When to Plant Your Vegetables

When to plant your vegetables is very important knowledge for all gardeners.  It can mean the difference between a great harvest, a late harvest, or no harvest!  It's critical to know certain facts about the plants before you plant them. A little knowledge can go a long way to creating a great garden so let's examine a little bit abut when to plant your favorite vegetables!

Is it Cool Season or Warm Season?
Some vegetables like it hot while others do not.  Heat loving vegetables will not tolerate frosts and should never be planted out before the last frost date for your area without protection.  There are techniques you can use to plant your warm season vegetables early but that isn't necessary unless you live in a very cold climate and need to maximize your warm season vegetable time.

tomato flowers

The most popular warm season vegetables include tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squash, melons, beans and cucumbers.  Find your local last frost date and only plant these plants outdoors after it is past.   It's even a  good idea to wait an extra two weeks for the soil to warm up more.  I've planted both on the frost date and two weeks after it and found that the plants that are planted 2 weeks afterward tend to be just as larger or larger than those planted immediately after the last frost date. Keep in mind that just because its the last frost date it doesn't mean that a frost can't happen!  As a gardener you must always keep an eye on the weather.

Cold or cool season vegetables tolerate light to moderate frosts.  They may not actively grow when temperatures aren't warm enough but they won't get damaged by the frosty weather.  In this category there are variations of cold tolerance.  Spinach, kale, and chard will survive heavy frost conditions but lettuce may not so our planting times must be adjusted accordingly.

When to Start the Vegetables

The first step to knowing when to plant your vegetables is knowing which part of the growing season you can plant them.  The next step is being more specific and determining actual dates for planting.  For this we have to grab the last frost date again and base everything around it.  If you are starting your plants from seeds you also need to know how long to grow the seedlings before their ideal transplanting size.  This should be on the seed package.

When to Plant Warm Season Vegetables

tomato transplants started indoors
To start your warm season seeds use the following chart as a guideline. Count back the number of weeks from your last frost date to find the actual starting date.  I prefer to direct sow squash, cucumbers, and melons but you can start transplants to grow a couple weeks earlier indoors then begin succession planting after the frost date.
Warm Season Start Dates
Cucumbers2-3 weeks
Eggplant10-12 weeks
Melons2-3 weeks
Pepper8-10 weeks
Squash2-3 weeks
Tomato8 weeks

Beans should be direct sown in the ground after the last frost date.

When to Plant Cool/Cold Season Vegetables

planting snap peas
Cool season vegetables can be planted outdoors before the last frost date.  In Tennessee we can grow most cool season plants at any time as long as the ground is not frozen - which rarely happens! I begin planting Snap peas in January to mid-February after I have a bed ready.  Kale, spinach, and chard can be planted out in mid February and can be successively planted until the days get too warm.  You can still grow them in shady areas.  The key is to start a new crop every two weeks to have a steady supply. Lettuce is more tender than some other greens and shouldn't be planted too early.  A month to six weeks before the last frost date usually works well in my garden.  Carrots can be planted in the garden about a month before the last frost while onions and their kin should be given about 2 months if grown from seed.

Romaine lettuce
Romaine lettuce

Keep in mind that as gardeners the weather is the ultimate decision maker.  The weather can make or break a garden. It determines when we start our plants and how they grow.  Pay close attention to the forecast and make adjustments according to what the forecasters say but also keep in mind what is normal for your area.  Last year we had a very warm spring and gardeners were able to start tomato plants almost a month early!  I waited on planting out my warm season vegetables because I was afraid of a late frost.  If we had a late frost my garden would have been fine but other gardeners would have had to cover plants or face losing crops.

Have you started planting your garden for 2013 yet?

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