Phenology, A Matter of Time

Timeless Garden

Timing is everything.  A good time, a bad time.  It’s about time.  Never enough time!  The relationship between plant and  animal life cycles and the seasonal changes in climate is called phenology, or the science of appearance.  Examples are the date of the first leaf or flower on a plant, emergence of insects and the appearance of specific migratory birds.  The National Phenology Network describes it as ‘Nature’s Calender’ which gives us vital information about health (allergens), agriculture (when to plant), recreation (wildflower displays) and climate change.  I really like the idea of tracking when my plants are blooming,  the length of bloom time and how it relates to our weather.  The  more I know about them, the more successful I will be in creating seasonal displays and caring for the plants.  If I pay attention to how plants have fared in the past, I might be better prepared for atypical weather patterns.  I’m ready to start a Sammamish, Washington phenology notebook, keeping records of bloom time and leaf emergence.  If I find the time, of course!

Here are a few proverbs and sayings that relate to phenology and the garden.

Chicago Peace Hybrid Tea Rose
Chicago Peace Hybrid Tea Rose

Prune roses when the forsythia bloom.

Plant in the dust, crops a bust.  Rain makes grain.

April Showers bring May flowers.

March…In like a lion, out like a lamb.

A dry March and a wet May, fill barns and bays with corn and hay.

If you hear ‘peeper’ frogs, it’s time to plant peas.

When the first snowdrops emerge from their foliage (but are still not open, then be sure your cabbages, kale, Brussels sprouts and collards are sprouting under lights.

When pussy willows begin to emerge, then it is time to spray fruit trees with dormant oil.

When the first knuckles of rhubarb emerge from the ground, then it’s time to plant your onion sets and seed your cold frames with spinach, radishes and lettuce.

When you see aspens in bloom in the Rocky Mountains, watch out for grizzly bears emerging from hibernation.

Tomatoes can be set out when lily of the valley are in full bloom.

Plant peppers and eggplant outside when the bearded irises are in full bloom.

When maples are beginning to unfurl their leaves, plant perennials.

When the daffodils begin to bloom, it’s time to plant peas.

When the common lilac plant has leafed out, plant lettuce, peas beets, cabbage, carrots and spinach.  When it’s flowers are in full bloom, plant beans and squash.  When it’s flowers have faded, plant cucumbers and squash.

When the flowering dogwood is in full bloom or when the daylilies start to bloom, it’s time to plant tomatoes, early corn and peppers.

Red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky at morning, sailors take warning.

Sunset over Puget Sound

3 thoughts on “Phenology, A Matter of Time

  1. You will never regret starting a project such as this. Ok, it can get a little addictive over time but just think how much you are learning by taking these wonderful observations. Please do visit my phenology blog based in the United Kingdom. The link is as follows –

    There are others out there and you can find these via my Favourite blogs link.

    Good luck and Best Wishes

    Tony Powell

    1. Thank you for your good wishes. I look forward to visiting your blog to learn more about phenology. It’s always fun to compare what’s happening in your ‘neighborhood’ to my Pacific Northwest neighborhood. Our rhododendrons are putting on quite a show right now!

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