So, I know that yesterday's warm, sunny weather is tempting and Spring Fever has me anxious to get out and garden...but, I KNOW better! Every year, it is the same...gardener's get over zealous way too early and end up having to replace transplants done in by too much cold or water from spring rains and mud, or replant seeds that rotted in cold/wet soil....or spend too much time keeping plants warm/sheltered and pest free. It doesn't have to be this way! Our ancestors did not have the luxury of running to the Garden Center for plant replacement and they were also more observant watchers of their environment, meaning, they noticed when certain things happened in nature, other things also tended to happen at the same time. Somewhere along the way, this observable science was named--PHENOLOGY or the study of appearances.
Old farmers have always used this to know when to plant and current research has also helped to reduce pesticide use significantly by allowing gardeners to know when to expect certain infestations...and to head them off. Many old gardener's sayings refer specifically to knowing when to plant--such as "Plant corn when oak leaves are as big as a squirrel's ear". In my area, there are no oaks, but other tender, heat loving plants such as peppers cukes and squash can be planted when lilacs are in full bloom--which for me is the first week in June. I know if I plant seeds of those plants, by the time they emerge 8-10 days later, our chance of hard frost is over. If i have seedlings of those plants and tomatoes, I wait those two weeks before planting them. Every year is different, by a day or two, but every single time I thought that it was warm enough and went ahead with planting tender seedlings---I have lost them to a surprise frost or they sort of lanquish and don't grow for awhile--in the meantime, I still have to weed and water them. So, I am done trying to outwit Mother Nature. How does this Phenology work? Simply by understanding that in your particular ecosystem, the plants and animals respond to light, temperature and soil conditions based on rainfall and will emerge (appear) as they deem it safe and productive for their own survival. Since we are experience rather rapid global warming effects, their are slight glitches as nature as a whole tries to catch up and adjust, but by and large, using Phenological principles works in reducing gardening failures.
I have friends who live less than a mile away as the crow flies, but their lilacs bloom several days to a week before mine. They tell me they just planted out their tomatoes--while mine are still sitting in the greenhouse or a protected corner. But, they live on hills or in flat areas, whereas I live in a small valley--so I am prone to early and late frosts as cold air rolls down the hillsides. My lilacs know it --and I have learned to listen to them.
Right now, my daffodils are up--and when most of them are blooming, I will plant my peas and some lettuces because I will know that in MY area, excessive rain or cold soil won't rot my seed. Around here, most people put in their entire garden on Memorial Day--but new studies have shown that if you wait until late June to plant potatoes, you can avoid the potato bug problem all together and the potatoes grow as well or better. Squash bugs tend to arrive when chicory is in full bloom. Knowing that, you can be ready and save your crop. My least favorite and relatively new pest in these parts is the Japanese beetle--which will begin arriving as the morning glory vines start to climb. Supposedly, if you are on the watch for the first JB arrivals and kill them, your infestations will be much less--because the first ones are scout beetles, which if killed, can never return to tell the others about your new roses and grapes. That is something I just learned this winter and am definitely paying attention to this summer.
Aside from the practicality of saving crops, using Phenology causes us to become an even bigger participant in our own little ecosystems and to be better stewards...and if you don't already grow morning glories, adding them to your garden for the purposes of prediciting japanese beetle activity adds diversity to your garden--not to mention the enjoyment of more wonderful plants.
So, don't jump the gun, just wait.....we are busy enough and there is plenty gardening to do. By letting nature reveal itself, we can slow down our pace, but in the long run, actually save ourselves time and come to truly respect nature's wisdom.
You can become a Phenology Reporter and help regional organizations update information as our climates change by checking out the website of The USA National Phenology Network http://www.usanpn.org/