The almanac will tell you that March 20 is the first day of spring. All fine and good, but be sure to enjoy these first vestiges of the season. Remember, this is Louisville, Kentucky, where a variety of mini-winters will yet bring freezing temperatures and maybe even some snow before the warm weather roars in with a vengeance of its own. Don’t let the first spring flowers fool you into storing away your long johns or planting your tomatoes just yet.
Today you can look at fairly accurate long range weather forecasts on your smart phone apps, so you may tend to ignore the time-honored Old Farmers’ Almanac. But you may be amazed at how smart the old timers were. Centuries ago they knew when to hold off on planting by looking at the blackberries – the ones with the lower case b. In the nearby Appalachians, the transitions between seasons had colorful names handed down to the few who still use them today. Here’s a heads-up look at the cold snaps to expect in the early-spring weeks ahead:
Dogwood winter – comes about the time the dogwoods bloom, usually between mid-April and mid-May. Occasionally, Blackberry winter and Dogwood winter arrive at the same time, depending on where you live in the Ohio Valley, the Bluegrass, or the Appalachians. Your friends and relatives just 100 miles away may see Dogwood winter and Blackberry winter in two distinct cold spells.
Most of the short winters bring a few days of cold weather, frost or snow that can damage gardens. Louisville old timers will tell you not to plant your tomatoes until Derby weekend to avoid frost damage. How amazing that Derby weekend falls smack in the middle of Dogwood winter!
Locust winter, and Redbud winter arrive after the first big rush of warm spring days and before Dogwood winter and blackberry Winter.
Locust Winter is shorter and milder than Blackberry winter. You’ll see redbuds bloom before dogwoods, and blackberries after dogwoods. Thus, you usually get Redbud winter and Dogwood winter, followed by Blackberry winter.
Then you’ll hear the real old timers talk about Linsey-Woolsey britches winter, or Linen Britches winter. Very few people have ever heard these names spoken. They refer to that final breath of cold weather. Some call it Whippoorwill winter. The term Linsey-Woolsey Britches winter comes from the days when winter wear was homespun linen and wool. In late spring you’d be smart to keep your long johns on until the last cold snap – ordinarily around Blackberry Winter. It’s hard to predict Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter. I think you recognize it after it’s come and gone – expecially if you’re one who’s already put up your long handles.
The final winter, Whippoorwill winter, announces warmer days are here to stay right through summer. The whippoorwill fly in from Mexico to their summer homes in late May to early June. Whippoorwill winter isn’t as cold as the other mini winters of spring.
This year, instead of checking your Blackberry for weather updates, get outside each day and see if you can tell which of the cold snaps we’re in – locust, redbud, dogwood, blackberry, linen britches, or whippoorwill. And at least until Derby, hold off planting tomatoes or storing your long sleeves away.