone mentioned these different winters to me. I instantly loved the idea of another way to track the garden seasons as those before us observed their gardens. I love folklore and the tips and tricks we learn from those who did not have technology at their fingertips.

That was very much the way my mom gardened – instinctively knowing when the timing was right. It was something she had watched her father and others do; it was a part of her.  

By early May, people begin filling outside porches and decks with houseplants, planting window boxes, and being swept away with the rows of blooms at local markets. It is hard to resist the temptation. I know; there have been years I have given in too. Really, at this point outside planting is judgment call – and really, what’s one more week of indoor protection?   

When the early May Locust is blooming a cold snap is possible. Locust Winter shouldn’t last long. Depending on the garden and how over zealously it was planted, these early plants can be covered for a night or two. 

The mildest of the four winters is Blackberry Winter. Growers know the cold weather is needed to signal the blackberry canes to set bud, so they welcome the late-season cold. By mid-late May, the soil is beginning to warm, and dry, so tender crops are in little danger of being bitten by Jack Frost. 

In most of our Appalachian region mid-May is time to plant.

There is a fifth winter that creeps in late May, often during Memorial Day weekend. One last cool blast. The Linsey – Woolsey Britches Winter. This funny name comes from longjohns that were made of linen and wool. After the late-May cold snap, it is time to pack away the winter clothes and undergarment britches and welcome the warmth of spring.

These days there is “an app for that” regardless of the topic. They are handy, and I use them, but I find a sense of calm and connectivity in using nature to tell when and often where to plant. The moon, the animals, and the blooms have a rhythm that I enjoy being a part of as I spend time out and in the garden.