October 22, 2020

Using Phenology in the Garden – Nature Tells Us When To Plant

I’ve become very interested in the concept of using phenology in the garden; AKA using natures sign’s/nature’s indicators as a guide for when to plant, prune, fertilize etc. The study of the timing of seasonal biological activity. We observe things that happen in nature, over and over again. These signs are called “phenophase”. The leafing and budding out of certain plants, the migration and nesting habits of birds, and the hibernation, mating and birthing cycle of animals.

Trees, shrubs, and flowers are sensitive to temperature and day length, and develop on a regular schedule based on local conditions. Other natural phenomena, such as bird migrations and the emergence of insects and amphibians (like spring peepers), also signify the coming of spring. It only makes sense to use these events as indicators of when the weather is right for planting.

Modern phenology is thought to have begun in the mid 18th century in Europe. The word means the study of appearances or the time that things appear in nature. Ancient cultures relied on nature’s signs to tell them when to plant, harvest, hunt and to look for certain mushrooms and when to be on the look out for certain pests and predators. Native people of the pacific northwest would use the ripening of the salmon berries to tell them when the local rivers would be full of the salmon that they relied on for their wellbeing. Farmers from the old world would wait until the apples were in blossom to put their cows out to pasture. In Canada, the appearance nettles was a sign for the indigenous people to harvest seaweed.

Now, more than ever, this can be useful for home gardeners in light of dramatic shifts in weather patterns and climate change. Find out how to plant with nature’s signs!

  • Dandelion blooms = plant potatoes, beets, brassicas, lettuce & spinach
  • Crocus blooms = plant parsnips, spinach & radish
  • Daffodil blooms = plant beets, carrots, chard and peas
  • lilacs budding out = plant beets, carrots, brassica, spinach, lettuce, cold tolerant herbs and hardy annual flowers
  • forsythia blooms = plant peas, onion sets and lettuce. fertilize the lawn, & prune roses.
  • spring peepers start peeping = plant peas
  • maple trees leaf out = plant perennial flowers
  • quince blooming = transplant cabbage and broccoli
  • Oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear = plant sweet corn and look for morel mushrooms
  • apple trees blooming = plant bush beans
  • apple blossoms fall = plant pole beans and cucumbers
  • lilacs in full bloom = transplant tender annual flowers and squashes
  • lilly of the valley in full flower = transplant tomatoes
  • bearded iris blooming = transplant peppers and eggplant
  • Daylilies blooming = transplant peppers and tomatoes
  • Peonies blooming = plant heat loving melons
  • Chickory blooming = look for squash vine borers laying eggs