Plan Your Vegetable Crops Planting Times
Plan correct planting times for cool-season and warm-season
vegetables so you know when and what to plant throughout the year
It seems pretty straightforward, you plant cool-season vegetables when it's cool, and warm-season vegetables when it's warm. It rarely ever works out that way however.
Depending upon your climate, you may have very short cool springs and very long, hot, dry summers in which case, cool-season for you may mean October.
You may live in an area where your summers are very short, cool and moist, making warm-season vegetables a challenge. Everywhere is different, which makes planning what you are going to plant, and when, much more important.
Is it hard? No, it just takes a little bit of extra time to think it through. So let's take a look at the growing season so you can figure out when it will be best to plant your vegetables so you get great results and the entire process is enjoyable and successful.
Starting With The Basics
Know your climate
Before you get started, have a working knowledge of your local climate. If you don't know, contact your local farm or ag bureau. They collect frost dates and summer temperature data and have it all available for you if you just ask. It won't be exactly the same every year, but it will really help you get a handle on what's going on in your area.
Make a list
Next, you'll want to make a list of vegetables you would like to grow, based upon what you would like to eat, or simply upon what you would like grow for the fun of it.
Keeping your climate in mind, you may have to do some creative juggling and grow your crops at different times than recommended on the package for the plants to succeed in your area.
You may also have to come to the realization, that sometimes there are certain vegetable crops that simply won't do well in your area unless you grow them in a controlled climate such as a greenhouse.
Nothing wrong with that, but it will save you a lot of time, headaches, and frustration if you know that you will never have the proper climate for say celery (which is kind of touchy to grow), so opt to grow vegetables that are a bit more forgiving.
Get the temperatures each crop likes
Now that you have a list of what you would like to grow, you need to get an idea of when each crop should be planted.
To do that, you'll want to make a notation next to each vegetable on your list as to what temperatures they need to do well. We can help you out with that one, because we have our Vegetable Growing Guides for you that list exactly what each vegetable likes for soil and air temperatures, but we will get more into that in a minute.
Group crops with similar needs
Lastly what you want to do is group those vegetables together that have similar temperature needs.
And don't forget - have fun with this! Gardening is always an adventure and if you mess up, so what! Plant again, or try something different next year.
In General Terms
Warm-Season Crops and Cool-Season Crops
Typically we have two groups of crops: warm-season crops and cool-season crops, but as you'll see, depending upon your climate, these crops may need to be planted at varying times throughout the year.
The following few examples are to give you a general idea of how it all works, and we will get into more specifics in a minute.
Cool-season crops like cabbage, lettuce, peas, and broccoli can withstand some cold weather, even some frost, but their growth grinds to a halt in hot weather.
Warm-season crops, like tomatoes and peppers, won't tolerate frost, but grow well in hot weather.
Example 1: If you live in an area with short summers (100 to 150 days) because you have spring and fall frosts on either side of your summer, you will need to plant cool-season crops a couple of weeks before the last expected spring frost date for your area. Plant warm-season crops a few weeks later, when the soil has warmed up and any danger of frost is well past.
Example 2: In areas with longer frost-free seasons, sometimes it's possible to make a second planting of many cool-season plants in mid to late summer. You may even have time for second plantings of some warm-season crops in midsummer.
Example 3: In some desert areas, most summers are too hot even for warm-season crops, so you will need to plant very early in order to beat the worst of the heat, or plant in early fall when shorter days start to cool off and the worst of the summer heat is over.
One of the most common mistakes is to plant everything at once.
For example: in many areas, if you hold off planting everything until it's safe to plant your tomatoes, it will be too late for cool-season crops such as lettuce and peas, which will not grow well when the weather turns hot.
For example: Where seasons are longer and winters milder, there are more opportunities to start crops. You can grow crops in very early spring, late summer, and fall, which are excellent planting times for that type of climate.
Back To Our List
Now that you have your list of vegetables, keep in mind, you are not going to plant everything all at once. Take into account how quickly a crop will mature and be harvested and what might be planted after it to keep the harvest coming over many months.
For example: where you grow lettuce in your garden in the spring, is where you will grow cucumbers in the summer, and radishes in the fall. You may grow some early-summer green beans, and then in that same spot in the garden you will plant broccoli in the fall.
Planning the succession of your crops will depend on your climate and the length of your growing season.
Group Your Plants
Take your list of crops and divide it into three groups, according to your general growing season:
Frost-hardy crops are the first crops you will plant, and they will provide you with your first harvest. These crops tolerate the cold soil and occasional frosts of early spring. In fact, many will grow and be harvested before it's safe to plant tender crops like tomatoes.
Take advantage of these crops, because they will increase the yield that your garden plot will produce by allowing you to get a full crop grown and harvested before your warm-season crops begin.
Frost-hardy crops include:
Leafy crops: Kale, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard
Root crops: Beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, radishes, turnips
Tip: To cut down on maintenance, group plantings of frost-hardy crops in one section of your garden plot, but only if it's big enough. If you do have the space this is a great trick because that way you don't have to till, and rake the entire garden at once.
Also, by the time it warm enough to plant warm-season vegetables, the first flush of annual weeds will have come up and this way you will only have to prepare the soil for the warm-season crops once, instead of twice.
You can use purchased seedlings, transplants you started yourself, or seeds, as long as these warm-loving plants go into the garden after the last expected frost date.
These crops generally do better if you wait for the soil to warm up before planting, but you can speed that up and get your plants into the garden earlier by covering your soil with black plastic a week or two before the last frost date, or cover your crops with row covers that help hold in the heat and protect the young plants from any late-season frost that may happen.
The earlier you plant, usually means an earlier harvest, but generally waiting for settled weather means a better yield, so if you want to compromise between the two, you can always plan a small early planting and a larger later one.
Warm-weather crops include:
Egglant, tomatoes, and peppers
Cucumbers and melons
Tip: When you make your plan, take into account that some warm-weather crops lend themselves to growing on a trellis or fence and can save space. Cucumbers, pole beans, and some squash can be grown vertically on stakes.
Many gardeners find that the late season, from late summer into fall, is the most productive part of the year. Many crops that thrive in the spring, actually do better in the fall, because the days are getting shorter and cooler, rather than longer and hotter.
Cool-weather crops include:
Leafy crops: Collards, kale, and lettuce
Root crops: Beets, carrots, and turnips
Broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi
Celery, leeks, parsnips
Garlic and shallots
Tip: If you want to get the most out of late season planting, you will have to plan for it. Sometimes it's hard to find vegetable transplants in midsummer, so you may have to grow your own transplants, unless you have a source where you can buy them.
Some General Guidelines - Look For The Pattern That Most Closely Describes The Weather In Your Area
Cold snowy winters, and hot, humid summers
The outdoor season begins several weeks before the last expected spring frost. Plant quick-maturing cultivars for summer crops and pay attention to the hardiness of perennial crops. Look for cultivars that are resistant to molds, and mildews. The late season extends several weeks after the first fall frost and is ideal for cool-weather crops; it can extend even longer for very hardy vegetables or those grown under cover.
Cold snowy winters, and hot, dry summers
The outdoor gardening season begins shortly before the last frost. Early crops may need protection from occasional heavy snows late in the season. Plant quick-maturing cultivars and protect warm-season plants if nighttime temperatures are cool, even in the middle of summer. Mulch cool-weather crops to keep roots cool in the heat. Look for varieties that can take temperature extremes.
Mild winters, and cool, humid summers
In this type of weather, frost-hardy and cool-weather crops can be grown almost year-round. Growing warm-season vegetables however, can be hard. Use black plastic mulch to help warm the soil, and row covers to help hold in heat. Choose fast-maturing cultivars and those that have resistance to mildews and molds. Crops with high heat requirements may not do well, so look for substitutes.
Mild winters, and hot, humid summers
Winters are mild enough to grow even warm-season crops. Grow cool-season crops in the late fall and winter months. To extend your growing season, protect cool-season crops from the sun with shade cloth as temperatures rise in the spring. Look for warm-season crops that are resistant to molds and mildews. Look for cool-season crops that are heat tolerant or resistant. Choose perennial crops carefully. Rhubarb, asparagus, and many fruit trees that need a certain amount of winter chilling hours may not do well because your climate doesn't get cold enough.
Mild winters, and hot, dry summers
Cool-season crops are best grown in the late fall and winter. In this climate, heat tolerance is vital so look for vegetable crops and varieties that can take the scorching hot summers. Use shade cloth and mulch to help plants along. Because the heat and low humidity can dry plants out, watering becomes critical. Mulch plants to help conserve water, and consider planting in sunken beds, simply the opposite of raised beds, to help conserve water and protect crops.
Vegetable Growing Guides
We have taken all of the guesswork out of figuring out what soil and air temperatures each vegetable crop needs. We have complete growing guides for most vegetables already done for you, and those not listed here, will be completed soon.
Use these guides to help you make your lists, and then group together by similar needs as we have spoken about above.
If you have never planted a vegetable garden before, or even if you have but would like to do better, you now have the secret to being a very successful gardener, and that is, knowing what to plant at the right time.
In addition to this article, here are a few others that will help you further along:
Proper Crop Rotation - Critical to keeping your soil and plants healthy
How To Start A Vegetable Garden - Takes you all the way through the entire process
Hilary Rinaldi is a member of the National Garden Writers Association, a nationally published writer, and a certified organic grower. She regularly speaks and writes about all gardening related topics, with an emphasis on making gardening a successful and enjoyable process for anyone who wants to learn. Weekend Gardener Monthly Web Magazine concentrates of giving detailed gardening tips and gardening advice to all levels of gardeners.
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