Follow Nature's Signs for Planting in the Garden

Jul 20, 2017
Iris Crop
Robin Sweetser


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Follow nature’s signs when planting in the garden! For centuries, farmers took their cues for planting times from observing what’s happening in nature—such as bird migration, the emergence of insects and amphibians (like peepers), and the flowering of native plants.

Nature’s Signs: Phenology

Watching for nature’s signs is called “phenology”, from the Greek for the” science of appearances”.

Trees, shrubs and flowers are sensitive to temperature and day length and develop on a regular schedule based on local conditions. 

It only makes sense to use them as indicators of when the weather is right for planting. Observations made over many years have led to some fairly reliable conclusions.

Following Nature’s Lead

Nature’s “signs” are different in every region, however, you should still relate to these examples:

  • Blooming crocus are your cue to plant radishes, parsnips and spinach.
  • Half-hardy vegetables including beets, carrots and chard can be planted when the daffodils blossom.

  • When the forsythia is in bloom it is safe to plant peas, onion sets and lettuce.
  • Look for dandelions to bloom before planting potatoes.
  • Perennials can be planted when the maple trees begin to leaf out.
  • When quince is blossoming, transplant cabbage and broccoli.

  • Wait for apple trees to bloom before planting bush beans.
  • When the apple blossoms fall, plant pole beans and cucumbers.
  • By the time the lilacs are in full bloom it will be safe to plant tender annual flowers and squashes.
  • Transplant tomatoes when lily-of-the-valley is in full flower.
  • Full-sized maple leaves signal time to plant morning glory seeds.
  • Peppers and eggplant can be transplanted when the irises are blooming.

  • When peonies blossom it is safe to plant heat-loving melons.

While not totally foolproof, following nature’s clock helps us tune in to the rhythm of life around us.

What are some signals where you live?

And click here for our Vernal Equinox: First Day of Spring page for more great facts and folklore!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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Great blog post. Thank you.

I have really enjoyed reading your article. It was great information and very helpful. I have also heard it is OK to slowly remove mounds protecting roses when forsythia is in full bloom.

Best to wait a bit...

Every time I have tried to plant a cool weather crop on or shortly after St. Paddy's Day the seeds rot or the plants freeze. Perhaps it's the propensity of our Long Island weather to incur big spring snows - two really bad blizzards have occurred in very late March, one on April Fools Day! Locust trees sleep in late, so when they bud, the weather is clear and warm enough for everything. I may lose a bit of lettuce to the growing warmth, and the peas don't get a second run but nothing dies, either if I wait a bit.

Use hosta to know that winter is really over.

In Illinois it often snows in April after spring flowers are blooming which can kill them. I discovered that the hostas NEVER pop out of the ground until all danger of snow or winter has passed. So before I planted anything tender in April or May, I checked to see if the hostas had started growing.

 How very observant of you

 How very observant of you Pam! Many people would have missed that totally. Everyone’s garden is a little different so we really need to be aware of what is going on in our own backyards.

Don't know that these

Don't know that these planting guides were nature related but mt grandma said plant lettuce seed Feb. 14, on top of any snow. She and a neightbor also said plant pea seed on St.Pat's day, neighbor said also potatoes on that day. I've done the first 2 successfully but haven't planted potatoes for years. Otherwise, I use the moon signs of day guides in Farmer's Almanac...truth..


CORRECTION: It is the SWALLOWS, not the SPARROWS that traditionally return to Capistrano.

Hi Bill, Of course it is the

Hi Bill,
Of course it is the swallows! I think we have gremlins at OFA that change things in the middle of the night; either that or I had a temporary brain cramp. Sorry for any confusion that glitch may have caused.

My Pap use to use these sign

My Pap use to use these sign all the time. Love this article remaindered me of him. He's the one that got me reading The Old Farmers Almanac. Yes Most often that not these sign have held true !

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