Spring is Sprung, da Grass is Ris…


Late March and my garden is still buried deep in snow.

Yes, in the Northern Hemisphere, spring officially arrives today, March 20th: the vernal equinox… but the photo above shows what my garden looks these days. Some 5 feet (1.5 m) of snow with drifts twice as high. All my ornamental grasses are completely buried this year and few of the shrubs are visible. More snow is expected today, although just a smidgen. No, not much in the way of spring is visible outdoors.

Am I discouraged? Not at all! In spite of the snow buildup this year (the second greatest amount I’ve ever seen), there are still signs that spring is on its way.

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Forced hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis). Photo: 4028mdk09, Wikimedia Commons

Indoors, for example, my houseplants are waking up in a big way: new leaves, flower buds and flowers are popping up all over. I’ve pulled a few pots of hyacinths out of cold storage and they’re blooming away, giving off their intense perfume. Seedlings are sprouting in their trays and cuttings are rooting. Even the dormant bulbs of cannas and tuberous begonias are starting to sprout: some sort of internal clock is telling them to wake up even though they’ve been stored in total darkness for months.

…I wonder where dem birdies is?

Ah yes, the birdies. They are the surest sign of spring of all. No, the geese aren’t back yet (they’ll wisely wait until that thick sheet of ice and snow has left the lakes and rivers before they make their move), nor has the American robin shown up this year, although in milder winters he’s an early harbinger of spring.


The cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is this year’s avian harbinger of spring.

My avian sign of spring this year is that the neighborhood cardinal has started to sing. He was here all winter, but he only signs when he feels it’s spring.  “Wheet, wheet, wheet, wiyou, wiyou, wiyou,” he proclaims. And with his bright red feathers, he really stands out against the snow. His singing means he’s claiming his territory for the season.

Under the Snow


When the snow finally does melt, the bulbs are already up and ready to flower.

What I can’t see right now it what is happening under the snow, but I know there’s a lot going on down there. All those bulbs I planted last fall, for example, are sprouting sight unseen. When the snow finally does melt, they’ll already be up and ready to bloom. Some of the earliest start to bloom the very day snow finally does melt.

The sap is running in the sugar maple trees (the province where I live, Quebec, is the world capital of maple syrup, producing 75% of the world’s output), but it’s not going to be a banner year. It’s been too cold. The sap rises most abundantly when the days are above freezing and the nights below and this year, the warmest days have hovered a bit below freezing.

When Does the Snow Melt?

When does the snow melt where I live? It is starting to melt in the sunnier spots, at least on the warmest days. But it certainly won’t be all gone until sometime in April, although there have been years when there was still plenty of snow in May, often well into May, once even into June. Even so by July, no matter how long winter lingered, my garden will have caught up to those in warmer climates.

I love winter, I love spring. And I love summer and fall. All the seasons have their charms. And as a laidback gardener, I just let Mother Nature tell me what to do when. And right now she’s saying “take it easy”!20170320A


Just Let It Melt!


20150329With spring finally underway, it is very tempting to try to get any remaining snow off our lawns and flower beds as fast as possible. I often see overly-zealous gardeners shoveling snow off plantings, usually throwing it on the street, in an effort to clear their lot faster. But that’s a very bad idea… and for several reasons!

First, you’re very likely to damage perennials, bulbs, shrubs, lawns, etc. by accident as you shovel. My neighbor shovels the snow off his lawn every spring and it takes 2 months for the pockmarks he left in it to recover. In addition to physically damaging the plant by breaking a branch, cutting into a crown, scraping its bark, chopping off spring sprouts developing under the snow, etc., any shovel wound given to a plant opens a path for insects and disease. Clearing snow off your plants doesn’t help them, it hurts them!

Also, remember that snow provides excellent insulation against extreme cold. At the end of March and even to the end of April, it can still become very cold almost anywhere in North America when Arctic winds suddenly hurl down from the North… and I mean well below freezing. Don’t you want your plants to be protected from extreme cold for at least a few more weeks?

In addition, the snow you throw away also plays an important environmental role in the garden: it charges the soil in ground water in anticipation of the drier conditions to come during the summer. When you get rid of snow, you increase the watering needs of your garden later in the season. And this is not a joke or an exaggeration: 2 or 3 months after the snow melts, there can still be residual water from snow melt within reach of plant roots, watering your lawn and gardens in times of drought! Really, Mother Nature knows better how to handle things than over-zealous gardeners!

20150329BAnd don’t forget that throwing snow in the street is illegal in most municipalities… and where it is not illegal, it still shows a total lack of civility. As a walker, I can tell you that it is very unpleasant to have to skirt around snow launched onto the street, not to mention the puddles that result from its melting. And it forces me to wear winter boots even when the road should theoretically be dry and walkable in shoes. No, I have never yet called the police to complain, but I often think of it and the older I get, the more cantankerous I become, so one day soon I may just do so.

And I’m not the only one who is bothered by this action: imagine the problem you are creating for people in wheelchairs! Really, if you’re one of those people who shovels snow into the street, you should be ashamed of yourself!

20150329CBut the worst in all this is that… shoveling snow off your plantings is simply a total waste of energy and, as a laidback gardener, I object to any unnecessary garden work. Do you really think the snow won’t melt if you leave it alone? If you let Mother Nature do the job, she will melt it away… and at just the right season, too!

So, shovel off your driveway, sidewalk and paths: that’s perfectly legitimate, but for the welfare of your plants and of passersby, leave the snow that covers your lawn and gardens alone!