5 Reasons To Be Grateful We Are Not Having An Early Spring

Mother Nature is a tease. Since early February here in Chicago, we have several times been granted a couple of lovely mild days. The snow would melt. Us gardeners would tentatively venture out to sniff the air and perhaps prune a shrub or two. We would start to think – this is it, we’re having an early spring. Then – WHAM! Wind, cold, snow, hail, and the slaying of the first born. Oh wait, that’s Passover.

Mourning Dove Heated Bird Bath
January 2012 – Mourning Dove at the heated bird bath

Thaw. Freeze. Thaw. Freeze. The cruel cycle goes on, raising hopes only to dash them. And of course, these days it’s pretty hard to know what to expect from the weather. What we would consider an early spring is gradually becoming the norm. It was not always thus. When I first moved to Chicago in 1983, you would typically begin March with a thick layer of ice and compacted snow on the ground, a layer which may not be inclined to melt before April.

Last year, however, February was like a mild March, and March was like May. This year is more like the old days. There is snow and ice on the ground, and there was more snowfall today.

All this can lead to considerable frustration for the gardener. However, in an effort to help all of us maintain a positive attitude, I am offering five reasons to be glad that we are NOT having an early Spring.

Donald Wyman crabapple
Flowering fruit trees are better off if they don’t come out of dormancy too early. This is the ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple in front of our house.
  1. Early Flowering Trees and Shrubs are Safer! Last year March was like May, sure, but then April was like February. The result was a lot of traumatized woody plants. These plants had gotten all cozy and vulnerable, only to have their leaves and flower buds flash frozen. Orchards in Illinois and all over the upper Midwest were devastated.
  2. Freezing and Thawing Reduces Soil Compaction! Sure all that restless soil may heave your new perennials out of the ground to whither in the frozen wind, but there is also a bright side. Compacted soil is a widespread problem, especially in the city and suburbs. The cycle of freezing and thawing tends to reduce compaction, at least in the upper layer of soil. 
  3. Fewer Pests! Longer, colder winters means fewer unhelpful insects and disease-causing organisms around for the following spring, especially those that are creeping North with climate change.
  4. Justifies My Investment In The Heated Bird Bath. If it turns out we’re not going to have long, cold winters, what am I doing with a heated bird bath?
  5. We’ll Appreciate Spring That Much More! That is, if we make it that long. 


42 Comments on “5 Reasons To Be Grateful We Are Not Having An Early Spring

  1. Brrr! Your post made me cold. Haha, sorry! I have to stop rubbing our desert weather in the faces of Midwesterners. (There’s a reason I don’t live in Indiana anymore!)

    • Well, just remember us in August when you’re huddling inside with the air conditioner. Oh wait, we’ll be doing that, too.

  2. The 5 reasons are fantastic; first three are really important. But, honestly I can’t wait for the spring to come and then summer so that I can taste the fresh tomato and cucumber picked from my plants.

  3. Whatever you need to tell yourself to get through the (snowy) day, weeks, months…Seriously though, it’s good to be happy or at least make peace with one’s climate. Sometimes I miss winter. (Did that sound convincing?)

  4. Your weather sounds just like ours – it’s the winter that just won’t leave 🙂 Very smart of you to look at the bright side!

  5. I think you have some very good points there – especially number 5. I admire your approach, but still wish you some warm sunshine this March!

  6. Very interesting article and fantastic photos.
    Waiting for spring, the first flowers …
    I dream of the snow was gone and it got warm.
    I cordially greet

  7. Excellent reasoning! I’ve never seen a heated birdbath in SC. I have a heat coil thing I can put in the basin though. Looks especially attractive with the orange extension cord stretched across the garden. You know, an extra pop of color in the cold season.

  8. I can see that your winter last year was like ours. We didn´t have any fruit beacuse of a late frost in april. Last week was mild here, and we all thought YES spring here we come, but the forecast for March now is frost, frost frost.
    I hope this winter will rid us of the Iberian snail.

  9. I was very unpopular around these parts last year when I was bemoaning the fact that the forsythia bloomed in early March! All the freezing and thawing, and re-freezing is bad for our plants and crops. 50 degree days in January, followed by sub-zero temps. two days later–bah! Underlines the importance of good mulching to help keep that ground solid until the warmer days are consistent.

    It feels here like we’re getting a decent, gradual transition into spring this year, which I like. We are on the very outer fringes of this latest big storm, expecting only an inch or two of snow, and then it’s warming up into the weekend a bit.

    I’m sure your birds appreciate the heated bird bath! : )

    • We’ve had some wild swings in temperature, but the overall transition has been more gradual than last year’s. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the rest of the month.

  10. I’ll never forget turning in my college thesis in April 1982. We had a huge snow storm when it was supposed to be spring – this was near Philadelphia, so definitely “unusual.” But I think unusual is the norm for the winter/spring transition.

  11. I am very tired of the fight spring and winter are having. Winter just needs to give it up! You are right – I got used to the early spring that we have had the last two years. Love your heated bird bath! I bet the birds think of it as their spa!

  12. I have never before even heard of a heated bird bath– but my plan to hang tiny Egyptian cotton towels on the adjacent bushes in summer doesn’t sound so extreme anymore… Here (w. Oregon) in winter the concrete bowls fill with leaves and some sort of pre-seaweed slimy stuff, more rarely ice. I love snow so maybe we could work out some kind of deal. Let’s see. You send me some lovely fluffy white snow and the heated birdbath and I’ll send you 5,000 gallons of cold rain. 🙂 (Be brave. Spring cometh.)

  13. Thanks for keeping my “Winter Grumpiness” in check, Jason! I’ve also never thought about my plants being heaved from the ground. Gosh, I hope that doesn’t happen! Good excuse to buy new ones I guess…

    A long anticipated spring must mean it will be worth the wait. 🙂

  14. I was praying for snow a couple months ago…so you can blame it all on me. On the other hand it’s reassuring to note that we are suddenly catapulted into 95% of our normal, or what used to be normal, precipitation as of this latest snowstorm, so that gives me hope for everyone trying to grow anything. Last year’s warm March not only threw off the trees, but the migrating birds as well (their bugs had left by the time they got here), so I’m okay with the colder weather lasting longer.

    • Catching up on the moisture deficit is definitely something to be happy about, I dread another drought like last year’s.

  15. So true! Here in Madison, not that far from you, we’ve had snow all winter. It has been the opposite of last winter–but not really “normal.” Actually, March last year was like June for several days, with highs in the 80s. But, as you say April was quite cold. To be honest, I’m getting a headache from all the extremes … or just thinking about the extremes. 😉

  16. Perfect reasons especially after last year…I actually like to have a normal winter but I was hoping to get it to warm to normal temps and melt…maybe it will finally as we still have snow on the ground and int he forecast…winter remains in the NE.

  17. Last year’s spring was just bizarre. It was hot way too early. I like the cool, early days of a typical spring. There are no insects and all the heavy work that often comes in spring is more bearable when temperatures are cool. I am very content to wait. As you say, we appreciate spring that much more!

  18. We’ve had some very spring-like days here, and the garden seems to be ramping up, despite the odd hard frost still. I even saw the first blackthorn flowers this week, but they were along a busy intersection on the edge of a city, so doubtless rather warmer than the more rural locations.

  19. dear Jason, i love your positive spin on the extended winter. And I never heard of a heated bird bath, but of course you need it and it’s a great investment. I wish I could think of similar positive things about our extended summer, day after day of hot and dry, hottest and driest since they began keeping records. I guess one positive is that lots of climate change sceptics are starting to accept the facts.

  20. Hi Jason, we’re in that period here too. It’s been a wet but mild week with some spells of sunshine, but the temperature is expected to drop to freezing this weekend as the wind shifts back to the North again (it’s been previously been from the South). The winter weather is very much dependent on the direction of the prevailing wind and that can change from one week to the next.

  21. Jason, I love your optimism. We are the same in frosty Scotland. Last weekend was like summer, this weekend the wind chill factor is making it feel like -5 and while there are lots of jobs to be done outside……it’s just too cold!

    Hope your thaw comes soon.

  22. Great reasons! Particularly #3 as far as I’m concerned. We get one sunny half-day here in the NW, and everyone starts singing, “It’s spring! It’s spring!” And then we get three nights below freezing and another week (or two) of heavy rains and some flooding.
    Here’s to a not too terribly late spring for us all.

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