CO-Horts Blog

Monday, February 5, 2024

It’s spring! (really!)

posted by: John Murgel, Horticulture and Natural Resources Specialist, Douglas County

Ever wonder why Groundhog Day is even a thing? It is one of a broad selection of holidays across cultures and times that mark the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. 

These holidays are known as “cross-quarter days,” and you can read more about them here:

 While most modern Americans consider the solstices and equinoxes to be the “first day of” whatever season we’re in, other cultures (rightly, in my opinion) consider those days to be the mid-point of seasons, with the cross-quarter days marking the beginning of seasons.

yellow crocus flowers
These crocus reliably bloom in February.

 Why argue about the first day of seasons on a gardening blog?  Because I am here to tell you, nay to insist to you, that spring is here.  Beneath the foot of snow piled outside the Extension office, spring bulbs are pushing foliage and flowers through the soil.  Hellebores are happily flowering.  Tellingly, the tree buds are swelling prodigiously—aspens and cottonwoods are particularly noticeable because they also smell sweetly musty when they’re expanding.

White hellebore flowers
Hellebores ringing in spring on January 29.


What are some other spring signs to look for?

1.       Bleeding Trees—as deciduous trees begin to move resources from storage in the roots to the limbs, the surging sap will find any leaks in the pipes.  Frost cracks, old pruning cuts, and wounds deliberately inflicted by wildlife (I’m looking at you, squirrels), all provide escape channels for oozing or flowing sugary water.  Maples are famously leaky trees; this is why many people prefer to prune them in the summer.  As temperatures warm and the trees finish growing leaves, the sap flow will slow down and the leaking should cease; hopefully to be stopped before next spring by the trees’ natural wound response.

squirrel in damaged tree
It's hard to say if this squirrel or the damage it caused is more noticeable.


Cool season weeds—cheatgrass, henbit, cheeseweed, and prickly lettuce are examples of the many plants that get a jump on the season by germinating in the fall or winter.  Growing quickly when temperatures allow, they get the competitive edge on their neighbors and if you’re not careful, take over the garden.  Many are annuals, manage them while they’re small and before they set seed!

Cranesbill weed
Cranesbill, Erodium cicutarium, is a common "winter" weed.

3.       Geophytes – plants that hide during the summer heat like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are starting to grow underground where most of us won’t see them.  Other plants, though, like snow buttercup (Eranthis hyemalis) and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis and other species), as their names imply, can already be seen gracing landscapes with their flowers. 

Snowdrops with a honeybee visitor.
This snowdrop is a welcome site for a cold gardener and a questing honeybee alike!


These spring signs, I grant you, are not the ebullient floral displays of May, but they are a sure sign that winter is over, and that should be welcome news for any gardener!

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