Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Phenology in the Garden: Planting by Nature's Signs
Use Natural Cues To Grow Your Garden
For centuries, gardeners took their cues for planting times from nature—a technique called phenology. See how seasonal signs can tell you which chores to do in the garden!
Phenology: Following Nature’s Signs
Phenology in the garden boils down to observing nature—from bud burst to bird migration—and then letting nature’s timing help you understand when to plant.
Since average frost dates change every year in practice, observing the plant and animal activity can be very helpful.
While not totally foolproof, following nature’s clock helps us tune in to the rhythm of life around us.
For example, observe the connection between “firsts” and what’s happening in the yard and garden:
- First bud (of various plants)
- First bloom (of various plants)
- First animal migration
- First appearance of different insects
- First emergence of hibernating animals
- First amphibian (like spring peepers)
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.
Phenology in the Garden
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.
- When the forsythia is in bloom, it is safe to plant peas, onion sets, and lettuce.
- Half-hardy vegetables, including beets, carrots, and chard, can be planted when the daffodils blossom.
- Look for dandelions to bloom before planting potatoes.
- Perennial flowers 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.
- Transfer tomato transplants to the garden 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 bearded irises are blooming.
- When peonies blossom, it is safe to plant heat-loving melons, such as cantaloupe.
What are the seasonal cues where you live?
Also, learn about the age-old art of Companion Planting.
See our Planting Calendar to find the best times to plant seeds—based on frost dates.
About This Blog
Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. 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.