News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Unpredictable weather may mean ‘experimental’ gardening

Linn County Master Gardener

OSU Linn County Master Gardener:

Take a walk. Observe the trees and shrubs. Any signs of fat buds ready to bloom or leaf? 

At the Santiam Community Garden only the hazelnuts and river birch have pollen for insects and birds. There are little buds everywhere just waiting for warmer days. 

The tulips, daffodils, iris and other bulbs or tubers are poking up some green leaves in search of light from which they can get the energy to bloom – someday. 

Winter bloomers like daphne and hellebores are still sleeping. Even the grass refuses to grow long enough to mow.

Spring officially starts March 20, at least on traditional calendars. Spring is supposed to last until June 21, at which time it will probably become uncomfortably hot. We are nurturing vegetable and flower seedlings in anticipation of a near future time to plant them. 

According to climate scientists, the weather this year will be unpredictable so gardening will be almost entirely experimental. It is reasonable to expect as soon as we put out tender plants, there will be a surprise cold or heat event. Let’s gamble and take a chance.

Changes in seasonal patterns are evident with changes in phenology. Phenology folks keep track of first bud burst, first flower and full flower of plants. They note what plants respond to climate conditions that are optimum for them and groups of plants follow the same patterns.

Forsythia is usually one of the first bloomers – and it’s not even close to ready in our Garden. Looks like the science of phenology needs some help to discover how season changes are affecting the trees and shrubs around us. 

We can help by volunteering to be an observer with the Oregon Season Tracker Community Science Program at Oregon State University. At https://extension.oregonstate.edu/ost, there are great links for volunteers, educators and researchers to contribute to the understanding of weather and climate and their effects on our local environment by reporting precipitation and seasonal plant changes from home. 

Hundreds of OST citizen science volunteers are already gathering and reporting observations around the state. The information is shared nationally with organizations like Nature’s Notebook at National Phenology Network (usanpn.org). Rain water data is collected by trained volunteers, then shared with the Community Collaborative on Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS).

Any citizen interested in participating can take an online training course of four modules on the OST website, register with OST and national partners, install an approved rain gauge, and choose several local plants to observe. 

It’s easy to spend about five minutes a day reporting rainfall, and 15 minutes a week reporting plant phases on your smartphone or computer. We are close enough to OSU that free hands-on training is available. 

Every bit of real-time date information is compared to previous research records. Observations over years indicate trends and make predictions just a little more reliable. There is even an OST e-newsletter, “The Observer,” to keep up to date. 

Don’t just sit inside and gripe about the weather. Get involved in actively observing and reporting it for research. Be a proud part of the citizen science network and help us all know what changes are occurring. 

Observing nature in our environment is never a bad thing. Get in touch with nature in your own neighborhood with a weekly walk. Learn more about phenology and the world in which you live.

Go to https://extension.oregonstate.edu/ost on your phone and check it out. 

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