Think spring

By Tom Seymour | Feb 11, 2021
Photo by: Tom Seymour Crocuses are the heralds of spring.

February, a month known for frequent snowstorms and bitter-cold temperatures, has two faces. The first, sees only winter and the second, faces spring. For gardeners, signs of spring help the remaining days of winter pass faster.

The usual rummaging through seed catalogues has already taken place and orders sent in. What with many popular varieties running low over the last several years, it pays to get our ducks, or seeds, in a row ahead of time.

Now, we look forward to when we can, if not set our seeds outside, at least get them started inside. I consider seeing seed-starter trays all planted when I visit someone’s house a sign of spring.

Groundhog Day

The groundhog has, as he usually does, has predicted six more weeks of winter. For Mainers, that’s good news, since six weeks from Feb. 2 brings us to the end of the second week of March, a full week short of the arrival of astronomical spring. The way I see it, with the groundhog it’s a win-win deal.

While it’s hard to envision right now, blooming spring bulbs will soon grace the landscape. Some of the earliest, such as snowdrops, may bloom by month’s end, given the right circumstances. Crocus are not far behind. I have seen crocus poke their little pointed, green shoots out of frozen ground, melting ice and snow as they grow.

Did you plant new spring bulbs last year? If so, get ready for your colorful reward. The best thing about these is that they are perennial, not only coming back each year, but multiplying as well. Spring bulbs rank among gardening’s better investments.

Warm and cold

Often, by February’s end, maple sap has already begun to run. Freezing nights and above-freezing days cause the sap to rise in trees, making for a sap flow which we can tap into.

While Maine abounds in commercial sugarhouses, homeowners can make their own maple syrup from sugar maples and even red maples growing right in their yards. Most hardware stores sell everything needed for an efficient, productive, home-grown maple syruping operation.

Seeing sap pails on trees and plastic tubing carrying sap to holding tanks makes for a sure sign of spring.

Birds, too

Soon, songbirds will shed their drab, winter plumage for their brilliant, breeding plumage. Those flocks of uninteresting-looking goldfinches will soon acquire their signature, bright-yellow hues.

Birdsong changes with the approach of spring. Black-capped chickadees will soon develop a pronounced, nasal rasp to their calls.

Robins, not those that have migrated to the southern states, but rather, robins that have spent the winter on Maine’s offshore islands, will soon make regular forays to the mainland.

Wild ducks will soon make their appearance, becoming more numerous around coastal and riverine locations.

Snow fleas

Warm, sunny days in February, those days when snowbanks begin to melt and make little rivulets in driveways, herald the appearance of snow fleas. Not fleas at all but fascinating little insects called “springtails,” insects that, like click beetles, can jump very high compared to their size.

On warm days, springtails collect around the base of trees, giving snow the appearance of having been swept with a fine coat of black ashes. But these “ashes” are really tiny insects. For fun, collect some and view them under a magnifier. They make for an interesting, close-up sight.

Sometimes melting snow pulls in thousands of springtails and collects them in temporary pools, making the water look as though someone had sprinkled pepper on the surface.

Butterflies, too

On particularly warm days in late February and early March, we might even get to glimpse the earliest butterflies, angel wings. These small, ruddy-colored butterflies have angular, notched forewings. Look for these on lawns and even on gravel drives. These one- to two-inch butterflies don’t fly very high but instead, confine themselves to skimming along the ground, in a dancing manner.

Mourning cloak butterflies, those black-winged beauties of early spring, like angel wing butterflies, hibernate over the winter and sometimes fly about in late winter and very early spring. For me, it’s a banner day when I spy either of these species.

Easter lilies

With Lent just around the corner, stores throughout Maine will receive their stocks of Easter lilies. Seeing these ultra-fragrant, bright-white lilies for sale in stores means spring is neigh.

Upon taking your Easter lily home, remember it is a perennial plant and it’s usefulness exceeds this one season. So water as needed, enjoy as long as it flowers, but don’t discard it after flowering. Instead, keep it in the house until warm weather arrives and plant it outside. It will come back each year, a fulfilled promise of spring.

So think spring. It’ll be here before we know it.

Tom Seymour of Frankfort is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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