You might not be familiar with the term ‘phenology’ but it can be a very helpful tool when it comes to timing in the garden. Phenology is “the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.” What this means for us in the garden is simple; nature works in harmony and when certain things happen it means that other events are, or can, occur. A little bit of phenology knowledge can be very useful in years like this when it was a cold winter and spring seems reluctant to arrive. The calendar suddenly isn’t as accurate or as useful as it was in years past because this year we’re a good two to three weeks later than we have been.
Forsythia is finally beginning to bloom in most areas and this flowering shrub is an excellent harbinger for certain garden activities. In the world of phenology and the garden blooming forsythia means it’s time to plant peas, to prune roses, to fertilize the lawn and seed cool weather crops like lettuce and spinach. If you’ve never given it much thought consider the wisdom of this synchronicity. Although I’ve never kept a record, in years past my forsythia probably would have been blooming by mid-March, certainly no later than the third week. This year the buds are just starting to crack open on April 6 and the falling rain is not going to encourage much movement today.
As I noted in the last edition of ‘Turf’s Up’ the lawn is slowly starting to green up and it could use an application of fertilizer. The soil in the raised beds is warm enough to seed lettuce and peas but it certainly wasn’t two weeks ago. Buds on rose canes are visible if you look closely but by no means are they as large as they normally would be. By the time the forsythia blossoms are fully out in a week or ten days it surely will be time to fertilize and plant, so the evidence supports the phenology in this case!
One more association between forsythia blooms and events in nature; crabgrass seed germinates when the shrub is flowering. If you’ve had crabgrass in your lawn last year (and a lot of homeowners have) it’s time to apply the pre-emergent corn gluten product to try to prevent the seeds from germinating.