Growing degree days (GDD), also called growing degree units (GDUs), are a heuristic tool in phenology. GDD are a measure of heat accumulation used by horticulturists, gardeners, and farmers to predict plant and animal development rates such as the date that a flower will bloom, or a crop will reach maturity.
In the absence of extreme conditions such as unseasonal drought or disease, plants grow in a cumulative stepwise manner which is strongly influenced by the ambient temperature. Growing degree days take aspects of local weather into account and allow gardeners to predict (or, in greenhouses, even to control) the plants’ pace toward maturity.
Unless stressed by other environmental factors like moisture, the development rate from emergence to maturity for many plants depends upon the daily air temperature. Because many developmental events of plants and insects depend on the accumulation of specific quantities of heat, it is possible to predict when these events should occur during a growing season regardless of differences in temperatures from year to year. Growing degrees (GDs) is defined as the number of temperature degrees above a certain threshold base temperature, which varies among crop species. The base temperature is that temperature below which plant growth is zero. GDs are calculated each day as maximum temperature plus the minimum temperature divided by 2 (or the mean temperature), minus the base temperature. GDUs are accumulated by adding each day’s GDs contribution as the season progresses.
GDUs can be used to: assess the suitability of a region for production of a particular crop; estimate the growth-stages of crops, weeds or even life stages of insects; predict maturity and cutting dates of forage crops; predict best timing of fertilizer or pesticide application; estimate the heat stress on crops; plan spacing of planting dates to produce separate harvest dates. Crop specific indices that employ separate equations for the influence of the daily minimum (nighttime) and the maximum (daytime) temperatures on growth are called crop heat units (CHUs).
GDD are calculated by taking the average of the daily maximum and minimum temperatures compared to a base temperature, Tbase, (usually 10 °C). As an equation:
If the mean daily temperature is lower than the base temperature then GDD=0.
GDDs are typically measured from the winter low. Any temperature below Tbase is set to Tbase before calculating the average. Likewise, the maximum temperature is usually capped at 30 °C because most plants and insects do not grow any faster above that temperature. However, some warm temperate and tropical plants do have significant requirements for days above 30 °C to mature fruit or seeds.
For example, a day with a high of 23 °C and a low of 12 °C (and a base of 10 °C) would contribute 7.5 GDDs.
A day with a high of 13 °C and a low of 10 °C (and a base of 10 °C) would contribute 1.5 GDDs.
|Common name||Latin name||Number of growing degree days baseline 10 °C|
|Witch-hazel||Hamamelis spp.||begins flowering at <1 GDD|
|Red maple||Acer rubrum||begins flowering at 1-27 GDD|
|Forsythia||Forsythia spp.||begin flowering at 1-27 GDD|
|Sugar maple||Acer saccharum||begin flowering at 1-27 GDD|
|Norway maple||Acer platanoides||begins flowering at 30-50 GDD|
|White ash||Fraxinus americana||begins flowering at 30-50 GDD|
|Crabapple||Malus spp.||begins flowering at 50-80 GDD|
|Common Broom||Cytisus scoparius||begins flowering at 50-80 GDD|
|Horsechestnut||Aesculus hippocastanum||begin flowering at 80-110 GDD|
|Common lilac||Syringa vulgaris||begin flowering at 80-110 GDD|
|Beach plum||Prunus maritima||full bloom at 80-110 GDD|
|Black locust||Robinia pseudoacacia||begins flowering at 140-160 GDD|
|Catalpa||Catalpa speciosa||begins flowering at 250-330 GDD|
|Privet||Ligustrum spp.||begins flowering at 330-400 GDD|
|Elderberry||Sambucus canadensis||begins flowering at 330-400 GDD|
|Purple loosestrife||Lythrum salicaria||begins flowering at 400-450 GDD|
|Sumac||Rhus typhina||begins flowering at 450-500 GDD|
|Butterfly bush||Buddleia davidii||begins flowering at 550-650 GDD|
|Corn (maize)||Zea mays||800 to 1400 GDD to crop maturity|
|Dry beans||Phaseolus vulgaris||1100-1300 GDD to maturity depending on cultivar and soil conditions|
|Sugar Beet||Beta vulgaris||130 GDD to emergence and 1400-1500 GDD to maturity|
|Barley||Hordeum vulgare||125-162 GDD to emergence and 1290-1540 GDD to maturity|
|Wheat (Hard Red)||Triticum aestivum||143-178 GDD to emergence and 1550-1680 GDD to maturity (there may be confusion between Celsius and Fahrenheit, 1680 is probably Fahrenheit)|
|Oats||Avena sativa||1500-1750 GDD to maturity|
|European Corn Borer||Ostrinia nubilalis||207 - Emergence of first spring moths|
Insect development and growing degree days are also used by some farmers and horticulturalists to time their use of organic or biological pest control or other pest control methods so they are applying the procedure or treatment at the point that the pest is most vulnerable. For example:
- Black cutworm larvae have grown large enough to start causing economic damage at 165 GDD
- Azalea Lace Bug emerges at about 130 GDD
- Boxwood leaf miner emerges at about 250 GDD
10 °C is the most common base for GDD calculations, however, the optimal base is often determined experimentally based on the lifecycle of the plant or insect in question.
- 5.5 °C wheat, barley, rye, oats, flaxseed, lettuce, asparagus
- 6 °C Stalk Borer
- 7 °C Corn rootworm
- 8 °C sunflower, potato
- 9 °C Alfalfa weevil
- 10 °C maize (including sweet corn), sorghum, rice, soybeans, tomato, Black cutworm, European Corn Borer, Coffee (Jaramillo-Robledo & Guzman-Martinez published by Cenicafé), standard baseline for insect and mite pests of woody plants
- 11 °C Green Cloverworm
- 12 °C many other crop calculations
- 30 °C the USDA measure heat zones in GDD above 30 °C; for many plants this is significant for seed maturation, e.g. reed (Phragmites) requires at least some days reaching this temperature to mature viable seeds
GDDs may be calculated using either Celsius or Fahrenheit, though they must be converted appropriately; for every 9 GDDF there is 5 GDDC, or in conversion calculation:
GDDC = 5/9 * GDDF
This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "Report for Congress: Agriculture: A Glossary of Terms, Programs, and Laws, 2005 Edition" by Jasper Womach.
- Growing Degree Days as a Method of Rating the Maturity of Corn Hybrids
- Current year-to-date GDDs for selected US cities
- a table of GDDs necessary for grapes
- GDDs to various stages of maturity for selected crops
- University of Massachusetts Amherst Extension, Integrated Pest management Tools, web site accessed Jan 2005
- Online GDD calculator