Urban Garden Denver Blog

Gardeners are Natural Scientists

Gardeners are engaged in natural science – the observation and testing of the interactions of plants, soil, water and weather. We are also record-keepers and our “lab books” or garden journals, notebooks and blogs become valuable scientific records over time. Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events. Gardeners who note bloom times are phenologists.

I noted that my first Oriental Poppy bloomed this week, on May 10th. Now that I have a garden blog, I was curious as to the date of last year’s first Poppy bloom. I went back and noted that is was May 22nd. There is quite a bit of year-to-year variation in blooms due to weather. Last weekend was 85 degrees and that undoubtably pushed the Poppies to bloom sooner. Variations in short time periods are weather-related. Next year, my Poppies might bloom later, depending on factors of temperature and water during the budding phase.

Since gardeners have been keeping notes on bloom times for hundreds of years, this data helps scientists looking at climate change, as it provides thousands of data points from which they can extract trends. An article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences (UK) compiled a 250-year index of the first flowering dates for 405 plant species in the UK. They found that species flowered 5 days earlier for every 1 degree C increase in temperature. This kind of phenological data is possible because people have been making notes of bloom dates for hundreds of years. Some of these observers were scientists, but others were gardeners who kept notes year after year.

If you want to participate in  science through regular observations of plants in your area, you can join Project BudBurst which is a joint effort of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) in Boulder, Colorado and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Their website also has a section of Budburst Buddies for children to participate in the science of phenology.

Along with noting what is blooming in my garden right now, I am celebrating the wonderful 2 days of rain that we had to give a good deep soaking to the ground. Slow and steady rain is so much better than sprinklers for deep watering. This weekend many of us will be out in our gardens enjoying the new green, planting, transplanting and pulling up weeds. If your ground is very wet, be careful of walking in the garden as you can compact the damp soil and squeeze out important oxygen. The more you can stretch and do weeding and planting from the edge of the garden the better.

I felt silly a few weeks ago cautioning against planting annuals when the temperature hit 85 degrees, but our cold this week reinforced the fact that we aren’t necessarily past the last frost date in Denver. While I didn’t get snow in my yard, my friends in Boulder, Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock did. I am going to wait another week to plant annuals and tomatoes. This weekend I will move around a few more perennials and try to get ahead of the weeds that have sprouted.

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