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Not Sure When To Plant? Use Phenology

A wooden deck with daffodils and green grass in the background.
Use nature as an indicator for what and when to plant this spring.

With the changing weather and climate, gardening by the calendar can be tricky, especially when you're trying to decide when to plant. But nature has a pretty reliable guide, and it's called phenology.

Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycles. It shows how things in the natural world influence, and are influenced by, variations in climate and seasonal changes. What was once thought of as folklore, has now been scientifically proven to work!

Many farmers and gardeners plant by the indications that are occurring in nature. They watch and wait for cues from nature to know when to plant different flowers, vegetables and crops. And you can, too. Try rules of thumb like:

  • Plant peas when daffodils are blooming
  • Plant lettuce, spinach and carrots when dandelions are blooming
  • Fertilize lawns with corn gluten when forsythia are blooming

And by the way, "spring," according to the U.S. Phenological Service, is about three weeks early this year so far. Want to learn more on phenology? Check out this site for more cues from nature on when to plant, and this one, too!

Q: I just watched your video on growing blueberries and was disheartened to hear that we should be getting one foot of growth per year. Our plants are maybe four years old and about the same size as when we bought them. — Rick, in Stowe

In order to get the most growth and fruit from your blueberry patch, you can try to put down a thick layer of wood chips and bark mulch. Blueberries are a very shallow-rooted plant, and they love a well-drained soil.

Then put some organic granule fertilizer and sulphur to keep the pH levels low, which the blueberries love. As those wood chips start degrading, they create a nice organic soil for a bumper crop.

Q: Two summers ago, an almond sprouted in my lasagna garden. It's way north of its climate zone, but I left it in the ground out of curiosity and was astonished that it survived last winter. By last summer, it was taller than I am and full of leaves. This spring, it's again starting to put out leaves. ... Is it worth taking care of, or is it actually suffering quietly and waiting to be put out of its misery? — Jen, in South Royalton

The bottom line is, if you are loving the plant, then you should keep it! It is very unusual and well out of its natural, warmer zones, as almond trees tend to grow in places like California.

You can try to protect it from harsh winters by building up around it, but inevitably, a harsh winter will kill the almond plant, so do enjoy it while you can!

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All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie will answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voice mail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.


Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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