How to know when to plant.

Phenological gardening

When forsythia flowers, it’s time to plant peas.

Warm and sunny one day, cold and wet the next. That sounds like April in Nova Scotia. On those warm days it’s so tempting to start planting, but how to know if it’s time?

Look in any gardening book and you’ll be presented with complicated charts that involve knowing when the last frost can be expected in your area and then counting back the required number of days for each vegetable variety. In the Annapolis Valley, the last frost date is slated to be 16th May each year. Yet I know that in my garden, I’m unlikely to get the late frosts that the low lying areas in the valley experience in May. At the same time, I also know that down in the village, the crocus and snowdrops flower a week ahead of mine.

A chart with suggested planting dates, can’t possibly know the nuances of my garden. A few years ago, it occurred to me that since the trees, shrubs, and bulbs seem to know when it’s time, I would take my cue from them. And so I started planting my peas when the forsythia bursts it’s flower buds into a ray of yellow sunshine, such a welcome sight after the monochrome scene of winter. When the dandelions flower I put spuds in the ground and when the apple blossoms start falling like confetti, I plant beans.

The crocus have come and gone for this year, but while those purple flowers were poking their noses through the cold soil, I planted spinach. Despite the snowfall that we received soon after, the spinach is looking happy. My forsythia bush started flowering on 24th April,  (two days later than last year) and so, last week, I planted peas. Three varieties; Sabre and Lincoln shell peas, and Norli snow peas.

Growing peas on pea sticks.

Pea sticks waiting to support the climbing peas – so much easier than using net.

Well, it turns out there’s a name for this madness; Phenology.

Phenology is the study of how plants and animals are influenced by the seasons and changes in the weather and day length. The word was coined in 1849 and is derived from the Greek word φαίνω (phainō), “to show, to bring to light, make to appear”. I should have known the Greeks had something to do with it! So it’s nothing new and observations of phenological events have been used since ancient agricultural times. Many cultures have traditional phenological proverbs and sayings which indicate a time for action. Maybe you’ve 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.”

So I’ve been doing some more reading and here is my list that I’ll be trying this year. Of course, even nature can be caught out by a late frost so I’ll need to watch for frost warnings and cover anything tender, but by taking directions from Mother Nature, I’ll at least know that the soil is ready and the day length is sufficent.

Plant Radishes, Spinach & Parsnips – when crocus start blooming

Plant Peas – when Forsythia begins to bloom

Plant Beets, Lettuce & Chard – when the daffodils bloom.

Plant Potatoes – when the dandelions bloom.

Plant Bush Beans – when the apple trees bloom.

Plant Pole Beans & Corn – when the apple blossoms fall.

Plant Squash & Cucumbers – when lilacs have faded.

Transplant Tomatoes – when the Lily of the Valley is in full bloom

Transplant Peppers & Eggplants – when irises are flowering.

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About Jane Fowler

We are working towards a sustainable lifestyle, homeschooling our children, growing all our own food and creating art. Join us in our journey, learning with us along the way.
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4 Responses to How to know when to plant.

  1. I love this way of remembering and knowing. One thing I know for sure from painting outside….’when the apple blossoms, so do the blackflies’. haha. Now tell me, if I don’t have lily of the valley, how do I know when to transplant tomatoes?
    Thank you!


    • Jane Fowler says:

      It seems so much simpler than following charts and is much more in tune with your own garden. Plant your tomatoes when your day lilies bloom – I know you have lots of them!


    • Maria Hagen says:

      Flora if you are ever up my way…. do drop in.. I have loads of Lily of the Valley…. all soon to be blooming..

      Liked by 1 person

  2. dawn says:

    I’m so excited to have found your writing. Thanks so much for sharing your life with us.


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