What are ‘Little Winters’?

Special Reports

(Tennessee State Library and Archives)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) —  Before the days of modern weather forecasting, Middle Tennesseans relied on folk wisdom to help them with planting crops and gardens. Predicting spring cold snaps, in particular, could make the difference between success and failure.

If you planted too early, a cold snap could undo your hard work. But waiting too long could mean not having a long enough time to grow before the first freeze. 

Redbud tree, 1953. Photo courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archive

You’ll often hear of springtime cold snaps that last just a day or two being referred to as ‘Little Winters’. There are six ‘Little Winters’ and many people here still refer to them. They are typically named according to the trees that are blooming when they occur with the exception of Whippoorwill Winter and Cotton Britches Winter. 

Locust Winter – The definition of this little winter varies from city to city. For some, it’s connected to when leaves start to appear on locust trees in early April, while others connect it to when the trees bloom in May. 

Redbud Winter – This little winter happens when a chill moves in when the redbud trees are blooming. These trees bloom Mid-March to early April.

Dogwood Winter – This little winter typically occurs Mid- to late April, when the dogwood trees are blooming. A heavy frost falls is not unusual during a dogwood winter.

Photo courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archive

Blackberry Winter – Blackberries are in full bloom from early to mid-May. For the Tennessee mountains, this often coincides with the last frost of spring, which can kill new plants. 

Whippoorwill Winter – Mid to late May, you can hear the song of the whippoorwills in the twilight of evenings and before dawn. If a chill moves in during this time of year, it’s referred to as a Whippoorwill Winter.

Cotton Britches Winter – In the past, the linsey-woolsey (linen and wool) pants worn in cold weather were put away and farmers changed to the light cotton pants of summer in late May or early June. If it got cold during this time, it was referred to as a Cotton Britches Winter.

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