In this study, we demonstrate that mid-latitude surface measurements of diurnal temperature range (DTR) can be used to reconstruct decadal variability of regional-scale terrestrial photosynthetic activity 1) during and prior to the period with satellite retrievals of land greenness and 2) without the need for moisture data. While the two relative maxima present in the seasonal evolution of DTR can determine the beginning and the end of the growing season, the summertime average DTR can be used as a proxy of summertime terrestrial photosynthesis. In a case study in the eastern United States (1966-1997), the DTR reconstructions indicate significant natural decadal variability in photosynthetic activity, but no secular, long-term trend. The summertime photosynthesis was found to be controlled primarily by moisture availability. Also, contrary to existing model parameterizations, the timing of spring onset was found to depend on both temperature and moisture.