According to the Department’s Natural Events Calendar, April 15 is the average day of last frost in central Missouri, where I live. That can be an important date for landscapers, gardeners or even folks with houseplants who would like to give them the rejuvenating effects of time outside. There was frost here on the morning of April 9 so that average frost-free date won’t be too far off, unless we get a really late frost this year.
Because our lives are somewhat insulated from the natural world, we often depend on calendars to tell us when tender vegetation is safe from the cold. Missouri’s wild plants and animals are not the least bit insulated from the natural world; they are right there in it every day of the year. Using their own internal calendars, carried in their genetic codes, the spring peepers have started peeping and the redbuds have opened their flowers each spring for millennia. Wildlife and plants respond to cues such as air, water, and soil temperatures and to less noticeable changes in day length as spring progresses. That’s not to say that a late freeze doesn’t occasionally catch plants and wildlife in vulnerable situations.
The other day I read that the whip-poor-will’s reproductive cycle is synchronized to coincide with moonlit nights during the time that it must be foraging for insects to feed its nestlings. The birds forage at night and catch their prey using their vision, which is best when the moon is bright. So that species schedules its courtship so that finding food will be easier when there are young mouths to feed. Now that’s adaptation to the natural world! It gives new meaning to the old practice of “planting by the signs.”
Spring is a series of new beginnings, with some new plant blooming or animal stirring every day. Mid-April will see snakes leaving dens, toads beginning to call, Juncos leaving for Canada and largemouth bass spawning. The clock starts on the growing season and the natural world hustles to go about producing another generation before the fall ushers in colder and shorter days. Whether you use your natural calendar or a man-made one, you should be getting the message now that spring is well-underway and freezing temperatures are probably gone until mid-October. Whatever projects you planned to accomplish when the cold weather passed, you can start now.