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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

What is Dogwood Winter?

What is Dogwood Winter?

Spring can be an unpredictable time of year, with warm, summer-like conditions one day and snow the next. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that the weather will remain hospitable when — WHAM! — a freak cold snap hits and reminds you that winter only ended a few weeks ago.

Much like Indian summer — a period of unseasonable warmth in the middle of autumn — these periods of springtime cold have a name. Actually, they have several names. The “little winters” in the middle of spring are called variously Dogwood Winter, Blackberry Winter, Locust Winter, Whippoorwill Winter, Redbud Winter, and a few other regional variations.

Though predictable, the climb from cold of winter to the warmth of summer and back again is not completely smooth. Small “blips” in the overall pattern reveal noticeable fluctuations that can be observed from year to year. These blips are called singularities in weather lingo. For a singularity to be recognized, it has occur during at least 50% of years. Indian Summer is long-established singularity. Dogwood Winter is another.

But why is it called Dogwood Winter, or any of those other names, for that matter? Today, we keep track of the passing of the year with a calendar. If you want to know when the last frost of the year is likely to be, you can simply look up the date in your Farmers’ Almanac. Our ancestors, though, didn’t have calendars to consult. Instead, they relied on the signs of nature around them.

Dogwood Winter usually falls during late April or early May, right around the time the dogwood trees start blooming in many regions. Farmers knew it wasn’t safe to plant their crops until after the dogwoods bloomed.

Likewise, it takes a few days of cold weather to stimulate blackberry canes to start growing, which is why Blackberry Winter is another popular term for this weather phenomenon. Locust trees and redbud trees are also seen as harbingers of a spring cold spell. Which name you choose depends on which kind of tree is most abundant in your neck of the woods.

One largely forgotten term for a patch of cold during the springtime is Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter. “Linsey-Woolsey britches” is an old a nickname for long johns, usually spun from a combination of linen and wool. This end-of-spring cold snap marked the day when the Linsey-Woolsey britches could be packed away for the season.

No matter what you call it, if you have a garden — or even if you just plan on packing away those winter sweaters — you’ll do well to remember that Dogwood Winter could still be waiting to catch optimistic sun lovers unprepared!

25 comments

1 Rita { 05.16.14 at 9:10 am }

In Appalachia we have first the Sarvis Winter…the Sarvis tree bears small clusters of white flowers and grows on the mountain sides and in the fall produces edible fruit like a date that can be boiled and used for Colic….then we have redbud winter, then dogwood, then blackberry winter….some claim a Locust Winter at the last.

2 Tanya { 05.01.14 at 9:24 am }

The last little”winter” we have here in central E TN is Whippoorwill winter. It is generally warm and nice the rest of the season once you hear the Whippoorwills singing at night. That’s when I move jackets and sweaters to the back of the closet :)

3 Patricia Fancher { 04.25.14 at 1:40 pm }

as for the number of small winters we have here in South Central Ky, we have more like 7. The last one being stump, a few weeks after blackberry. It is said, that the old folks called it stump because the stumps where the only things left to burn on those cool mornings. I can’t remember one of them, but right off hand I can recall 6. Linen britches, Red bud, Dog wood, Locus, Black berry, ??? & Stump. As for as Frost and cold, I can remember it snowing on the first Saturday of May (Derby Day).

4 jacob roberts { 04.25.14 at 8:53 am }

im from south louisiana here whoop whoop! we go threw all of the seasons weather conditions in one day around here sometimes! you can start tomatoes an other plants that cant handle frost inside. but i was always told never put them in the ground till the day after easter thats the last frost. and the 20yrs farming and ovserving the last frost is always easter sunday, it mite get chilly but never a frost. 4/25/14 8:00am here in baton rouge and its 70* degrees feelin good around here

5 Mary { 04.25.14 at 5:48 am }

My grandfather waited until Good Friday to plant veggies. Didn’t matter what day it fell on.

6 Pamela Sue { 04.25.14 at 4:06 am }

In N.E. Mn. we have no dogwood, locusts, or blackberry patches to speak of. Here, no telling when we’ll get past the fluctuating cold snaps. We just call it “spring”. Works for us!

7 LRH { 04.17.14 at 10:54 am }

If I was made king for a day or given such supernatural powers along those lines (genie in a bottle etc), this is one of the first things I’d change about the world. I absolutely cannot STAND spring-time cold snaps. To me, once March 20th arrives, there should not be another single solitary cold day again at all whatsoever until late October or November. The “roller coaster” weather of spring drives me crazy.

I like warm weather, but I understand Nov – Mar being cold, that’s winter after all, so I accept that. However, once spring is here, then in my mind, that means winter is over and so should every last bit of the cold weather too, ALL of it. It should stop right on the DOT when spring gets here, and never appear again. For it to do otherwise, it feels like you’re being cheated out of warm weather you have every right to expect. My friend, who likes it cold, says the same thing about freak 80 degree days in December, and I actually agree with him. Let spring be a gradual warm-up from winter (no “peaks and valleys” just a straight linear climb up), summer be hot, autumn be the reverse of spring (again, a straight linear experience, but a slope down vs a climb up), and winter be cold. Period. No exceptions. Ever.

8 mike douglas { 04.15.14 at 8:45 pm }

my mom who grew up in wears valley when there was just a dirt road running thru , always told me, what ever you wear after the 1st of may won’t hurt you, I guess that was after the long johns were put away

9 Sue { 04.13.14 at 5:51 pm }

Can any one tell me what all the names are like Dog wood winter, Indian summer, etc.? Thanks

10 rhonda { 04.01.14 at 10:12 pm }

…the legend of the dogwood goes something like this:….The blooms have 4 petals, forming a cross…..on the tip of the petals are brownish marks that represent the wounds that our SAVIOR received before dying on the cross……the red berries that form in the center represent HIS blood and the berries are the seeds that reproduce and form more dogwoods..(similar to reproducing more Christians)……the legend says the dogwood tree used to be large, but after the crucifixion, the tree never grew large enough to be used as a cross………………here in TN we have so many dogwood trees in the wild that it looks like snow when they are in bloom……

11 bubba { 03.24.14 at 9:53 am }

I think there needs to be alot more added to it, since winter just kepts lingering on & on, like dandelion winter ,moss winter, grass winter, and then just plain ol’ it’s just stubborn winter.

12 S Yarbeo { 03.18.14 at 10:24 am }

Linsey-Woolsey britches winter

13 Flowersrpeople2 { 03.16.14 at 6:47 pm }

Anyone know the name of the old short winter that is like britches winter? It may also have the word Virginia in it. I cannot recall.

14 james byard { 04.25.13 at 1:10 pm }

MY grandfather told me 40 yrs ago that is was redbud, dogwood blackberry, then locust was the last little winter. locust bloom first or second week of may. after the 10th of may it is safe to plant anything that frost might hurt. Ihave never heard of strawberry winter, but i like it.

15 Karen { 04.11.13 at 12:10 pm }

Here in Ohio I have always been told that it goes in three’s. First Dogwood winter, Then redbud winter and then finally blackberry Winter which usually happens around Mother’s Day. Never put your tomato’s in the ground untill after Mother’s day.

16 Mary Thatcher { 03.27.12 at 11:46 am }

When I was growing up my dad would never take down the coal stove for the summer until after Blackberry winter which was always in May in Wirt Co WV

17 Linda { 05.18.11 at 7:32 pm }

My great uncle always said to wait til the last full moon to plant crops. probally in May or early June. Many years ago he planted his garden too early and had to plant a second time. I live in Loudon N.H. which is sometimes cold. I have never heard of the dogwood. I guess I will have to buy one and let it tell me when to plant.

18 Roxye Milby { 05.18.11 at 9:28 am }

The last cold snap is called stump winter. You have used all your wood & it turns off cold so you get part of a old stump to burn…

19 Ronnie { 05.11.11 at 9:40 am }

I never heard of “Dogwood Winter” before but I’m familiar with Blackberry Winter and also “Strawberry Winter” which is what I call cool snaps that come around Mid-May in this area.

20 Lynn { 05.04.11 at 9:56 am }

Agreed about winters & names – here in North Georgia – we also have the Easter Cold Snap…and no matter when Easter comes – we have that cold snap – isn’t God cool! Right now, the dogwood blooms have been long gone and this week May 4, 2011 – we are finishing up with Blackberry Winter – the hot summer is coming! So grateful for the coolness for our neighbors in Ringgold & surrounding areas that are working hard to get some kind of normalcy in their lives since the tornadoes came thru.

21 tony cahill { 04.29.11 at 1:49 am }

well agree with mark all the way do we know what the leaves on the dogwoods mean i was allways told that what kind of wood that they sacrificed our savior on am i right , the red on the leaves repasents blood am i right.

22 Stanley Dashwood Green { 04.27.11 at 11:51 am }

It has been to my knowledge that the Dogwood requires a lot of care.

23 Jaime McLeod { 04.27.11 at 9:58 am }

Hi Mark,
Yes, that’s the idea. The “winter” is named for whatever is in bloom.

24 Maranatha! Mark { 04.27.11 at 9:41 am }

I agree with most of what you say in the article, but typically, here in Western Kentucky, these cold snaps are named for whatever happens to be in bloom: Dogwood Winter – cold snap while dogwoods blooms; Blackberry Winter while Blackberries are in bloom, and so forth and so on. Typically, all “winters” – cold snaps names end with the first day of Summer. At least that is the way I understand it.

25 Jessica { 04.27.11 at 8:55 am }

You are right on with this. Farmers Almanac called the last frost date for our area as 4/26/11. Today as I pulled down the driveway I gladly took notice of the blooming dogwoods that were not there on yesterdays ride down. Beauty at it’s finest.

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