The spring equinox occurred in southeastern Wisconsin at 4:58 p.m. Wednesday, with nearly equal daylight and darkness, not to mention the last super moon of the year. According to EarthSky, those two events have not occurred this closely together since the year 2000. What does the equinox mean for us?
If, like me, you are ready for warmer temperatures, blossoming trees and bulbs and those pesky seasonal allergies, you won’t have too much longer to wait. In fact, you have probably already sighted crocus and snowdrops poking their sleepy heads out of the ground. The vernal equinox, which marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, is a very special “holiday” for many gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts. I might also add that it is of special import to those of us who live in the areas of the country that have long, dark, cold winters.
The spring equinox is the precise moment in time that the sun’s most direct (and strongest) rays shine on Earth’s equator before crossing into our Northern Hemisphere. The spring equinox is the time when the Earth’s axis is not tilted toward or away from the sun. (The other time this happens is at the fall equinox.) As a result of this event, we experienced approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness, and our days will start getting a bit longer each day until the summer solstice on June 21, the longest day of the year.
While “equinox” means “equal night,” we actually saw a bit more light than darkness yesterday. The day that sunrise and sunset was exactly 12 hours apart was the “equilux,” which occurred last Sunday, March 17. Each year around the time of the spring equinox, we experience daylight increasing faster than at any other time of the year. In fact, in our area of the country we are experiencing an increase of about 2 minutes, 49 seconds each day. This means by the end of March, we will have 12½ hours of daylight each day. Those of us who battle Seasonal Affective Disorder should start feeling the symptoms decrease with each passing day.
With our longer days and as the sun climbs higher in the sky, temperatures will also start to rise. So while we all know it is too early to pack away our winter gear, we can rest assured that the wintry weather days are limited and cabin fever will soon be on its way.
Now that the sun will warm us for more than 12 hours each day, we know spring weather will soon consistently follow. If you’ve done all your preparation work for gardening season, and ordered/purchased all those new seeds and plants for the first planting of the year, then you are ready to go. If not, there’s still time to start the seedlings and prepare for the most wonderful time of the gardener’s year. Experts suggest that we not plant anything in the ground until the soil temperatures warm up a bit — usually toward the end of May. Cool crops like broccoli and spinach that you should be starting indoors at the end of March until mid-April can be transplanted to the garden in early May, and some seeds like pumpkins and sweet corn can be directly sown in mid-May. Generally speaking, however, it is usually safest for your new vegetable and perennial plants to wait until late May and even into early June … as difficult as that may seem.
In this instance, as is usually the case, patience is a virtue and we’ll benefit greatly — as will our gardens — if we pay attention to the calendar and not just the temperatures. But take heart! Winter weather is on its way out, and spring weather is quickly going to be our new norm.
It is truly the most wonderful time of the year!
Rae Punzel is a Kenosha writer and horticulturalist. She owns Bennu Organics, a horticulture services and consulting business. Contact her at email@example.com.