Medias everywhere will be telling you that today is the first day of spring. Or they did so yesterday. (It’s sort of weird for North American gardeners this year, as the spring equinox occurred just after midnight on March 20th in the East, but before midnight on March 19th in the Center and West.) Either way, we’re at the very beginning of the astronomical spring… and that bit of information is fairly useless to gardeners.
The astronomical seasons in general aren’t much help with outdoor gardening. Yes, we all know the spring equinox is around March 21st and initiates the spring season, that the summer solstice takes place around June 21st, launching summer, with the fall equinox near September 21st and the winter solstice around December 21st both beginning their respective seasons. But you can’t garden by the astronomical seasons. For that, you need to look at the meteorological seasons: they are much more garden friendly.
Northern Meteorological Seasons*
There is another way of determining the seasons, one that is more consistent with our gardening way of life: the meteorological seasons. They are determined according to different climate variables such as temperature, sunshine, etc. and give the following results:
Spring: March 1st to May 31st
Summer: June 1st to August 31st
Fall (autumn): September 1st to November 30th
Winter: December 1st to February 28 (February 29 in a leap year)
In many cultures (in Russia, for example), the meteorological seasons actually are the ones used on the average calendar and few people take much notice of the astronomical seasons.
If you follow the meteorological seasons, it’s already been spring for 3 weeks: yippee!
The Four Gardening Seasons
For the gardener, however, even the meteorological seasons sometimes need a bit of tweaking. After all, to make them usable, you really need to take local conditions into account. So even in the Northern Hemisphere, according to your local climate, exactly when one season begins and the other ends can vary considerably from one region to another.
I would suspect that most mid-latitude European and American gardeners would accept the northern meteorological seasons above as being fairly accurate, but if you live further south, you’d probably bump spring forward to somewhere in February and start summer in early May or even late April. And your summers can stretch well into October.
If you live further north, you would probably not consider March 1st as truly being spring. At least, not in most years (I was in Toronto last week though and it was very springlike, with no snow at all on the ground and even a few snowdrops in bloom: unusual for so early in the year). Where I live, in frigid Quebec City, we still have snow up to our knees (actually, nearly up to our waist, but if I told you that, you wouldn’t believe me!) and the temperature is expected to below freezing all day. Certainly that is not spring weather!
My gardener’s brain pegs the beginning of spring with the last of the snow and the first of the flowers, therefore not until April, even mid-April in my climate most years. And I don’t figure it is summer until there is no longer any danger of frost and the ground is warm enough to plant tender seedlings out, which often isn’t until mid-June. I pretty much accept September 1st as the first day of fall and December 1st as the first day of winter, however, as per the meteorological calendar. And that, in spite of the fact that we often have at least some snow on the ground before December.
So: happy spring to those readers who are getting spring weather at this point and happy late winter for those who, like me, are still eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring. And enjoy your fall if you live in the Southern Hemisphere.
And even in my northern lair, I can safely say it’s spring for my houseplants. They pretty much follow day length only and are therefore fully attuned to the meteorological spring that began March 1st!