Most northern insect species experience a period of developmental arrest, diapause, which enables them to survive over the winter and postpone reproduction until favorable conditions. We studied the timing of reproductive diapause and its long-term effects on the cold tolerance of Drosophila montana, D. littoralis and D. ezoana females in seasonally varying environmental conditions. At the same time we traced expression levels of 219 genes in D. montana using a custom-made microarray. We show that the seasonal switch to reproductive diapause occurs over a short time period, and that overwintering in reproductive diapause has long-lasting effects on cold tolerance. Some genes, such as Hsc70, Jon25Bi and period, were upregulated throughout the diapause, while others, including regucalcin, couch potato and Thor, were upregulated only at its specific phases. Some of the expression patterns induced during the sensitive stage, when the females either enter diapause or not, remained induced regardless of the later conditions. qPCR analyses confirmed the findings of the microarray analysis in D. montana and revealed similar gene expression changes in D. littoralis and D. ezoana. The present study helps to achieve a better understanding of the genetic regulation of diapause and of the plasticity of seasonal responses in general.