The Ten Seasons of Phenology

Yesterday I looked into the meaning and history of phenology, but this is actually a very current topic here in Germany; the German Meteorological Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst) uses ten phenological seasons to observe and predict not only weather patterns but also climate change, pollen, late frosts for fruit trees etc.

I thought this might be of interest to gardeners in other parts of the world, where obviously there will be differences, but also very many similarities in the northern hemisphere. So here is a summary of the ten seasons they divide the year into here:

  • The hazel, snowdrop and winter aconite are signs that winter is over, and Vorfrühling (prespring) has begun. This season ends with the crocus, cornel and pussy willow coming into flower.


  • The Forsythia blossom signifies Erstfrühling (early spring), along with daffodils and wood anemones being in full bloom. Time to sow peas, give your lawn some feed and prune your roses. When the European Beech unfurls its leaves this season ends.


  • Vollfrühling (full spring) is characterised by apple and cherry blossom, the cuckoo calling and the lilac in full bloom. Later the raspberries also begin to flower and in central and eastern Europe the Ice Saints from 11th to 15th May are traditionally the days when the last frosts or at least cooler nights are expected. Then summer annuals can safely be planted out.

Wild Apple Blossom

Wild Apple Blossom

  • Frühsommer (early summer) is the season where the fragrance of elderflowers fills the air and dots of scarlet field poppies brighten up the countryside. The first hay can now be cut.


  • The next season, Hochsommer (midsummer), is characterised by the potatoes flowering, the gooseberries and redcurrants ripening and the linden (lime) trees coming into flower (another wonderful scent!).


Linden flowers, Wikimedia Commons


  • Spätsommer (late summer) is when the apples start to ripen, the rowan berries turn red and the golden rod glows; cereal crops are now harvested and the meadows can be cut for hay a second time round. The elder is just starting to ripen as this season draws to a close.


  • When the elderberries are ripe and being eaten by the birds, and when you see the first autumn crocus then Frühherbst (early autumn) is here. Most apples, plums and pears ripen in this season and a period of fine weather is very common. The swallows fly south for winter. Time to divide some plants and do some autumn planting!


  • Vollherbst (full autumn) can be recognized by the change in colour of the chestnut leaves and beech. Time to harvest the potatoes and many other vegetables too!


  • Autumn can no longer be denied in Spätherbst (late autumn) with the general falling of leaves and the autumn colours. The last bulb planting should be done, and any less hardy plants covered or brought indoors. The larch needles have started yellowing and as they drop the vegetation period ends.


  • And Winter (winter) arrives. Time for the gardener to relax (unless you have fruit trees to prune, that is!).


So now you know we don’t just have Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter!

Do you think it is helpful to look at the seasons in this way? Is there any particular sign from nature that you always look out for with regard to gardening jobs? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Happy Easter everyone!

36 thoughts on “The Ten Seasons of Phenology

  1. I do like the term ‘Vorfrühling’, I’m already using it around the house but I seem to be the only one impressed 🙂
    It doesn’t say much for winter that it’s the only season which doesn’t break down into multiple phases. I guess it just goes from one boring to the next,
    I saw all the small bulbs pushing their way up and knew it was time to get the beds cleared. Other than that I don’t entirely trust nature. Too many late freezes and early frosts to convince me that anytime is completely safe!

    • We often get caught out too, but one of the most accurate calendar days everyone looks out for is “Kalte Sophie” – St Sophie’s Day, mid-May, is the normal date where we could get a late frost, and almost everyone waits until then to plant out their annuals!

    • Thanks Susie. I had a dark purply red Acer dissectum in my previous garden, and although the autumn colour is not so good, the spring and summer leaf colour is really attractive.

  2. This makes pre-joy for the times to come. Do you have an english word for Vorfreude? I am just thinking is the same German difference like pre-spring and more. ….

    • I agree! Yet, it has been used for hundreds of years already… by farmers and gardeners who never put a name to it! Thanks for visiting Lily!

  3. It makes so much more sense to break the seasons down into shorter phases, could be invaluable for kitchen garden planning. Will seriously consider signing up for the woodland trust project, despite having a really bad track record for persisting with such things.

    • If you do sign up, then I hope you’ll share any insider information Janet! I think it is really useful on a local level; when I drive to the nearest big town I always notice differences in what is flowering or how leafy it is, and that is just 40km away!

  4. Reblogged this on Forest Garden and commented:
    Cathy, at Words and Herbs, explores a topic which has fascinated me since childhood. She uses the proper term, “Phenology.” I always simply thought of it as the proper order of things in nature. Attuned as we are at the moment to every sign of spring and signal that the weather has settled, I would like to share Cathy’s post with you. WG

    • Thanks Anna. Glad you enjoyed them! I’m sure there must be a lot more sayings and guidelines, but they have probably never been written down. I’m still hunting for more!

  5. A lovely post with great photos. It is useful to break up the year like this. It is nice in the depths of Winter to be able to tell yourself that it is actually Pre-Spring.

    • I agree. I think I like the different stages that spring is divided into best, as it is when I am watching most closely for change and signs of warmth and life! 🙂

  6. I found this very interesting. I’d much prefer to think of the seasons this way than try to impose our monthly seasons onto the plants. If you could think like that it would be much better for planting and gardening. I suppose experienced gardeners do it without thinking about it but I tend to look for help in books and use the months as my guide. Amelia

    • I think many of us do divide the year in a similar way without thinking about it, but I think that it would be so useful to have more of this kind of information available as guidelines too. Glad you found the post interesting Amelia. Thanks!

  7. Great post, Cathy. I guess I’ve always thought of the seasons similarly, since the four seasons do not adequately describe the progression we see in nature. March 21 until June 21 may be referred to as ‘spring’ but the two dates are vastly different in temperature and from little to abundant vegetation. Each quarter really can be divided into thirds as we move through the seasons. For me, winter is defined by day length and temperature, which as we have seen this year, can be unusual.
    Your photos are really beautiful!

    • Thanks Eliza! The light, temperature and rainfall seem to be the three key points – we have low light levels for so many winter days due to fog, for example, which means we can be two weeks behind somewhere just 30 miles away!

  8. Pingback: Things I See Around Town | A Walk in the Garden

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