Phenology is a science in the timing of life cycle events in flora and fauna. The word phenology literally translates out to ‘the science of appearance’. Phenologists observe and study the relationship between events that take place with the season, local weather, or climate changes. Subjects in phenology include migration habits of birds, bud break, flowering, insect appearance, reproduction, allergy seasons, fall leaf color and animal hibernation times. Carl Linnaeus was one of the first scientists to record phenological observations. He also is famous for creating the classification system for plants we still use today.
Although more individuals utilized phenology in the past, using these observations/data today can aid land managers and anyone else wanting to lower their landscaping costs. Knowing exactly when to apply an herbicide or pesticide, when to fertilize, or when to plant, can greatly reduce the cost and risk to all landscape caregivers. An example would be that when forsythia blooms, it correlates with the temperature necessary in the germination of crabgrass, and if an herbicide preventing it’s germination is applied in this window, it can be prevented. Missing the window of applying the herbicide can result in the only other way to control this weed, mechanical cultivation, known as backbreaking, weeding work!
One enormous advantage of phenology is that you do not need a degree to participate, just dedication and a central location for records. Many websites collect data and provide databases for different plant and animal cycles. Project Budburst only monitors plants and is a bit more user friendly for the hobby gardener, and The National Phenology Network that monitors more than plants.
Collection of data must be precise for the information to reflect the correct geographic area. When submitting data to a plant database, individuals are required to give positive identification of plant, latitude/longitude and elevation of the plant, and any other notes that could affect these readings. Things that could affect readings are the plant is near a building, on a slope, or surrounded by other plants, any possibility of something creating a microclimate for the observed plant. This is why the same species of a plant can have a different cycle than one nearby. Observations of the subject plant need to be conducted at least three times a week. Information on these six phenological stages are collected: budburst (first leaf), full leaf, first flower, full flower, end flower, and seed or fruit dispersal. After the information has been collected, it can be compared with previous years and associations such as climate changes affecting plants can be made.
In the future, I will be reporting phenological events for Midwestern gardeners in an attempt to help them reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides.
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