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Junior Spring Garden Detectives

Mary Gadek, Master Gardener

Do you know a child who has wondered how we know it is finally spring in Minnesota? After the long, cold days of our Minnesota’s winter, every child eagerly awaits the arrival of warm breezes, extended daylight and splashable puddles of spring. Help that child become a Junior Spring Garden Detective by gathering clues, using some scientific observations and then searching outside to solve this mystery of spring’s arrival.

Junior Spring Garden Detectives

Calling all Junior Spring Garden Detectives! Let’s find out what the clues are to prove spring has arrived in Minnesota. Once the clues are known, pull on your rain boots and head outside to observe the evidence of spring revealed in plants, trees and creatures in our yards and parks. By using your senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste, you can solve the mystery of whether or not spring is here. 


Have you ever noticed how plants and animals suddenly emerge outside seemingly out of nowhere this time of year? The clues for the sudden change to spring are based on the fact that every plant needs air, light, water, nutrients and usually soil. When the plants appear, so do animals and other creatures.  With nutrients in the soil present, look for the three clues for the presence of spring:

  1. Air.  As spring begins, the Minnesota air temperatures increase from a chilly March average of 40.6’ F to a pleasant 70.1’ F in May. The warm air in turn gently heats up the ground where plants have been hiding all winter.  

  2. Light.  Spring brings longer days allowing our yards to bask in much needed sunlight. Daylight increases by a total of  approximately 2 hours from February to May. 

  3. Water.  A Minnesota spring means the start of more rainfall. The month of May averages 3.24 inches of rain, in comparison to February’s rainfall average of a mere .79 inches. 


Head outside to your yard or local park to find the clues of spring: warmer air, longer days and a puddle or two to splash with your boots! What evidence do you observe that the clues have encouraged spring to arrive?

Plants. The mild air temperatures, longer days and spring showers push plants to grow through the warmed soil to receive even more warmth and light.  Look for spring flowers, such as tulips, daffodils, creeping phlox, to display their bright and colorful blooms. 

Trees. Trees and bushes bud out gradually to appear on branches. Some trees and bushes, like magnolias, lilacs and forsythia, burst open their blossoms for a showy display around your neighborhood. 

Creatures. The arrival of spring invites the creatures in your yard to return from fall migration to the south, emerge from safe winter spots or awake from hibernation. Birds, like Canadian geese, wood ducks and the loon, trek back north to join the Minnesota skies in the spring. Butterflies, like the monarch, take a long two stage journey north after wintering in Mexico. Other animals, insects and birds remained in Minnesota during the winter by hibernating, or sleeping, in covered areas or hunkering down under brush and evergreens. Now, they are venturing out for food found in the newly grown seeds and plants and the worms wiggling around in the warmed soil.  With the food sources plentiful and more protective places to live, birds and animals mate during late winter or early spring. By the time their babies are born, Minnesota spring is in full swing. 


Want to prove that spring has sprung in your Minnesota yard or park? Use the worksheet below to observe for a week if the three clues of spring are present and then gather evidence to prove that spring is really here!

To reinforce the information from this article and to learn more about the concepts, here are some additional resources to explore:

  1. Follow the monarch migration:

  2. Book recommendation: Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring by Kenard Pak is a beautifully illustrated children’s book exhibiting the season of winter slowly turning into spring. Borrow from the Dakota County Library ( ISBN: 9781250151728) or buy at Amazon 



For a week in May, observe whether the three spring clues are present and if there is enough evidence to show that spring has sprung. Use your senses of sight, hear, touch, smell and taste to collect the evidence. 

                  Sun        Mon       Tues       Wed       Thurs       Fri      Sat


Air Temp

(mid day)


(# hours




**After completing the chart, ask if your findings show increased warmth, increased daylight time and some presence of rain (might be over a few weeks). If so, you know that spring is likely here in Minnesota. Collect evidence to support the spring clues, by heading outdoors to answer the following questions and using some of your senses:

  1. Do you see more birds, animals, butterflies and other creatures when you are outside? List what you see here.

  2. Do you hear birds chirping, animals chattering or insects buzzing when outside? Record what you hear here.

  3. Can you touch newly grown buds, leaves, blossoms and plants that have appeared in recent days/weeks? Jot down what you can touch.

  4. Can you smell the fragrances of new blossoms or new plants or the smell of the soil after a rainfall? Describe what you smell here.

  5. Do you see any creatures tasting the new buds, blossoms, seeds and leaves?  Report what you observe here.

Congratulations! You have solved the question of whether or not spring has arrived in Minnesota. You are now an official Junior Spring Garden Detective!

Photo Credit: Mary Gadek (1,2,3,4) & Book Jacket (5)

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