Although subtle, signs of spring are encouraging


I have had enough of winter, and despite the fact that snow will fall again before anyone reads this, I spent last weekend looking for signs of spring. And although it appears there’s nothing but brown debris in our garden, there are signs of growth around once I took the time to look for it.

I think the birds kicked off my bout of spring fever. Zooming north on I-43 the other day, I spotted a pair of sandhill cranes poking around in a field along the highway. The cranes go south in the autumn, so their appearance was a sure sign to me that I wasn’t alone in deciding the weather should break. There are also red-winged blackbirds flitting among the dried reeds in the roadside ditches. That’s another species that heads south for winter.

Signs of plant renewal aren’t obvious. Sure, there are daffodils popping out of the soil at Port’s public library, but those bulbs are planted right in front of a south-facing wall. That creates a micro-climate not found in most local gardens. I had to poke around our garden beds to find signs of plant life, and what I did find surprised me.

I’d assumed daffodils would be the first thing I’d spot, but only one clump had pushed out of the soil, and I only spotted their tips. If I didn’t know they were daffodils I wouldn’t identify them as such. Since the daffodils were active, I figured the scillia that plagues the front garden would be growing, too, but there’s no sign of any of those bulbs and no crocus or snowdrops were to be found.

 I didn’t spot any new growth on our hellebores, either, and it would be easy to spot since the winter wind has browned what’s supposed to be their evergreen leaves. Instead I discovered lots of daylilies bravely pushing their way out of the soil. Some years almost all of their first foliage has frost damage on the tips, but it doesn’t seem to set them back.

There are fresh green leaves in the piles of dead iris foliage, too. I should have cleaned all of the old growth up in the spring, but the reblooming iris need every day of energy from their autumn foliage if you want a good flower display in the spring. The debris is probably harboring borer eggs, but I’ll clean it up in the coming weeks on a warm day. An application of beneficial nematodes poured on the rhizomes will take care of any borer larvae I miss. 

In sunny spots, the ground cover sedums are greening up, and so are some of the coral bells, especially some of the dark-leafed plants in places sheltered from the wind. I was surprised that none of the plants I saw had been heaved out of the soil — coral bells have shallow roots and winters with repeated warm-ups and freezes can push them right out of the ground. 

The big surprise was the sight of dozens of silvery leaves under the trees. They baffled me for a moment since I don’t associate mountain bluets (Centaurea montana) with early spring. They’re native to European mountain meadows — equipped to surviving late snow and cold — and seemed quite happy among the drifts of leaves. 

It’s not much, but the little signs of life are emotionally encouraging. Years ago I wouldn’t have looked for anything in our garden this early; it’s another sign of larger patterns of change. But right now I’ll happily take the signs of spring since I’m more than ready for winter to disappear.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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