I am teaching a class on Perennial Culture 101 this week and one of the things I will cover is a favorite sub-hobby of my gardening; phenology. Phenology is defined by wikipedia as
” the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate as well as habitat factors”
Essentially, for the lay person , it refers to the fact that all species of plant and animal life ( except most humans) use cues from the weather to know when to migrate, emerge, flower, hibernate, mate and depart to a Mexican resort for the winter. The cues are taken from available sunlight ( day length) temperature and precipitation.
Many of you have heard phenological proverbs and sayings like” sow corn when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear” or “prune roses when the forsythia are in bloom”… these sayings take advantage of what are called indicator plants , meaning that those particular plants have read the weather and are now in a specific life event ( bloom or leaf emergence) that gives us a clue as to how far advanced our growing season is, or as we are all well aware of around here, isn’t. “Sow peas when the daffodils begin to bloom ” is why my snap peas still look like this
The extension service of The University of Massachusetts tracks phenoligical data from several reporting sites throughout the state and you can sign up to receive the newsletter they distribute with the complied data. It includes Growing Degreee Days which is complex but worth having a basic understanding of if you garden seriously, indicator plants ( what is blooming now) , insect and pest emergence, soil temperatures, and general temperature and precipitation information.
I just received this morning notice that the latest message had been posted so I went to check it out , talk about depressing. All 8 reporting scouts give soil temps at freezing, Growing Degree Days ( GDD) at zero, and indicator plants are all but non-existent. Bummer. Spring is taking a long time to arrive this year, a fact that I know all too well because I have yet to see a green tip of anything poking out of the soil, matter of fact many places in my yard I can see no soil, just frozen crusty snow.
If the weathermen are right, we should be seeing a minor warm-up accompanied by rain ..the kind that feels raw and chills you to the bone…but not freezing. Maybe, just maybe ,next week I will be taking photos of garden activity, but for now all I have accomplished is cutting back my ornamental grasses and type 3 clematis and pruning the fruit trees.
PS if you would like participate in some citizen science go to Project Bud Burst to either help log data about specific plants in your area, or just read about what is going on in other parts of the US.