Using phenological and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data from 1982 to 1993 at seven sample stations in temperate eastern China, we calculated the cumulative frequency of leaf unfolding and leaf coloration dates for deciduous species every 5 days throughout the study period. Then, we determined the growing season beginning and end dates by computing times when 50% of the species had undergone leaf unfolding and leaf coloration for each station year. Next, we used these beginning and end dates of the growing season as time markers to determine corresponding threshold NDVI values on NDVI curves for the pixels overlaying phenological stations. Based on a cluster analysis, we determined extrapolation areas for each phenological station in every year, and then implemented the spatial extrapolation of growing season parameters from the seven sample stations to all possible meteorological stations in the study area.
Results show that spatial patterns of growing season beginning and end dates correlate significantly with spatial patterns of mean air temperatures in spring and autumn, respectively. Contrasting with results from similar studies in Europe and North America, our study suggests that there is a significant delay in leaf coloration dates, along with a less pronounced advance of leaf unfolding dates in different latitudinal zones and the whole area from 1982 to 1993. The growing season has been extended by 1.4–3.6 days per year in the northern zones and by 1.4 days per year across the entire study area on average. The apparent delay in growing season end dates is associated with regional cooling from late spring to summer, while the insignificant advancement in beginning dates corresponds to inconsistent temperature trend changes from late winter to spring. On an interannual basis, growing season beginning and end dates correlate negatively with mean air temperatures from February to April and from May to June, respectively.