Understanding spring phenology changes in response to the rapid climate change at biome-level is crucial for projecting regional ecosystem carbon exchange and climate–biosphere interactions. In this study, we assessed the long-term changes and responses to changing climate of the spring phenology in six temperate biomes of China by analyzing the global inventory monitoring and modeling studies (GIMMS) NOAA/AVHRR Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and concurrent mean temperature and precipitation data for 1982–2006. Results show that the spring phenology trends in the six temperate biomes are not continuous throughout the 25 year period. The spring phenology in most areas of the six biomes showed obvious advancing trends (ranging from −0.09 to −0.65 day/yr) during the 1980s and early 1990s, but has subsequently suffered consistently delaying trends (ranging from 0.22 to 1.22 day/yr). Changes in spring (February–April) temperature are the dominating factor governing the pattern of spring vegetation phenology in the temperate biomes of China. The recently delayed spring phenology in these temperate biomes has been mainly triggered by the stalling or reversal of the warming trend in spring temperatures. Results in this study also reveal that precipitation during November–January can explain 16.1% (P < 0.05), 20.9% (P < 0.05) and 14.2% (P < 0.05) of the variations in temperate deciduous forest (TDF), temperate steppe (TS), temperate desert (TD) respectively, highlighting the important role of winter precipitation in regulating changes in the spring vegetation phenology of water–limited biomes.