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Who are the Three Ice Men?

Who are the Three Ice Men?

Perhaps you’ve heard the old proverb that warns not to plant until after the “Three Ice Men” have passed, but do you know who these mysterious Ice Men are? The tradition comes from Northern Europe, and is tied to the successive feasts of St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius, whose respective days occur on May 11, 12, and 13. They are also sometimes referred to as the “Three Chilly Saints.”

In Europe’s not-too-distant past, parts of the continent remained rather cold through the middle of May, making planting before then risky. German and Swiss lore refers to mid-May as “Iceman Days,” while an old French saying states “St. Mammertius, St. Pancratius and St. Gervatius (the Francophone spelling of the three saints’ names) do not pass without a frost.” Because the agrarian people of medieval Europe weren’t likely to be literate, let alone aware of calendar dates, they measured time by observing nature and by the church calendar. Remembering that the last frost of the year generally falls around the feast of Servatius was a useful marker for pre-modern farmers.

In some regions, the lore goes on to note that rain will fall on feast of St. Sophia, marking the beginning of planting season. For this reason, May 15 is referred to as “Zimna ZoÅ›ka,” or “Cold Sophia” in Poland.

One point of interest is that this bit of lore dates back to before the creation of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, at which time most days of the year shifted somewhat. While the feasts of the Three Chilly Saints are still celebrated from May 11-13 on our calendar, these days used to fall a little later in the astronomical year — from May 19-22.

Do you wait until after the Ice Men to plant your garden in spring? Share your thoughts.

61 comments

1 JLMacB { 05.11.14 at 6:27 pm }

I live in British Columbia, Canada in the central interior and generally go by the lore my mother always taught me. Nothing in the ground until the 24th of May. I more than often push that window to early in May as I just can’t wait.

2 Vicki Sturgill { 05.11.14 at 1:20 pm }

I live in north eastern Kentucky and I never plant before May 15th, although this year it thundered on the 19th day of February and therefore I will not be planting until the 19th day of May.

3 T Hines { 05.11.14 at 11:09 am }

Definetly depends where u live! Down south we start the end to mid of april!!!

4 Scott Moser { 05.11.14 at 9:55 am }

Cold hardy leafy vegies like spinach or the cabbages, no they go in as soon I I have the gumption to check the soil. Tomatoes and the rest of the veggies go in pretty much according to this lore.

5 George Moser { 05.11.14 at 9:47 am }

I usually wait for Mother’s Day weekend to plant in Pennsylvania!! Unless it’s beets , garlic and onions then I plant those in very early spring!!

6 CentralCaliGirl { 05.10.14 at 10:44 pm }

I live in Central California and we plant year round.

7 Carolyn Reese { 05.10.14 at 10:29 pm }

In Oklahoma it has always been to wait until after Easter and even more specifically the first full moon after Easter which would come closer to the European model as written about above. We are in warmer more southern climes. Very nice and informative. Thank you!

8 Kevin { 05.10.14 at 5:28 pm }

We always plant on Memorial Day weekend.. that would put the days into the newer calendar.. Just tilled all 3 gardens today, for the 2nd time..

9 Joan { 05.10.14 at 5:20 pm }

In North Central Ohio, I can often plant green onions, peas, brassicas, and lettuce seeds outside by mid-March. Frosts don’t bother them much. They might germinate more slowly, but they do well. This year it was too wet to get the ground prepped, so temperature wasn’t the problem. I don’t plant summer things until after May 15, though, including snap beans, summer squash, cucumber, and pepper/tomato/eggplant transplants. Potatoes can go in sometime after April 15, depending on the soil temperature and moisture. I’m transplanting lettuce and kale/broccoli starts now (week of May 4). I like to push boundaries. I think for spring plantings, earlier is often more productive than later, when warmer, drier days set in.

10 Lemarr { 05.10.14 at 4:21 pm }

Live in northern part of B.C. In Canada …… Planting here recommended May 24 th…..onward..

11 Alex { 05.10.14 at 3:35 pm }

Being lured by good weather I planted my outdoor raised bed garden on April 29th North West of Fairbanks Alaska…..There have been several freezes since so I Have been covering from 9pm to 9 am with insulated blankets….If it looks like it will freeze I place a seed heater under the blanket and so far everything is taking well..some signs of being cold……Now that I know about the three icemen I may wait on planting till later next year…lol

12 judy gagnon { 05.10.14 at 3:29 pm }

Here in Whitehorse, Y.T. we never plant before May 24th long weekend the ground is too cold and there is a good chance of frost.

13 John { 05.10.14 at 3:13 pm }

I planted in January. I’m in Vegas. It’s weird here.

I’m already two months late for starting melons, but I still have time to get a crop.

14 Cindy { 05.10.14 at 3:09 pm }

Here is Southern Ontario we usually plant on or after the May 2-4 long weekend…which this year is May 17th go figure!!!!

15 Nancy Corbin { 05.10.14 at 2:59 pm }

I have always waited until after Mothers Day. That seems to fall under the Three Ice Men.

16 wolt45 { 05.10.14 at 2:36 pm }

When I was a kid my Grand Pa told me that winter is over when the Pecan trees bud. I have two on my place and been here over 30 years. They have’nt let met down yet.

17 Rosemary { 05.10.14 at 2:30 pm }

I have never heard of the 3 ice men. I usually plant on Memorial Day and seem to do okay.

18 chipawalady { 05.10.14 at 2:11 pm }

My Great Grandmother always said that when you first hear the tree frogs, there will be three more freezes. After the third freeze, wait one week. Then plant. I am 63, and she has been right every year ! I live in Michigan.

19 Dixie { 05.10.14 at 2:07 pm }

Here in Kentucky it’s Derby Day.

20 Chef Beth Casebolt { 05.10.14 at 2:00 pm }

If it ever stops snowing here in Montana we might get a garden in! Here it is May 10th & it’s snowing again!

21 mdewitt { 05.10.14 at 1:48 pm }

Always try plant tators St Patty day here n Missouri corn mid April n onions between them maters goin first may

22 byron { 05.10.14 at 1:46 pm }

Here in the South we plant the week of Good Friday.

23 Panhandle Gal { 05.10.14 at 1:45 pm }

Here in the Texas Panhandle, we had snow three weeks ago. Our tradition says that winter isn’t over until the mesquites leaf out, which just started where I live this week. We will plant seeds around mid-April, but plants don’t go in before Mothers Day.

24 bjHines { 05.10.14 at 1:34 pm }

Mid may always, after the snow is gone from the GreenHorns and after Mother’s Day, That is the my granmother did it so do I and she was a wise woman.

25 Rose-Marie Jillson { 05.10.14 at 12:58 pm }

Always after the last full moon in May..

26 Okie Gal { 05.10.14 at 12:52 pm }

I plant after the pecan tree blooms according to my late grandpa the pecan will only bloom after the last frost.

27 Aundrea { 05.10.14 at 12:47 pm }

Grandma always said… wait till after mothers day to plant & plant blooming flowers with less blooms.

28 Shannon { 05.10.14 at 12:39 pm }

I always plant too early, and then I cover them up a few times. Colorado’s growing season isn’t very long, so you have to play with it! :)

29 WV Linda Finley { 05.10.14 at 12:31 pm }

I started my garden in April this year. I had to cover everything up 2 times because of frost warnings. It is now Mothers day week-end and my garden is doing great. I have fixed lettuce and onions several times. I love to garden. Thanks for the Farmers Almanac. I read and go by the signs a lot. Very helpful.

30 Doreen Sheive { 05.10.14 at 12:15 pm }

I took a chance and planted my garden three days ago. We shall see what happens — I hope I wasn’t too early.

31 Pat { 05.10.14 at 12:08 pm }

Here in Colorado, we had 2 snowstorms in a row just 3 weeks ago. Shot up to the mid 80′s and stayed there. Most put their gardens in where I live. Now, we have snow in the forecast for Mother’s Day, and definitely a cold snap on the way.

My husband’s grandfather used to say that you never put a seed in the ground until the last of the snow was gone from the mountain on the south side of town. Some years, waiting that long is simply too late. Other years, it is the best advice. I don’t know – I can say that grandpa had one of the most prolific farms in the area in terms of every type of produce and fruits he grew.

32 Wanda in Maine { 05.18.13 at 6:00 pm }

My mother always used to say that you should always wait until after the last full moon in the month of May! Not sure is this still applies with the climate change…..? Any ideas / thoughts for all of us in central Maine?

33 Mikki { 05.14.13 at 2:09 pm }

It was 86 degrees shortly around noon today in Iowa. Too warm too soon. Will allow farmers into the fields this past week but corn crop will be late so very doubtful we’ll have Iowa grown corn in order to celebrate July 4th

34 crdrew45 { 05.14.13 at 1:13 pm }

No way we can wait until then…we live in Las Vegas and we plant in early February!

35 andreality { 05.14.13 at 11:50 am }

I am with most of you. We just had a frost here (Central Ohio), and I feel now that it’s safe to plant. I sure hate to put in plants only to see them die in the garden. My garden is too big to cover with plastic, but that is a good idea. The asparagus is up, and frost doesn’t ruin it!

36 Miranda { 05.14.13 at 10:45 am }

I live in Texas and it’s rare to get a frost this late in the season. This is my first time to have my very own garden, though I grew up around them my entire life. I planted my garden at the end of March most were seeds and root crops except the lettuce. It’s now May and I’m already beginning to harvest some. Though at the beginning I did have to cover my seedlings a few nights but everything is still doing good. But…I live in Texas.

37 Wayne Lingard { 05.14.13 at 10:19 am }

Here in southwest Ontario, its generally considered “safe to plant ” after May 2-4. May 24th is a holiday here in Canada, celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday. I’m in my late 60′s & I remember my dad drumming that into my head.

38 Gretchen P { 05.14.13 at 10:19 am }

P.S. I’m in southern Michigan.

39 Gretchen P { 05.14.13 at 10:19 am }

Don’t plant anything? Can seeds go in? Just not plants?

40 Helen Hamilton { 05.14.13 at 9:47 am }

I get all my garden planted by good Friday. That is how my parents always did it. The last few nights here in Tennessee have been below freezing so I have covered the plants with a very large tarp it has served me well!

41 Emilie Walker { 05.10.13 at 3:56 pm }

Thank you for this article! My mother always told me about this as a child. Her mother used to tell her about it and I love that we can pass this down.

42 Darlene { 04.30.13 at 1:27 am }

In our tradition, as I remember it, the 3 Icemen days were different every year. My 91 year old mother talks about the 3 saints days all in a row in May. She also said they fell around the time of the full moon. (We always used a Catholic Church calendar to make the calculation.) I’m sure these are one and the same. I tried to figure it out some years back and I calculated that once 3 days after the first full moon in May have passed it is safe to plant. This formula hasn’t failed me yet. So this year (2013) I believe the first full moon falls on May 24, so it will be safe to
plant after May 27. With spring being so late in MN this year, I’d bet on the planting season being that late as well. (I tested this theory one year when we had 2 full moons in May, and sure enough, we were frost free after the first one.

43 Sixpicker { 03.16.11 at 11:02 am }

Oh, did I mention soaking the ground and covering it tight with black plastic for the three weeks before planting to warm the dirt? With melons and cucumbers, I use 5 Gallon buckets (ask drywall and paint guys, they get dozens a month!) instead of hills. It saves water, let’s the plants sprawl on dry ground, and let’s me make small amounts of very good soil, instead of ammending 500 Square Feet, I just make a yard of 30% each: Composted horse manure, leaf&grass mold, last years dirt, and 10%rough sawdust. The manure and sawdust eat the extra nitrogen so a 10-10-10 fertilizer once a month is becomes a 3-8-6 which is ideal for fat tomatoes, cukes and melons.

At year end, I dump it all in the dirt, till it in, soak it and cover it with black plastic after Halloween and let the sun bake it until May 1st. Better than a tumbler, and costs only $5 every few years.

44 Sixpicker { 03.16.11 at 10:46 am }

Our last frost date is 5/1, I use the Almanac to pick the best planting days after that. Never failed me. And, should the earth start spinning in the opposites direction and it would, $5 of plastic sheet, loosely folded in thirds (to trap air) and held to the ground with rocks (Colorado’s #1 cash crop) will keep my maters safe. It’s how i still get them for Halloween.

45 Mike in Maine { 05.27.10 at 4:05 pm }

My whole garden is in I started my garden in the end of april and most of it is up and growing and might Isay is all doing well. my friend says there will be a frost on the 28th of May I have my plastic and I am waiting. Good luck to all of you this year

46 Natalie L { 05.21.10 at 4:00 pm }

My Grandfather always planted his garden on Memorial Day. He always had a strong, beautiful garden; producing enough to supply the summer vegetables and can for the winter months. He lived in the Poconos all his life. (1800′s to1950′s)

47 Jean { 05.18.10 at 3:12 pm }

We have at least two cold spells. They happen when the spirea bloom, it gets really cold, and then again when the blackberries bloom which is called blackberry winter. After that planting seems to be alright, at least here in north central Missouri

48 John Walker { 05.13.10 at 9:10 pm }

I usually have my plant beds and garden cleaned out and turned over by mid January, I turn them every other week till planting, This is for western North Carolina, I put in root crops about 2 weeks before Easter, anything that is really suceptable I start inside and keep them there till the ground feels warm to the touch about 6 inches down (thats usually mid May), The plants from inside I put outside all day 3 days then 24-7 for 3 days, This acclimates them and I have rarely had trouble, but then I also keep cover for the tender plants available till June.

49 steve { 05.13.10 at 7:01 am }

In Michigan, my dad always said not to plant until after the first full moon in June. It’s always seemed to work for me.

50 Mary { 05.12.10 at 9:22 pm }

In Montana it is wise to wait for the June frost. It’s sure to come! Then everything is ready to plant. Plant root crops on Good Friday and everything else mid June.

51 jane kelly { 05.12.10 at 8:27 pm }

I wait until the nights are warm to plant tomatoes..usually mid may or later,

52 sandi white { 05.12.10 at 5:27 pm }

I live in the deep South and we plant any time from Feb. to Nov. But for frost tender crops we start in April, this “spell” is what we call ” Blackberry Winter” , the time when Blackberries and roses are in full bloom.

53 Priscilla { 05.12.10 at 12:55 pm }

I was raised in the south and my grandfather always said DO NOT PLANT TIL AFTER EASTER. I hold to that even now. Some say as soon as pecan trees start to bud out then the last frost has hit and is safe. I get the beds ready early and then wait, when the frost comes it usually kills any weeds or unwants that might have come to visit.

54 Wildfyre { 05.12.10 at 11:35 am }

I grew up in Alaska where we didn’t plant until late May for sure.. and most often not until early June. I remember one year we got 29″ of snow in less than 24 hours on St Patrick’s day. March and April were always out of the question for planting.
I have a hard time shaking those habits now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, but I try to get everything planted by the last week in May. Many of my neighbors start planting in late March though.

55 jdseippel { 05.12.10 at 10:33 am }

I always plant by the Moon Guide, this year I’ve put in a few things in this April. So far they are donig great, I’ll finish my planting this month. I will put in my Fall crop in by the Moon sign guide also this way I can enjoy my Garden as long as possible. Here is a tip to cut down on having to do alot of weeding after you have got you soil ready use, Landscaping Fabric over your soil, cut an “X” in it to plant your Plants and seeds this will cut down on weeding your whole Garden.

56 Liberty's Ledge { 05.12.10 at 9:33 am }

I too am from Maine and we have notoriously unpredictable weather and frost when you least expect it. Back in the 80s, and I can’t remember the exact year, it snowed 6 inches on May 21st. The snow didn’t last long but it was here long enough to devistate some of the early planter’s crops. As a rule most of us local hobbiests and commercial growers alike wait until Memorial day weekend and into the following first week of June, just to be safe. Never seen a frost in June that ammounted to squat. Mid to late August can be interesting around these parts with frost as well, but that’s a story for another time.

57 dragnlaw { 05.12.10 at 9:19 am }

In Canada, Ontario & Quebec areas, I was taught not to plant before the Queen’s birthday – officially the 24th of May.

58 Jim in Indy { 05.12.10 at 9:05 am }

No waiting, when April rolls around I start the gardens – and when there are cold snaps that what hoops houses and water jackets are for!

59 John Yellowbird { 05.12.10 at 9:03 am }

I usualy plant after the first of june to make sure that my plants are frost free ..I have heard of the three ice men also I have heard of the 3 shadows of spring (from My people )

60 Patti { 05.11.10 at 5:29 pm }

We lived in northern Wisconsin so the “Three Icemen” was indeed well known. My Mom was a big gardener and subscribed to the “don’t plant until after the last full moon of May” doctrine. It worked every year.

However, that’s not to say that she didn’t jump-the-gun a bit if we got an early spring. The sun-warmed soil of an early spring could seduce any gardener, seasoned or newbie, to stick in just a few onions or something. Did her hopeful gardening cost her a few vegetables when the mid-May snow inevitably came? Sure. Would she ever stop her early hopeful planting? Never. Time spent digging in her garden, regardless of yield, is time well spent. Thanks for giving me a few moments to remember Mom in her garden in those first days of spring, before the snow came again.

61 TheMaineMan { 05.10.10 at 7:41 pm }

It certainly depends on what I’m planting. My average last frost is in mid-May, so I usually wait until Memorial Day to plant frost-sensitive plants while I plant more frost-hardy plants in the last week of April or early May. My spinach is already popping up!

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