Sunbeams through Willow Tree in morning fog. Beautiful spring

Some undeniable signs that we’re on the road to spring

Buds are swelling, bulbs are up and blooming and the frogs are croaking. Winter’s almost over!

I think we all know that the road to spring is never a straight line. Once we pass the winter solstice in December, the days do indeed get longer and longer with increasing periods of sunshine and warmer temperatures. But along that path there are constant detours and a few potholes to navigate.

This last subfreezing event is proof enough that although we are heading toward spring, we are very much still in winter. It is easy to get discouraged and feel like spring is never going to arrive, but if we just look around the neighborhood, we will discover that spring is in fact just around the corner. Here are some signs that recently caught my eyes (and ears).

Weeping willows are starting to leaf out. The weeping willow is the first tree in spring to leaf out (and coincidentally one of the last trees to drop its leaves in the fall). The golden variety called ‘Niobe’ is very prominent in the landscape this time of year and a sure sign that spring is on the way. Also, speaking of trees, filberts (or, if you prefer, hazelnuts) are “blooming” now. Hanging male catkins cover the bare branches of these trees in February and are hard to miss. The female flowers are teeny-tiny and barely visible, but hey, they produce the nuts, so who cares?

Buds are swelling on Lilacs. While lilacs are a long way from blooming, a close inspection reveals that sap is rising in the stems and causing the buds to swell up and even turn a little green. You can see this same response in a whole host of deciduous shrubs like Barberries, spirea, hydrangeas and even some Japanese maples. Forsythias are actually starting to show some color, and I suspect a few Japanese quinces won’t be far behind.

Bulbs are up and blooming. Many early blooming bulbs like crocus, snow drops, winter aconites, and even some daffodils are in full bloom. Tulips are still a month away, but the rest of these little beacons of sunshine are sure to lift anybody’s spirits.

Winter blooming perennials. Hellebores, primroses, pansies and candy tuft, to name just a few, are in full bloom as we speak. I always feel bad for the gardeners who wait until April to visit the garden center, because they miss out on all these early bloomers. One can only wonder how they manage to survive our long dark winters.

All the way back on 6 a.m. Feb. 11, on the way to the YMCA, I heard the melodic sound of a lovesick tree frog. These small but vociferous amphibians won’t really get going until the nights are much warmer, but this one little soloist was a reminder to me that again, spring is not far off.

My newly planted ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel has been in full bloom for several weeks now, and not far behind it is a winter hazel getting ready to pop. These reliable winter bloomers are a must for any plant person looking for winter interest for the landscape and a “pick-me-up” from the winter blues.

While the road to spring may be curvy and indirect, it can also be very scenic. There are lots of “road signs” and “points of interest” along the way worth stopping for and observing. Each little “road side marker” will in the end make the trip to spring feel a whole lot shorter. Isn’t that what we all need at this stage of the game? Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Steve Smith represents Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, and can be reached at

Free online classes

Sunnyside Nursery’s’s next free online classes will be “Spring Lawn Care” at 10 a.m. Feb. 26 and “Controlling Bugs & Diseases” at 11 a.m. Feb. 27. For more information or to sign up, visit

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