In a world regulated by a clock, we don’t think a lot about watching our plants for Natures guidance.
Certainly not looking at plants as Nature’s timers. But, there’s a lesser-known science which is the study of the cyclic and seasonal natural progressions, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life. It’s called Phenology (No. It’s not the study of head bumps. That’s Phrenology with an “R”.)
Phenology is devoted to the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how they are influenced by seasonal and multi-year variations in climate, elevation, and average rainfall. This natural timing device is a key component of life on earth. Many birds time their nesting so that eggs hatch when insects are available to feed nestlings. Likewise, insect emergence is often synchronized with when the leaves start to grow on host plants. Farmers and gardeners need to know the schedule of plant and insect development to decide when to apply fertilizers and pesticides and when to plant to avoid frosts. Phenology influences the abundance and distribution of all organisms, natural biological services, food webs, and even the global cycle of water and carbon.
It only makes sense to use these events as indicators of when the weather is right for planting.
Have you ever heard the saying “plant corn when the oak leaves are as big as squirrels’ ears,” or “sow Morning Glories when Maple trees have full-sized leaves” or other old sayings of the type? Those sayings are now called Phenological indicators. These visible changes act as signposts of when to sow a certain seed when you expect a certain insect type to hatch, and when it’s time to prune a particular tree or shrub. In other words, paying attention to Phenology might be the best way to choose the right time to take action in your garden.
After all, it’s apparent to anyone paying attention to natures guidance that calendar-based planting isn’t reliable anymore. For a people who come from a long line of hunters and gatherers, we have a natural, built-in skill seeking the signs and markings that nature puts before us. We just have to learn to understand it!
Here’s how to get started. Read the following list of common indicators to follow in timing your gardening activities from now on. Some of these may have already passed, but think about them and recall when they happened and what the conditions were in your yard at that time.
You can either place your cursor on a picture and see the task the plant is telling you it’s time to take, or just click to open up a lightbox and thumb through all of them at one time.
This is just a jumping off point on your Phenological Indicator or Natures Guidance learning curve but should help you think about gardening without consulting your calendar. If you start paying attention to and engaging with nature, you will find more connections and answers and maybe even amaze your friends!
For more information, or to participate in the phenology program, check out the USA National Phenology Network.