The trout lilies are blooming in my yard, which means I can safely plant peas and spinach. Two weeks ago, the tips of the trout lily leaves hadn’t even broken through the soil surface in the wooded area of my yard. We have had a warm week, though, so now the paired leaves are up and the plants are making flowers. The trout lily flowers are my signal that the soil is warm enough to not rot seeds of peas and spinach in the garden before the seedlings emerge, even though the garden soil is wetter than it should be.
Forsythia are blooming, too, which usually means it is time to prune the shrub-type roses, my plum tree, and grape vines. It is a sign I was waiting for. In contrast, the official horticulture recommendation is that shrub roses be pruned before they form leaves and plum trees while they are still dormant. Looking out the back window, I can see that the plum tree is already making flowers. Out in front, my shrub rose is making leaves. This year, the forsythia and I both seem to be running behind.
The peak of dogwood flowering is a traditional sign that it is time to plant tomatoes, peppers, and corn in the garden. I am hopeful that the dogwoods will be more timely than the forsythia. Even though I make a planting schedule every spring by counting weeks from the estimated last frost date for my chosen crops, watching how the plant-world matches my planned schedule provides some assurance that all is well.
When I first encountered the idea of “planting by signs”, not phases of the moon but by what other plants nearby were doing, it was in an old garden-club booklet that relied heavily on the leaf and flower stages of lilacs. Here in the metro-Atlanta area, we are short on lilac bushes. They are not really a Southern shrub. That meant I had to look more carefully at the plants we have. There are plenty of forsythia shrubs in my neighborhood, but this year their flowers were not early enough to remind me to get out the pruning equipment when I should have.
It is possible that a non-native plant like forsythia can’t keep pace with the volatile weather patterns here in the Southeast. I may need to drop the forsythia-advice and pay more attention to leaf and flower stages of native plants, like the trout lilies. I figured out that connection myself, and it has been a reliable predictor for more than 15 years.