Follow nature’s signs when planting in the garden! For centuries, farmers took their cues for spring planting times from observing what was happening in nature. Here are some key observations.
Phenology: Following Nature’s Signs
The idea of watching for nature’s seasonal signs is called phenology. For gardeners and farmers, this involves studying natural phenomena to know when to plant crops in the spring.
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.
Observations made over many years have led to some fairly reliable conclusions, such as those listed below.
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, such as cantaloupe.
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?
See our Planting Calendar to find the best times to plant seeds—based on frost dates—in your area.
Check out our Vernal Equinox: First Day of Spring page for more great facts and folklore about the season!