Phenology And Soil Temperature

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner
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Phenology is the study of recurring plant and animal life cycles and their relationship to weather. Mother Nature has her own schedule for when things will happen, regardless of what the date is on the calendar. You might have a general idea of when things will occur, such as when certain trees and bushes will bloom and when the Japanese beetles show up each year. When these things happen, they are the trigger for other things to occur. Insects are attracted to certain blooms, so they will be most abundant when their hosts are the most prolific, such as the ladybug on the cowpea flower in the photo. If the insects we are talking about are ones that are a nuisance in your garden, knowing when they might be their peak will help you provide protection for your crops or schedule them before or after the times of the most insect pressure. Being flexible is the key, since they are following Mother Nature’s schedule, not the calendar. Festivals for certain blooms or crops are planned for the same week on the calendar each year, which doesn’t always coincide when the blooms are actually blooming or the crop is actually in. The Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. comes to mind.

The temperature of the soil has a bearing on when things in nature occur. You might find it interesting to take the temperature of your soil in the same spot every week from now (if your ground isn’t frozen) until well into the summer. Make sure it is the same spot and the same time of day. You might check more than one spot and really find out how things are doing in your garden. The planting guides that advise when to plant by soil temperature will hold more meaning for you after that. Learn more about phenology and how to take the temperature of your soil at Homeplace Earth. At the same time you are recording the soil temperature, notice what is going on around you. Have new birds or insects shown up? Are new things blooming? Make a note of those things.

A shady spot in your garden will differ from one with continuous sun. I became aware of the difference mulch made on the soil temperature one year in early March when our son, Luke, was filming me in the garden so I could show what was going on there in my community college classroom. I had my hand in the soil in one bed with bare soil. Then I pulled the leaf mulch back in another bed and stuck my hand in to show how soft the soil was under that mulch. I found the soil temperature to be noticeably cooler. If you mulch your garden beds over the winter, pull the mulch back about two weeks before you intend to plant so the sun will warm the soil. The records you keep might not mean much the first year, but if you have a record over several years, you will begin to see a pattern. Even if you don’t write anything down, you will learn much by noticing what is happening around you and putting your hand in the soil now and then.

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