Throw away your ear muffs, the first harbinger of spring has arrived - news releases from various garden clubs in the South announcing spring house and garden tours.

Traditionally, the first of the garden clubs to launch the season have been the women from Natchez, Miss. They are now holding their annual (since 1932) Natchez Pilgrimage through April 2.It features daylight tours of 30 antebellum homes, where guides in hoopskirts show visitors through the antique-laden dwellings. Visitors are also able to take part in candlelight tours three evenings a week when five additional houses are open. On Friday, Saturday, Monday and Wednesday nights, the Confederate Pageant, depicting scenes of the Old South, is presented.

As with most of the other house and garden hours presented throughout the South, there is a charge - ranging from $5 to $10 - for the tours. Proceeds go for the restoration and preservation of the antebellum homes.

New Orleans holds its 42nd annual Spring Fiesta from March 31 through April 18. Besides a Night in Old New Orleans parade March 31, and art exhibits, visitors will be able to visit elegant French Quarter townhouses and cottages, some dating back to 1790; the Georgian and Greek revival mansions of the city's garden district; take weekend bus tours to plantations along the Mississippi; and walk through gardens filled with azaleas, oleander, crepe myrtle and amaryllis. (Write Spring Fiesta Association, 529 St. Ann St., New Orleans, La. 70166).

Savannah, Ga., holds its 43nd annual Tour of Homes and Gardens from April 2 through April 5. The tour features visits to private residences, house museums and gardens. Special events include a candlelight dinner, an evening on the waterfront including a tour of the ships of the Sea Museum and a tour of the Owens-Thomas House, considered one of the finest examples of regency architecture in America. (Write Tour of Homes, P.O. Box 1733, Savannah, Ga. 31401).

North Carolina's Azalea Festival gets under way at Wilmington on April 6 and runs through April 9. This will be the 31st year for the event, which will feature an Azalea Ball, a sculling tournament on the Cape Fear River, a variety show and fireworks display. Throughout the festival there will be sidewalk art and ceramic shows, tours of private gardens and special showings of "The Immortal Showboat," the sound and light spectacular at the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship Memorial. (Write Azalea Festival, P.O. Box 51, Wilmington, N.C. 28401).

Virginia's Historic Garden Week, which has been held for 45 years, is scheduled this year from April 22 through April 30.This time the event will have activities in 34 areas of the state.

There will be daylight tours, candlelight tours and home-cooked lunches prepared by local church and community groups. Plantation tours will include visits to Brandon Plantation, a river estate where the gardens extend to the water's edge. Escorted walking tours through intimate gardens will be a highlight of the Williamsburg tour.

Among the dwellings open to visitors will be the Executive Mansion in Richmond.

All in all, almost 200 private homes and gardens will be open for the springtime event. The Garden Club of Virginia has restored the grounds and gardens of 25 Virginia's most historic landmarks with the proceeds from Historic Garden Week.