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Planting by the trees

New oak leaf"I have a hypothesis that the last chance of frost is past when the pecan trees are in full leaf," my father posited.  "What do you think?"

The idea appealed to me, in part because of the old saying that it's safe to plant your corn when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear.  I saw oak leaves twice this big a week ago along with volunteer squash, tomatoes, and sunflowers.  Ever since, I've been pondering whether I'm really going to put out half of my summer garden three weeks before the frost-free date.

Meanwhile, the scientific side of my mind sidetracked into finding out what cues trees use to decide when to leaf out.  The only options I could come up with are soil temperature, air temperature, and day length, all three of which (along with the ten day weather forecast) are what I use to determine my own planting schedule.  A search of the internet, though, suggests that our trees are keeping track of how much cold weather they've faced, and when they think they've had enough, they leaf out (as long as the air is warm enough.)  That would mean that an abornmally cold winter (like this past one) would produce an early spring (like this one) since the trees would have counted up the required number of chilly days earlier than usual.

Pepper seedlingPut that way, I'm not so sure I want to base my planting date on our trees' decisions.  However, the soil has warmed to 60 degrees and the ten day weather forecast predicts no lows beneath the mid forties, so I went ahead and planted green beans, corn, squash, melons and cucumbers (in quick hoops), okra, mung beans, and basil, along with sunflowers, millet, ground cherries, and amaranth in the forest pasture.  I'm going to hold off on putting out my homegrown pepper sets, though, until the night lows are just a bit higher.

How about you?  Are there trees that you feel confident predict the time to plant your summer garden?

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My husband's uncle who has lived on this land for half a century now swears to me that when the pecans have buds (I havent yet checked to see if he is talking about leaves or flowers, but I suspect leaf buds) then spring is here. I've planted early, and he has confirmed up to two weeks later that it's spring, but my plantings have been successful anyway. This year I took a risk and planted some things incredibly early and he was timid about it, but he got back to me within the week to let me know it was okay, the pecan buds were coming out.

So I don't use the trees myself, but I do get this kind of feedback from time to time on the relationship between the weather and the trees. I haven't gone so far as to test it, but I think it would definitely be interesting to take a closer look.

Comment by Sara Thu Apr 28 09:41:57 2011
I just wanted to add that I might take some cues from the maple tree. I remember looking closely at the flowers which came out earlier this year than they did last year, but they were frostbitten this year. When they started coming out and holding up to the weather, that is about the same time I planted. Again, I didn't record this (that's something to go in the notebook!) but perhaps I was influenced by this observation without realizing it.
Comment by Sara McDonald Thu Apr 28 09:45:22 2011
That's exactly the kind of information I was hoping to draw out of our readers! I remember reading on your blog when you planted and I rolled my eyes and thought "Deep South!" Fascinating to hear that you were able to plant when the maple leaves sustained their blooms. Honestly, the way the weather has been, I could have planted corn two or three weeks ago!
Comment by anna Thu Apr 28 09:58:52 2011

Last year we had some trees that started flowering in January during a relatively warm spell after a cold winter. Subsequently all those buds froze off. :-/

Obviously whatever mechanism the trees use has evolved over a long time and is therefore probably good enough in general.

But the weather can depend on so many things that accurate and precise predictions (not generalities) might well turn out to be practically impossible.

Comment by Roland_Smith Thu Apr 28 17:13:57 2011
Yeah, I guess I'm basically asking these trees to predict the future better than our meteorologists do. I suppose there's a reason there are only 10 day weather forecasts available --- presumably, trees would have just as tough of a time figuring out what the weather's going to be like in three weeks as a weather man would.
Comment by anna Thu Apr 28 17:38:56 2011

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