When to plant in the spring is always one of the big questions that new gardeners have. This is a difficult question since there are different variables that you have to plan for when planting. The great thing is that most of us can plant things right now!
Type of Crop
The most constant variable for knowing when to plant something is by knowing what hardiness your desired plant is.
Perennials are always individual plants that can live for more than two years. These are any plant that can survive a local winter. Perennials can be put in any time the ground is not frozen. Most years the thaw comes about mid February. Quite often soil will be frozen at night and first thing in the morning, but will thaw out later in the day. But don’t worry, as long as you can get a shovel to plant, perennials can take the evening cold!
- Perennial grasses
- Herbaceous perennials
- Ground covers
Hardy annuals can take a light frost and just shake it off. All annuals limit their growth to a year or less. These are traditionally planted as soon as the ground is dry enough to be workable. This is usually around March 1st. Since I generally don’t till or dig more than is needed to plant the seeds, I often start planting as soon as the ground is thawed in mid winter, about mid February.
- Lettuce, loose leaf
- Swiss Chard
- Brussels Sprouts
Semi Hardy Annuals
These are still tough, but they are just a little more finicky than the hardy annuals. Semi hardy annuals can go in on the first day of spring, March 20th, and should be done by about May 1st, unless you are planting greens for a second crop.
These are all the crops that can’t take the slightest frost and includes plants that are perennials in other climates. Tender annuals go in approximately Memorial Day until about June 14th. Be careful in planting these too late. Many of them have longer growing seasons, so a very late planting may prevent them from getting fully ripe.
- Snap Bean
- Lima Beans
- Peppers, Hot and Sweet
- Dry Beans
- Summer and Winter Squash
- Sweet Corn
Not every part of your property is going to be plantable at the same time. Shaded areas like the north side of the house or near evergreen trees are going to be slow to warm up. Low spots that do not allow air to move freely are also prone to being especially cool through the entire year. Areas with strong south and west sun and reflected sun from a building or a fence are going to warm up earlier. Patches of soil near foundations, large rock, and masonry walls also warm up earlier in the year and often do not get as cold during the winter.
You are in the best position to become an expert on your micro climate. Take the time to go out and observe where the snow melts first. Look at where the sun is and what time of day it hits. You may see green sprouts coming up earlier in certain parts of your garden. If you are careful you may find some spots that are so special in what they do that they are the only ones in the whole neighborhood! Regardless, you will be able to better schedule when, where, how, and what to plant in your garden.
By using cold frames, cloches, greenhouses, sheet plastic, hoop houses, and floating row covers you can plant earlier and grow later in the season. Each of these will take some experimentation to find out just how much they can help you plant even earlier.
Each year is going to be different, some years are cold, some are warm, and some are cold at just the right times to make things difficult. The only way you can plant safely is to look at the recommendations above and then study the weather. Even that is not fool proof, so be more cautious than adventurous if you want to be sure of a healthy plant and a good harvest.
Regardless of when or what you plant I hope that you will have a great experience and fully enjoy everything you are planting!