Winter Flowers and the Promise of Spring

The six weeks from mid-February to the beginning of April are very busy in the yard, but if you are not actively looking for changes, you will probably miss them.

Witch hazel is the first plant to bloom each year, sometime between the end of January and mid-February. It blooms later if early winter is mild than it does if it gets cold early. It seems to need some chill time followed by a few days above freezing in order for the buds to unfurl.

Witch hazel flowers open on warmish winter days—midday is a tiny bit above freezing. Photographed on February 18, 2023.

Snowdrops break ground at about the same time as the witch hazel blooms. They are as lovely in bud as they are in bloom. Somehow, they look like eager little aliens, gathering together for some sort of field trip.

Snowdrops in full bud. Photographed on February 15, 2023.

They are tough little plants, too. They do not mind winter nights, snowstorms, or ice storms, and this winter we had a major ice storm. I am not sure if the city is done picking up the bundles of branches and limbs from the cleanup.

Snowdrops encased in ice. Photographed on February 23, 2023.

Sad to say, our weather was relatively quiet compared to much of the country, but we did get the leftovers from the major storms. Just over a week after the ice storm, we had a slush storm that caused more damage. But the snowdrops weathered it well.

Snowdrops in heavy slush. Photographed on March 4, 2023.

The small spring-flowering trees did not fare as well. By the morning after, the nannyberry was weighted down to the car, and the serviceberry was folded down to the ground. Normally, there are several feet of clear ground to walk on around the car, but this had me completely blocked in.

The nannyberry loaded with heavy, wet snow. Photographed on March 4, 2023.
A mature serviceberry weighed to the ground by heavy, wet snow. The central stem was broken by the weight of the snow. Photographed on March 4, 2023.

The snow melted quickly, leaving a huge mess behind. There were large limbs and trees down all over the area. The broken but still-attached honey locust limb came down last in early April, blocking the sidewalk, and forced a cleanup session as a substitute for grading papers! The broken serviceberry stem and ragged remains of the honey locust branch are scheduled for cleanup by my arborist in May.

Still, we did not have floods or tornados, or any of the other horrific weather of the midwestern, southern, and plains states—or California. As messy as the aftermath was here, dormant spring plants were completely unaffected.

The crocuses were completely unperturbed by all the above-ground nonsense, so they popped up and were blooming by mid-March.

Purple crocuses enjoying the sun. Photographed on March 16, 2023.
Cream crocuses in full bloom. Photographed on March 26, 2023.

The only reason the display was not completely lush was our very hungry rabbits. Spring is taking hold; spring ephemera are starting to appear as are minor bulbs like crocuses. More traditional spring perennials are popping up as well, but they are awaiting a later post. The spring ephemera are transforming rapidly, so they will be next.