When to Plant Corn, Beans and Squash — Natural Signs for Planting

| 4/7/2012 7:14:05 PM

lilac blossoms 

“When apple blossoms start to fall…,”  “When lilacs are in full bloom…,” “When oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear…” Our neighbors and The Old Farmer’s Almanac are full of advice about when to plant corn, beans, squash, and other crops. It may seem like old wives tales but there is a growing body of evidence showing that growing degree days and phenology (the study of natural plant cycles) are valuable planning tools for gardeners in these times of climate change and unpredictable weather.

The USA-NPN's phenology observation program, Nature's Notebook, is a nationwide effort to collect and distribute data on the timing of plant and animal life cycle events. If you have recorded your own observations of nature over the past years, want to get started with your own observations, or would like to explore the wealth of data available, you should explore the USA National Phenology Network.

apple blossoms

Below are a few of signs from The Old Farmer's Almanac that match up closely with our observations here in Central Virginia. Being a modern gardener, I also check my Vegetable Garden Planner for recommended planting dates for our planting zone, but I have been rewarded many times with an early harvest or a late frost avoided for heeding the natural signs.

  • Plant corn and beans when elm leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, when oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, when apple blossoms begin to fall, or when dogwoods are in full bloom.
  • Plant lettuce, spinach, peas, broccoli, and cabbage when the lilacs show their first leaves or when daffodils begin to bloom.
  • Plant tomatoes, early corn, and peppers when dogwoods are in peak bloom or when daylilies start to bloom.
  • Plant cucumbers and squash when lilac flowers fade.
  • Start succession plantings of beets and carrots when dandelions are blooming.
  • Plant peas when the forsythia blooms.

contender bean

The lilac flowers, apple blossoms, and my Mother Earth Vegetable Garden Planner agree it’s time to turn under the rye cover crop and prepare the soil for early beans and summer squash, with the first tomatoes not too far behind. And looking at my planner reminded me I better get those late succession plantings of cabbage and broccoli in the ground before the last daffodils fade.  

4/11/2012 3:23:11 AM

Ira, Are you fearing any late frost or are you beyond those concerns? We have had wonderfully (unusually) warm weather in MN but are now getting some stiff frost and will likely get more. How are you adjusting for that, if it is an issue?

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