When does spring start?

Is spring a date on the calendar or a state of mind?

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How do you measure the beginning of spring? Do you feel that it's really spring when the official start date, March 20, rolls around? Do you get excited by any warm, sunshiny day, or you wait till there are three or four days like that in a row?

I remember when I discovered that gardeners in different parts of the country had different measuring sticks for when spring -- and fall -- are.

I was living in Zone 7b and working on a book with an editor who lived in Iowa. Part of my task was to prepare lists of things to do in various seasons. But I quickly realized that while for me, fall continued until Thanksgiving, it was over for her much sooner than that.

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And while I could often plant  English peas shortly after Valentine's Day and count on roses blooming till at least early November, she and many others couldn't. So I had to widen my mindset of what months comprise spring and fall.

But because we gardeners are so attuned to the earth, I suspect that for many of us, the start of spring is not so much a date as a feeling.

I'll have to admit that I wondered if I was a little nuts for feeling this way until I read an article by David Stooksbury, the Georgia  state climatologist and a professor of engineering and atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

How he answered the question, When does spring begin, was a revelation: It all depends on who you ask.

"Most atmospheric scientists, meteorologists and climatologists say it begins March 1," he notes. "The National Weather Service uses March 1 as the beginning of spring for climate summary purposes."

In fact, the Meteorological Office in Britain uses March 1, too, and some members of Parliament have complained.

Other ideas to mark the start of spring include "Good Friday or the start of the baseball season," Dr. Stooksbury notes. "My personal favorite is the Masters Tournament week in Augusta. [April 8-12 this year.] Once the Masters is over, spring is usually here to stay in Georgia."

When I lived in that region, all those azaleas said spring to me, too, although sometimes I enjoyed them mostly from indoors because temperatures were still chilly.

So I'd like to propose another designation -- a "rolling spring." Spring starts where you are on the last average date of frost, a date every gardener knows well and anticipates.

By that measurement, it's been spring for a while, say friends in California I spoke with recently. But here in Boston, my daffodils haven't begun blooming yet. And the wind chill outside at 4:30 p.m. as I write this is 34 degrees F. (1 C)

Nope, it's not spring yet. I'll have to try again next month.

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