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.
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
|Warm Season Start Dates|
Beans should be direct sown in the ground after the last frost date.
When to Plant Cool/Cold Season Vegetables
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.
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?