A study in snow: What I learned on May 1

By Jesse Eastman

SpringSnow2I set out to write an article about the benefits of this drenching spring snow, and as I sit here wishing for warmer weather and beautiful spring flowers, I simply can’t bring myself to do it. Sure, all this moisture will do wonders to slake the powerful thirst afflicting our soil, but if you stepped outside into the deep slush on May 1st you probably figured that out. Plants will explode following this snow, but that’s what happens when you water plants – they grow. You don’t need to be convinced of the importance of moisture in spring, especially in the midst of such an extended dry spell.

Instead, let’s talk about science, about botany, about averages, and common sense. To me, this snow is a perfect reminder about the fantastic ability of plants to adapt to an inconsistent world. Here on the Front Range, our last average frost date is May 15. That means that for all the years we don’t see frost any later than mid-April, there are many other years when a frost strikes well after that golden date. Despite this dramatic variation, plants still manage to thrive. They bloom, they produce seeds, they reproduce, and then, wonder of wonders, they do it again the next year.

You see, plants are incredibly versatile. They adjust to their conditions. In dry climates they might put down deeper roots to seek out limited moisture. If they receive less light than they are accustomed to, they consume less water. There is almost always more than one correct way to treat a pest problem, more than one proper way to nourish growth. On a practical level, there are very few exact answers in horticulture, and this is what makes it beautiful. If variety is the spice of life, Mother Nature brings the flavor. When we garden, we try our best to shape the natural world to meet our practical, aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual needs, and She does her best to surprise us.

If you’re anything like me, you’re ready to say goodbye to snow and hello to spring. You’re ready to plant tomatoes in the ground, hang up a hammock, and stop worrying about whether or not the peach trees will lose their summer crop to a late frost. A little consistency in spring weather would be a welcome comfort. On the other hand, can you imagine if every spring had identical weather? Human nature has some deeply ingrained desire for the thrill of uncertainty, a lust for surprise. So embrace the snow – it’s just a small part of what makes life interesting.

3 Responses to “A study in snow: What I learned on May 1”

  1. Sue says:

    Great article. Sure did make me think more about mother nature’s part in our plants & gardens that I’d never thought about before!
    Thank you!

  2. Maxine Mark says:

    May 2, 2013
    Beautifully written article, Jesse. I loved the combination of excitement and bit of angst. As gardeners we never know what Mother Nature’s contribution will be but we count on the relative constants of the botanical world. Spring may sputter again before all our plants are established for the season’s growth, but the anticipation is part of the fun. Keep up the good writing, and many thanks, Maxine Mark

  3. Lauren Ogden says:

    Thanks for the level-headed, thoughtful perspective. Being an emotional sort of person, sometimes I do think nature is cruel, though. After seeing dozens of birds suffer and die last week in spite of the food put out and realizing my tree peonies not only will not flower this year, they may not be able to make new leaves either, I do get a bit irate. In northern parts of Mongolia, which is even colder than here, there are plants native there that we’ve tried here thinking zone 3/4, piece of cake, and surprisingly they don’t flourish because the springs there are more steady and less insane, and they leaf out too soon here. I would readily welcome a steady spring if it means unharmed magnolia, lilac, peach, apricot and cherry blossoms every year. Hey, they only bloom a couple of weeks at best, so at least we should get them each year!!! Truth be known, this is a damn hard place to garden. I love it here, have been here almpost a quarter century since just out of college, but it is tougher than most climates. I think we Colorado gardeners are a bit crazy to keep on keepin’ on, but we do, can you imagine not planting and hoping? You might as well curl up and die.

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