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Who Are The Three Ice Men?

Perhaps you’ve heard the old proverb that warns not to plant until after the “Three Ice Men” have passed, but do you know who these mysterious Ice Men are? We explain.

Perhaps you’ve heard the old proverb that warns not to plant until after the “Three Ice Men” have passed, but do you know who these mysterious Ice Men are? The tradition comes from Northern Europe, and is tied to the successive feasts of St. Mamertus, St. Pancras, and St. Servatius, whose respective days occur on May 11, 12, and 13. They are also sometimes referred to as the “Three Chilly Saints.”

Who Are The Three Ice Men?

In Europe’s not-too-distant past, parts of the continent remained rather cold through the middle of May, making planting before then risky. German and Swiss lore refers to mid-May as “Iceman Days,” while an old French saying states “Saint Mammertius, Saint Pancratius and Saint Gervatius (the Francophone spelling of the three saints’ names) do not pass without a frost.” Because the agrarian people of medieval Europe weren’t likely to be literate, let alone aware of calendar dates, they measured time by observing nature and by the church calendar.

Remembering that the last frost of the year generally falls around the feast of Servatius was a useful marker for pre-modern farmers.

More “Chilly Saints” Lore

In some regions, the lore goes on to note that rain will fall on Feast of St. Sophia, marking the beginning of planting season. For this reason, May 15 is referred to as “Zimna Zoska,” or “Cold Sophia” in Poland.

One point of interest is that this bit of lore dates back to before the creation of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, at which time most days of the year shifted somewhat. While the feasts of the Three Chilly Saints are still celebrated from May 11-13 on our calendar, these days used to fall a little later in the astronomical year—from May 19-22.

Do you wait until after the Ice Men to plant your garden in spring?  Or maybe you follow the Mother’s Day Rule? Let us know in the comments below.

Check out our Gardening by the Moon Calendar for best days to plant…

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.

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Mike S.

Here in N. Georgia, I usually start around Good Friday. This year I’m running late because of a few cold nights.

Carol J

My Dad referred to this time as “Iron Men” sometime around the first week or so of May. I believe it was a Bohemian (Czeck) tradition. He was always right, we get nasty weather in St . Louis the first week or so in May. I never put out tender plants until after Mother’s Day.

Mary Jo Digel

People laugh when I mention the three ice men but this is really a fairly accurate gauge of the weather. At least here in mid Ohio. Mother said to never plant before May 20.

Mary

I’m in Wisconsin. My parents and grandmother never planted until after the three ice men days either. So I don’t either.

carneg

I always plant after memorial day to be safe. Bringing the seedlings out on nice day before then. But for tomatoes and beans in direct ground with other seeds squash etc. Works for me in CT

Terri

Illinois resident here. My father was a farmer all of his life and always told us to wait until after May 15th to plant our above ground crops.

Skiff Hair

We here in South Carolina, tend to not plant our outside plants, tomatoes, peppers and such, until after the Masters golf tournament. That is usually our last frost. This year seems to be a little different. I have covered my outside plants, just in case!

Jane Zentz

Mother’s Day Rule & the Farmers Almanac!

Marianne Allbright

In the past I’ve always used the mother’s day rule but since we’re supposed to have lows below 40 through Tuesday I think I’ll wait until the 14th this year to plant -which is the next good planting day according to the FA gardening calendar.

Linda

My dad was a farmer in Illinois & swore by not planting a garden until after May 15, the last frost free day.

Cliff

I set out my onion sets in mid March and tomatoes,beans and peppers the last week in May in North East Ohio

donna

i always planted after last frost which was april 15th in hampton virginia. but with the way the weather has been lately, i haven’t even planted seeds in my flower garden.

Pam

I live in Michigan and never plant my warm weather plants until Memorial weekend. That’s the way my grandparents did it.

Bob

Better to be later then early, it’s all the same in the end. Miss those days.

masterredfox

I knew there was a reason why I couldn’t really start up a patio container garden until the end of May, the start of June even though the sites I was ordering from claimed that my grow section was earlier. I would order later which limited my selections. I will remember this to use these dates as the start of the growing season in my area, especially since on this upcoming weekend May 8-10th, 2020, we are having March temperatures which also continue through until May 15th, 2020. Sometimes these proverbs are based on real circumstances.

.Lorraine

Here in Canada we wait until the long weekend . Victoria day in Canada May 18th this year . Much to cold before that . Had snow today may,8,2020.

penny bryant

My grandfather always said to wait until after the May full moon (here in Maine). He was a gardener for many years, and I don’t recall him ever complaining that a frost got his crops. I have always followed his gardening advice and have not been disappointed.

martha

My grandmother used to tell of a year in Rockford, IL (very northern part of IL) when there was a killing frost every month of the year. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the year, but I think it must have been early in the 1900s as her children were born from 1902-1912. Very hard to deal with as she grew, canned and preserved most of their food for the winter. Hard times…..

Linda

In many years past here in New England, Memorial Day weekend was the time to plant. But in more recent years planting has been a week or so sooner due to warmer weather. But as with so many others we have snow coming this winter. That’s what’s unusual!

Peg

I live in the foothills of the Adirondacks, central NY, and my 93 year old mother has never planted anything until after Memorial Day. Her gardens have always been beautiful.

Wilma

Your perennials will probably come out of it OK. Annuals probably won’t survive.

Judy

I usually wait for first of May here in the STL area but planted early bc I was at home! But now there’s a frost warning tonight!

Mary Evans

I’m north of Troy, Mo and planted early this year also. I was home so I had plenty of time to get it done. Covered everything and nothing got frostbite!

Rosemary

I live in NE Ohio. We are in for some snow accumulations tonight and a freeze warning. At this time of year, our meteorologists usually caution not to plant until after May 20th when we usually are safe from frost.

TT

Always the Mother’s Day Rule! My parents did too. It’s only been 1 time in my 65 years I’ve had to cover the plants.

Elizabeth

I live in Colorado. Last year I didn’t plant my garden until June 6th.

monicahess

In Kentucky we often hear that we should wait until after Derby Day (first Saturday in May) to plant our tomatoes. This year we’ve had a frost and are having a freeze tonight, a week after Derby Day…although we really didn’t get a Derby Day due to Covid 19. Confusing times.

Wanda

My biologist husband always says to wait until after Mother’s Day. This year, 2020 I definitely have to as this weekend is dipping into the 30’s at night here in SE Pennsylvania.

Debbiehalberg

Around mother’s day where I live.

Jacqueline Stickney

Because we can never trust the weather in Michigan, I don’t plant until Memorial Day. It’s safer then.

Jenifer Wilde

I ALWAYS plant by the Farmers Almanac no matter what region I live in….Usually by Mothers Day is my rule. Although some years it has been St. Pattys day

Suzanne

I live in central Wisconsin and always wait until after the 20th-22nd of May to plant.

Rachel

We live in New England and we always plant on mother’s day

Cabango Bongo

I live just outside of Chicago – we have daffodils and some tulips now. I’m planting my sunflowers and peas and beans next week.

Robert Herndon

In Tennessee, many say not to plant before April 15th, however unless it is a cabbage-like plant, I will not plant before the first week in May. Down here, we have “Whipoorwill Storm”, “Redbud Winter”, “Dogwood Winter”, “Locust Winter”, the Easter cold snap, and “Blackberry Winter”. Most springs, we have exactly enough cold snaps to fit these winters, but sometimes we have to add some. The last one, “Blackberry Winter”, usually marks the last one where it’s safe to plant which is right after the first week in May.

Dianna Ebat

I live in the front range of Colorado. I find it best to wait until after Memorial day to put out plants. I suppose seeds can be covered, but I don’t like disappointment when we have either snow or hail around memorial day and all the efforts are ruined in a split second.

Janet VanCamp

I’m from Ely, Nevada where it’s always cold. Someone will always try to plant Memorial Weekend, and if by some miracle plants sprout they will always get it when our final freeze comes in the middle of June. We have an amazingly short growing season here. Our early freeze comes early to middle September.

Faye Bancroft

We live in central lower michigan, and usually have a killing frost in early may. I start seedlings in april, but nothing gets planted in my garden until June 1.

Fillus

Here in northern Kentucky (Louisville) we generally wait until after the Derby. Kentucky Derby that is. It is notorious for any kind of weather….rain, tornado’s, snow and even sunshine. Derby falls on the first Saturday in May so it is safe to wait until after Derby day.

alice

I start seeds inside in late February and use cold frames and this year an unheated greenhouse for my plants. Here in northern Michigan I have had tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, peas and cucumber plants in the ground. They must be covered well at night. All good so far.

CarolK

Here in central NJ its usually safe to plant the garden on or after May 15 when threat of killing frost is over. I start tomatoes and green beans in peat pots on the deck so that they can be readily covered in case the temps drop too low over night.

Kathy H

We live in the Panhandle of Florida and can usually start planting early to mid March. There is always one frost during Spring Break before Easter.

Jack Carrigab

We live in Wisconsin & today my car temperature was 46 degrees & it was cold & rainy, so I expect the 3 Icemen to show up around the 11-13 of May… By the way, I cancelled my golf game for today… Too chilly for me today…. The King…

Ky girl

In Kentucky we have , Redbud winter,Dogwood winter and at this time,Blackberry Winter.After this one passes we shouldn’t have to worry about any more frost.

Mandy

Yes, I do wait until after the 15th of May to plant our summer vegetables and fruits. Tennessee is notorious for the mid May frost.

Patricia Wendorf

Just planted some annual flowers, had to cover them up last night. Moving hanging baskets up to the house on the front porch. I hope we are done with the frost here mid Michigan.

Rebecca

I wish someone would have explained all of this to my perennials 🙁 not sure if they will make it through after this frost.

Ellen

Just like snow on our spring bulbs, our perennials will survive this very mild bout of chill. Although I was surprised my Concord grapes got nipped. (NE OH)

Linda

It’s the 9th of May, and it snowed here in Ottawa yesterday morning. This morning, it was 2 below zero. I always stick to the May 24th long weekend for any planting additions, and have used the planting blankets at times when the established plants may need a bit of protection from the chill.

Judy Short

Here in deep south Texas,we plant in late February or early March ,as soon as the ground is warm.Always keep row cover handy for that late freeze.And a rule we go by is when the pecan trees leaf out,there are no more freezes,and it’s safe to plant.

Nancy McGowen

We live central Nebraska and tonight my husband said something about the iceman, so I looked it up. My potatoes are up and looking good and my peas, onions. It’s about 10:30 pm and it is 35* out side, so I hope it doesn’t freeze. I’ve heard of this wise tale, but never paid much attention to it.

JLMacB

I live in British Columbia, Canada in the central interior and generally go by the lore my mother always taught me. Nothing in the ground until the 24th of May. I more than often push that window to early in May as I just can’t wait.

Vicki Sturgill

I live in north eastern Kentucky and I never plant before May 15th, although this year it thundered on the 19th day of February and therefore I will not be planting until the 19th day of May.

T Hines

Definetly depends where u live! Down south we start the end to mid of april!!!

Scott Moser

Cold hardy leafy vegies like spinach or the cabbages, no they go in as soon I I have the gumption to check the soil. Tomatoes and the rest of the veggies go in pretty much according to this lore.

George Moser

I usually wait for Mother’s Day weekend to plant in Pennsylvania!! Unless it’s beets , garlic and onions then I plant those in very early spring!!

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