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Is it spring yet?

It depends on what system of timing you are using. If you go by the Chinese calendar, it has been spring for over six weeks now. If you go by the western calendar spring starts tomorrow. In my opinion, the Chinese calendar is a more helpful guide for gardening than our western calendar.

In the Chinese calendar the season of spring is represented by the wood element; more specifically by the three zodiac animals Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon. The season of spring begins with the Tiger month and ends with the Dragon month. There are many other meanings associated with these branches in addition to the seasons.

Yang Wood Tiger Month: February 4 2013-March 4 2013

The first day of spring in the Chinese calendar is always the first day of the Tiger month and occurs February 4th or 5th depending on the year. This date also marks the beginning of the new year. When you’re thinking of travelling, renovating, remodeling or digging in the garden this is the important date if you don’t want to stir up trouble for yourself.

The main element of the Tiger branch is Yang wood or Jia which symbolizes the strong and brave energy coming up from the root and breakiing the soil, resurrecting itself after the yin season of winter. Using this date to mark the beginning of spring makes so much sense to me as a gardener as it truly is the time when the first daring shoots push their way out of the earth.

Last year the Tiger month was Yang Water Tiger. This year the Tiger month is Yang Wood Tiger. Next year the Tiger month will be Yang Fire Tiger. Did you guess that this pattern is a result of the creative cycle of the five elements? Water makes wood, Wood makes fire, etc. If you know Five Elements theory you can predict what kind of Tiger month we will have in 2015.*

Dichelostemma ida-maia just pushing up through the earth in February

Dichelostemma ida-maia just pushing up through the earth in February

Tiger month is when the first shoots of certain bulbs poke out and flower buds appear on the woody stems of certain flowering shrubs. New shoots of hellebore will actually be poking up out of the snow in some parts of the world.

Yin Wood Rabbit Month: March 5 2013-April 3 2013

The first day of the Rabbit month in the Chinese calendar is usually March 5th or 6th and is called “Awakening of Insects”. This date marks the moment when the soil becomes warm enough for the insects to become active. Time to protect your newly growing crops or plants from the bugs that want to eat them. Around this time you’ll be able to smell the earth again. Now the weeds are starting to bloom so take it as a signal to get out, inspect everything and clean up the garden. Since the Chinese calendar was developed for an agricultural society it’s a natural fit for gardeners too.

Chaenomeles x Superba "Hollandia" with tiny leaves

Chaenomeles x Superba “Hollandia” with tiny leaves in March

Rabbit month is when the branches of deciduous trees, shrubs and other perennials are flowering or subtly swelling with buds and the tiniest of leaves. They are somehow taking up more space without yet having started obviously growing. Their appearance is a great example of yin wood or the “invisible” growth of wood that you cannot see in the moment.

In the Chinese calendar spring equinox always falls around the middle of the Rabbit month. This year March 20th is the spring equinox. On the western calendar the spring equinox indicates the beginning of spring but in the Chinese calendar we are already more than halfway through the spring season. My garden agrees with the Chinese calendar.

Yang Fire Dragon Month: April 4 2013-May 4 2013

The last month of the spring season is the Dragon month which starts on April 4th or 5th each year. The first day of the Dragon month is called Tomb Sweeping day. This is a day to go outside and enjoy the beauty of the season as well as cleaning up the graves of your ancestors. If that’s not your style maybe picking up trash in your neighborhood is in order.

The main element of the Dragon branch is Wu or Yang Earth. Each season is finished off by a transitional “earth” period; for spring it’s the Dragon, for summer it’s the Sheep (July); for fall it’s the Dog (October) and for winter it’s the Ox (January).

The Dragon branch is also called “wood storage” and marks the last month of spring.

The delicate yellow green of the Japanese laceleaf maple "Viridis" will darken slightly in summer

The delicate yellow green of the Japanese laceleaf maple “Viridis” will darken slightly in summer

In Dragon month most of the early blooming spring things have lost their glory but nothing much has arrived yet to take their place. Deciduous trees and perennials show lush foliage but are retaining their pale youthfulness. The delicate color of the new growth has not darkened yet.

*It will be a Yang Earth Tiger Month in February 2015.

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