Blackberry Winter: A Cold Snap Rooted in Folklore

These "Mini Winters" Often Pop Up Early in the Spring Season

Despite its name, "Blackberry Winter" has little to do with the actual winter season. Instead, it refers to a period of cold weather that follows the blooming of blackberry vines in late spring. It is one of several "little winters," or cold snaps, that occurs during springtime. 

What is a Cold Snap?

Frozen wild berries in the forest
Virginie Blanquart / Getty Images

A cold snap or cold spell is a sudden, short period of cold weather that interrupts the first warm days of spring. They occur whenever air flow in the upper atmosphere is "blocked" over high latitude locations such as Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, and the cold air is diverted over and into the contiguous U.S. (The stronger the blocking, the longer the cold snap stays.)

Because cold snaps tend to show up at similar times every March, April, and May, each is nicknamed for the plants in bloom at the time it arrives. (If you live in the eastern United States, especially in the Appalachians, chances are you've heard of these "winters" before!)

Besides Blackberry winter, which of the following cold snaps have you heard of?

Locust Winter

Locust winter is usually the first cold snap to occur in spring. It arrives in early spring, a time when you may notice winter buds, but no leaves or flowers on black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trees.

According to old-timers, locust winter is only mildly cool and is shorter-lived than some of the other cold snaps, such as Blackberry Winter (see below).

Redbud Winter

Like locust winter, redbud winter typically occurs just after the first few warm spring days of mid-March to April when the magenta pink flowers of the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) burst into fiery bloom.

Not sure how to recognize the redbud? I always say it's the tree whose flowers resemble that of a sweat pea.

Dogwood Winter

Dogwood winters usually happen around late April or early May—right around the time the dogwood trees start blooming in many regions. Their cold weather can last anywhere from a few days up to a week and can be cold enough to bring heavy frost or snow.   

Blackberry Winter

Out of all the cold snap types, Blackberry Winter is the one most folks have heard mentioned before. 

Like Dogwood Winters, Blackberry Winters happen in late spring when the flowers of the blackberry bush are in bloom. According to old- timers, Blackberry winters play a significant part in growing its namesake plant; they signal the blackberry canes to start growing.

Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter

For those of you wondering what Linsey-Woolsey britches are, you might recognize them by another name—long johns! (Linsey-Woolsey is an old nickname that caught on because these undergarments were usually made of linen and wool.)

Linsey-Woolsey winters (also known as Whippoorwill Winters) are considered the final cold spell of spring. After they occur, thermal underwear can be packed away for good. In other words, after these cold spells appear, spring cleaning can officially begin!

Protect Your Plants

Besides giving us and our outdoor pets temperature shock (our bodies must re-adjust to cold temperatures after having tasted temperatures in the 60s and 70s), cold snaps are also a danger to agriculture. As air temperatures dip, frosts and freezes can occur which can damage or kill tender vegetation that's already blooming by the recent warming weather.