Four Silver Linings of a Lingering Winter

by Doug Muller

Crystallized bee balm. In nature, there are always silver linings.

The view from my office window is white and gray and brown, as it has been for months. The heat is on full-blast, yet in this tin-box trailer, my feet are icy blocks, clad--as ever--in muck boots. It is on mornings like these that winter appears to be the cold, endless default weather of our climate. Spring, summer, and fall? At best they're temporary aberrations; at worst, figments of my imagination.

If you need as much convincing as I do that this cold March is not the worst fate ever to befall the winter-weary gardener, here are four (thin) silver linings to consider:

  1. Pest populations have almost certainly been reduced. Critters of all types, from miniscule ticks to our friends the white-tailed deer, have had a hard time of it this winter. Many locations had the deepest, most prolonged snow cover seen in recent years; combine this with multiple waves of record cold temperatures, and the plight of the creatures trying to survive this winter becomes clear. While the factors influencing the survival rates of insects and animals over the winter are complex, typically the longer and colder the winter, the fewer grubs, insects, voles, woodchucks, and deer you will encounter this spring.
  2. Good chance of another good fruit year. While our winter-battered bodies and souls may crave early spring warmth, a long, cold March helps keep fruit trees deep in their winter slumber. The sooner the weather warms, the sooner begins their annual awakening; the sooner they wake up, the more likely their tender blossoms will be damaged by a spring frost. A longer, colder winter means a good start to the tree fruit season.
  3. Feeling behind on seed-starting? This year, you're not! While many of us use fixed dates as guidelines for seed-starting, the ultimate guide is this season's weather. Yes, some calendars say to plant your peas on Saint Patrick's Day--but if you tried to do that yesterday, you'd have broken your shovel when it hit the icy dirt! A long, cold March evens the playing field between early-bird gardeners and those whose busy lives require seed-starting to be a less orderly catch-as-catch-can endeavor.
  4. Your heart will swell this spring. The longer the cold, the brighter the flowers, the louder the birdsong, the warmer the sun, and the more deliciously aromatic the fresh spring earth. You will soon know an irrepressible joy that is borne of patience and fortitude, an old friendly joy that can only mean spring.

But, for now, bundle up.