Gardeners might be some of the world’s most organised people and for good reason. Going head-to-head with pests, diseases, frost, and drought when growing produce requires significant preparation. Many gardeners use the seasons (Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring) as markers for what to plant and when, but nature can give us more specific indicators. Let’s break this concept down. 

We’re talking about Phenology, and it’s much simpler than it sounds. 

Phenology studies the timing of natural biological events within our ecosystem. Markers such as blooming flowers, emerging insects and even migrating birds help us understand what we should plant and when with the most remarkable accuracy possible. 

The result? 

You guarantee the most hyper-accurate planting times imaginable and increase your chances of a successful harvest tenfold. 

Phenology can help modern gardeners in a whole host of ways, but here are a few of the most critical use cases: 

  • Managing and controlling invasive pests; 
  • Optimising planting and harvesting schedules
  • Understanding the timing of important gardening processes like photosynthesis. 

So, now you understand the benefits of Phenology, let’s talk about how exactly you can put it into practice. 

First, you’ll need to start logging the events in your garden. We recommend using a Phenology Wheel for this; you can find lots of free templates and examples online. 

As you begin your journey into Phenology, you must remember that biological events don’t always occur at the same time from year to year or from microclimate to microclimate. Instead, they are influenced by temperature, weather conditions, sunlight hours, genetics, shadows and proximity to other structures. 

The practice of Phenology will not help you overnight; actually, quite the opposite. Phenology is a long-term commitment that will pay a healthy dividend only once implemented for several years. As you record more and more of the events in your garden, you’ll notice patterns in how seemingly unrelated seasonal events occur in relation to one another. 

You’ll also notice these events don’t occur on the same date each year but earlier or later, depending on weather conditions, especially temperature. 

Many gardeners practising phenology will start with what is known as an indicator plant.

Start recording the various developmental stages of your indicator plant, such as the first leaf, first flower, full bloom and end of bloom. At each stage of development, note the temperature and weather conditions as well as any differences between planting sites and any other yearly changes you may notice to your backyard environment. 

Here are a couple of examples of phenology in practice from gardeners using different varieties of indicator plants: 

  • Pumpkins, beans and cucumbers should be planted when lilacs are in full bloom; 
  • Carrots, beets and lettuce are best planted when the first lilac leaves appear.
  • The ideal time to plant peas is when daffodils begin to bloom
  • When late spring bulbs like irises bloom, plant eggplant, tomato, melons and capsicums. 
  • Forsythia blooms when crabgrass germinates, making this the ideal time for treatment. 

Phenology has applications for the modern gardener far beyond planting times. Pest problems tend to occur at specific stages of plant growth, too. Using phenology, you can determine when to be most vigilant in the garden so that you can beat pests before infestations. Googling a Pest Predictive Calendar will give you a good idea of the kind of insight you can expect through adopting Phenology as a pest control method. 

As the harsh realities of a modern climate crisis set in, gardeners notice spring events occurring earlier and autumn events occurring later than usual. This means we’re seeing accelerated life-cycles and plants breaking their period of dormancy earlier. This not only makes Phenology a reliable indicator of when you should be planting what produce, but of the health of our planet as well.

Hopefully, this newsletter has convinced you to give the practice of Phenology a go – we’re excited to see how your garden thanks you for it in the coming years. As always, thanks for tuning in to this month’s newsletter and from the whole team at Hydroponic Xpress; happy growing!