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.

Originally published on May 2nd, 2013. Updated on December 5th, 2014.