Plants respond to the changing seasons to initiate developmental programmes precisely at particular times of year. Flowering is the best characterized of these seasonal responses, and in temperate climates it often occurs in spring. Genetic approaches in Arabidopsis thaliana have shown how the underlying responses to changes in day length (photoperiod) or winter temperature (vernalization) are conferred and how these converge to create a robust seasonal response. Recent advances in plant genome analysis have demonstrated the diversity in these regulatory systems in many plant species, including several crops and perennials, such as poplar trees. Here, we report progress in defining the diverse genetic mechanisms that enable plants to recognize winter, spring and autumn to initiate flower development.