Helen Grundmann Garden Design

Signs of Spring


skunk cabbage signs of spring

Skunk Cabbage flowering in early spring in wet woodland areas

Emerging Signs of Spring 2016

Many of the first signs of spring are commonly recognized: crocus pushing up through light snow, emerging daffodil greens, forsythia blooms and lacy willow branches. But you have to look closely for some of the more intriguing ‘early risers’ – some are desirable native perennials and some early spring weeds.

Unlike humans who set our alarm clocks to awake at a set time, Mother Nature wakes up from her winter slumber slowly, stretching one appendage at a time, sometimes sleeping in late and sometimes getting up quite early. This looks to be a year of early rising.

One spring event that you CAN set your watch to is the Philadelphia Flower Show, which I attended earlier this month. Each year’s theme challenges gardeners’ horticultural and artistic skills, resulting in an enlightening spectacle for us, the visitors.

Philadelphia Flower Show 2016 signs of spring

Exploring America was the theme of the 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show

After capturing Skunk Cabbage in the wet woods of Voorhees State Park, I was thrilled to see this framed rendering of Skunk Cabbage at the flower show. If you come across this early spring wildflower, be careful not to step on it or you’ll understand how it gets its name. Its putrid smell actually discourages animals from nibbling its leaves and disturbing its muddy surrounding habitat. Even though rather vile to most, bees and flies are attracted to the smell as it provides an early season pollen source.

skunk cabbage-framed picture signs of spring

Artist portrait of Skunk Cabbage

And one of the more pernicious signs of spring is Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsute, (also known as winter bittercress). Errrr… this is one weed that tries even the most patient gardener. It’s an annual that is widely adapted to thrive in dry, disturbed areas, as well as in moist conditions. The plants that began growing in February and March are from seeds sown last fall. It is blooming now and nearly ready to spread its seeds again. This is a weed that you should be passionately pulling before its small seeds pods begin popping and perpetuating season-long ire.

Hairy Bittercress (or winter bittercress) is a sign of spring

Hairy Bittercress (or winter bittercress) is a pernicious garden weed

Hairy bittercress is actually edible and there are some who enjoy adding it to salads for a spicy “bamm”. Whether you consider it friend or foe, however, it must be managed in that a single plant can spray out 600-1000 seeds. The key is pulling bittercress before it sets seed. These trigger-happy seedpods can really wreak havoc in the cracks of stone walkways, as well as your landscape beds.

hairy bittercress seed pods signs of spring

Pull these weeds BEFORE their seed pods spray thousands of seeds throughout your garden beds

Another sure sign of spring is the sound of Spring Peepers. What sounds like a choir of crickets is actually the call of small 1 ½” long marshland frogs – always one of my most favorite sounds that spring is here!


spring peeper frog sign of spring

Spring Peepers singing are a sure sign of spring

If you missed a good fall cleanup, which helps keep bittercress and many other weeds under control without the use of toxic herbicides, it’s important to get out now to do a thorough spring cleanup. If you are ready for a good spring clean up, please call us at (908) 285-1281. We’re here for you!

Also email me with any garden questions at: I’d love to hear from you!

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