Gardening By The Signs
Phenology simply refers to observation of biological occurrences in nature. This could include, among other things, when certain plants begin to bloom, when specific birds begin to migrate or when leaves of particular trees begin to turn color in fall. These events are also referred to as “the signs”. This information has been used in gardening for thousands of years, helping our ancestors make valuable connections between the happenings in the natural world and garden production. All cultures have used some type of phenology to assist in executing their food production plans. While in modern times we like to plan on a calendar without regard to the world around us, using phenology can help us to act more effectively. For instance the garden industry uses the average last frost date to mark the beginning of planting season, whereas the time of flowering of blackberry plants may be a better guide because it is determined by the current year’s actual conditions.
Results May Vary
There are tons of phenological suggestions in books, on the web and even from family and friends, that would lead you to believe that there’s no need to keep your own phenology. I disagree. Although you can, and should, learn basics of local phenology for your area; the world is a big, diverse place and local climate and genetic variations often cause big discrepancies in the above mentioned relationships. If my friend tells me to fertilize my lawn when the forsythia is in bloom, I will tell him he’s crazy because my lawn is in hard dormancy at that time of year, only to turn green when the forsythia is in full leaf and the flowers are a distant memory. I will tell him that the time to fertilize my lawn is when it is half green. The difference is that his lawn is fescue and mine is centipede.
A Few Guidelines
Best practices are often, but not always, commonly followed. If you want to know which phenology signs to follow, get your recommendations from sources that are as local as possible and use your best judgement to decide whether or not they make sense. There are a lot of superstitions out there that may have been based on best practices from a different time and place. When I first moved to Georgia, I had an old-timer tell me that “you should always plant potatoes on Good Friday”. Since Good Friday can fall anywhere within a four week time frame, I didn’t argue I just chose not to follow his advice because it didn’t make sense. As you begin to follow these natural triggers, it helps to make your own observations and keep records. You can then go back and make adjustments as needed. A few observations you may want begin with could include flowering and leaf-out times of some of the shrubs and perennials in your landscape, migratory bird appearances in your landscape, weather patterns, and the phase of the moon. Daily observations may be too much to sift through and monthly may not provide enough information; we choose to use a weekly set of observations.
Enjoy The Interaction
Gardening by the signs is a way to deepen your interaction with your garden and nature. You will enjoy observing the relationships among all of the plants, creatures and elements as you learn to work within their established patterns. Your phenology will chronicle life in your garden as the seasons and years go by. It’s a beautiful thing. Happy gardening!