The first crocus pushing through the soil says spring to me, along with daffodils dancing with their faces in the sun, and the wind stirring eddies from fall’s remaining leaves. Spring has official times, and, for many of us, spring can be a state-of-mind. My childhood was spent baffled when having to mark a season by the turn of the calendar. Today, the seasons make sense to me, and I know the reasons for the seasons is more important than the dates themselves.
At winter’s end, we begin to look for signs of spring. There are a few ways to determine when spring starts, all of which makes sense once they are understood: Astronomical, Meteorological, Ecological, and my personal favorite, State-of-Mind.
For the United States and the Northern Hemisphere, the official start of spring is during the Vernal Equinox, or the day in which the path of the Sun moves over the equator. It marks the day when the sun shines directly over the equator. This is also referred to as the Astronomical Spring.
This date in March, also known as the March Equinox, is usually around March 20th or 21st. The day varies due to the 1/4 days by which the orbital year exceeds the calendar year. This is adjusted every four years with an added day in February.
Celebrating the first day of spring on or around March 20th always seemed late to me. Although I understood the reason for it, there were signs that gave a feel of spring well before the Vernal Equinox. These changes were climatical, not astronomical. Winds moved in, rains returned, the temperature felt warmer, probably due to more moisture in the air. We refer to this as the Meteorological Spring.
Meteorological Spring isn’t as easily defined as Astronomical Spring because it’s based on changes in the weather pattern, not in the pattern of the sun. Yet there is still a date associated with it. March 1st has been designated as the first day of the Meteorological Spring by the World Meteorological Organization.
Winter months–December, January, and February–are constantly the coldest and wettest months. Summer months–June, July, and August–are constantly the hottest and driest months. Spring and fall can be thought of as transitional months between these two extreme seasons. The seasons don’t change with a flip of the calendar; thus, in meteorological terms, spring begins earlier than the Vernal Equinox. Even with the Meteorological Spring date of March 1st, it’s better to base the Meteorological Spring not on a day in a month, but on climate changes. The weather patterns taking us from winter to spring could change in late February or mid-March.
For me, I say it comes when I feel it’s presence, and I take great joy in recognizing when spring officially arrives. For many years it has made its presence known easily; although other years it has required a close inspection.
As a gardener, the spring that makes the most sense for me is what is referred to as the Ecological Spring. This spring happens during the vernal season. This is not based on a fixed date, and it’s different in each region. The Ecological Spring is considered the beginning of the growing season, based on when the local mean daily temperature reaches 42 degrees F. When growing non-hardy plants or crops, it’s more important to know the temperature than the day of the year.
Then there is the spring that is not talked about, but what I consider as my spring, so I gave it a name–Frost-free Spring. For my Raleigh garden, the last frost date is April 15th. I need to wait until after this date to really begin digging in the dirt. Over the years, I’ve been fooled in late March with a merry Meteorological Spring and Ecological Spring arriving at my door, only for that door to slam shut with a late arrival of the Frost-free Spring. Every year… Every single year I have been gardening, there was a frost on or about April 15th. I will not do anything prior to this date, and this includes bringing wintering indoor plants outside. And even when the 15th arrives, I pay attention to the 7- or 10-day forecast to see what might be on the horizon. Rarely do we have a frost after April 15th, but I never take that risk. On April 17, 2007 it happened. I knew it was coming, and shared it with everyone I knew. Few listened. Our Astrological, Meteorological, and Ecological Springs were in high gear. Many were in denial. Much was lost, and more than the plants themselves. Attitudes were lost. It was a tough year.
Spring can be considered a state-of-mind, and why not? How you get there belongs to you. It can be hyacinths forced on the windowsill, tulips in a vase that make your mind meander. To bring spring into my mind, it’s always done with the purchase of a new dress. Yup, a dress. But, true to my core, there are still flowers involved.