Trees herald spring awakening

Published 2:59 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2023

While working in my backyard on March 11, I noticed my pecan tree had awakened. The azaleas and wisteria were days ahead of it, but the pecan tree had just begun to flourish green leaves on the outermost branches.

A friend told me that day we could expect frost in the upcoming week. I denied it.

“My pecan tree wouldn’t lie to me,” I replied.

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Some Alabama residents express frustration when trying to determine when spring will arrive or whether the season has already awakened all the aspects of nature that herald its arrival.

People are prone to take their cues from the weather or the blooming of plants and trees, pulling shorts and short sleeves out of mothballs and donning flip flops to catch the rays of a warm spell’s golden sunlight.

But most native Alabamians know one truth about spring: its nature is as fickle as the buds which bloom on the first warm day of each new year.

As windy March afternoons transition to April showers, my azaleas have been blooming for almost one month. The lavender wisteria blossoms climbing on every still surface have already awakened and died in the 80-degree Alabama temperatures.

And while we enjoy all the flowers and songbirds of spring, my friends up north are shoveling snow on the ground. Spring began on March 20 for them like it did here in Alabama, but a southerner would not be able to tell without consulting their calendar.

Around March 14-16, our communities experienced a cold snap that thankfully did not damage the fragile spring blossoms in most Alabama yards.

So, when one day is warm, and the next day is sweltering, how does an Alabamian know spring has awakened and one may safely plant blossoms that will live to flourish this summer?

My mother taught me the secret – I look to the pecan trees for the answer.

Pecan trees seem to understand nature better than other plants and trees native to this area of the world. My mother once told me pecan trees never bud until after the last, hard killing frost of winter is over.

And, for years, I have watched pecan trees prove her point. When oaks and apple trees begin to bud the first bright green leaves and flowers, pecans remain silent.

In the days following March 11, my pecan tree did not disappoint. Nighttime lows dropped to around 26, but the hard frost never arrived. The tree held its end of the bargain and today, it is covered in bright green leaves that shade the whole yard.

I chuckle, each time I hear folks debating whether spring has actually sprung. My pecan trees keep time. It will let me know when it’s safe for me to plant flowers.

Until then, I keep a sweater handy, just in case a cold snap hits this afternoon.