Phenology is cool

Birds on the wing - they looked like cormorants to me…If you learn how to read the looks of things in nature you can figure out just when it’s the right time to do just about anything in the garden. — You can be your very own farmer’s almanac! I have no good memory for this stuff – I know that when birds are on the wing, it’s time to do something… And I remembered something about oak leavesOak leaves on the Quercus robur (English Oak) being as big as mouse ears – but Gail had to remind me that that’s the rule for when it’s safe to plant the tender annuals. lettuces planted 5-6-08 - somewhere behind the bed is a leafed out lilac!We did get our lettuce in right on time today – as it happens, the lilacs have leafed out. The thing that’s confusing to me just dabbling my toes in the phenological pond is that things like oaks and maples (you can plant perennials according to this site’s list when the maples unfurl) have timing that’s all over the place – our gardens and streets are full of so many varieties now. Some of our oaks are still tightly wrapped while others’ leaves have exceeded mouse and are now fully cat. Which one do we believe? (I think the later ones or whichever ones are native to these parts.) Here at Blithewold we tend to go more by the moon when it comes to putting out the tender stuff. New growth on grape vines is another indicator for putting out the tender stuff.We’re typically safe from frost after the full moon in May – so oak leaves or no oak leaves after that is when we’ll start getting plants out of the greenhouse in earnest.

And then there’s full-on gardening by the moon: Dick and Cathy planted leeks today. According to the moon it might be just the right time – depending on whether they’re considered an above-ground or below-ground crop! (I’m easily confused.) Above-ground crops should be sown/planted during the waxing moon and below-ground with the wane.

Dick and Cathy - the vegetable garden dynamic duo planting leeks

Or you can do things according to your own busy schedule and hope for the best! We most often get things done exactly when we have a moment to do them. So I’ve decided to make up some of my own rules:

Maackia amurensis - new leaves - still silver jewelryGolden larch (Pseudolarix amabilis) leafing outCrabapple by the shore

When the Maackia amurensis leaves are still silvery jewels, the Golden Larch is leafing out and the crabapples are starting to bloom, it’s definitely time to pot up dahlia tubers – which, speaking of mice, look an awful lot like a box full of them. — We pot up the dahlias that are earmarked for the North Garden so that when we plant them, they’re already up – we’re much less likely to trample them that way when we’re working in there.Mousie looking dahlia tubers - tails and all

Do you follow any of nature’s rules? Which ones? And better yet, do you make up any of your own?


5 thoughts on “Phenology is cool

  1. I don’t know if I follow nature’s rules, but I love the idea of it, if there’s also a scientific basis. My main rule is based on the calendar: cut back the garden on Valentine’s Day in preparation for spring growth. And I try never to plant anything after May 1, but I often break that rule.

    Pam, Holidays (even hallmark ones) are easy reminders. Our planting deadline is July 4th – though we also break that rule pretty often! -kris

  2. That whole phenology thingy is way too complicated for me Kris. I just watch Gardener’s World on the BBC and they tell me when it’s time to do what in the garden. Works a treat and I don’t have to do a lot of thinking either which is a bonus as it saves me from a headache or 2. 😉

    Yolanda, that does sound much easier! – Though I bet you could wean yourself from the show if you wanted. You pay attention to the world around (I know you do) and probably have a much better sense of the timing of things than you think. -kris

  3. I have tried to keep all this information straight, but I get too confused and found that following my own instincts works best for me. I don’t know where these instincts come from…maybe from watching my Grandmother who was a farmer in Iowa her whole life. I am seldom wrong and when I am I can always replant!

    Hi Ferne! Sounds like you have the touch … and a good gardeners attitude. It’s interesting to think that the things you picked up from your Iowan grandmother translate to your CA garden – then again, a love of gardening is never zone specific. -kris

  4. I thought this was going to be about bumps on the head – no wait, that’s phrenology. :^) I heard the rule as “When the Burr Oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, it’s time to plant the corn.” (That’s from the Native Americans.) I’m supposed to do something when the Forsythia starts to bloom, but I’ve forgotten what it is.

    Mr. McG’s D, You’re right about the Burr Oaks, mouse ears and corn – I always want to make these things relevant to ME though and since I don’t plant corn… I think the Forsythia rule is about pruning roses though we always do ours way before. (I don’t think that particular rule is Native American in origin) -kris

  5. I don’t consciously follow phenology, but sometimes I just “know” when it is the right time to do something in the garden. Maybe after all these years, I am subconsciously keeping track of all the signs of nature? It’s a fascinating subject!

    Carol, It fascinates me too and I think you must know without knowing you know – you know? -kris

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