How to Set Your Garden Timeline

June 21, 2020

So many of our friends have started a garden this year, and it’s just wonderful. There’s nothing better, or healthier, than picking your food fresh from your backyard. But the average first time gardener overlooks something important - plants must be planted within certain time frames to avoid cold or hot weather.

You see, some plants like the cold, and some don’t. We are geared to believe that there is one “garden season” - spring - because that’s when Home Depot sells all of its garden supplies and plants. Wrong! You can garden much of the year when there isn’t snow on the ground - but, some plants again will like the cold, while others may die. Likewise, some plants require a certain warm temperature to thrive.

The first thing you need to learn to create a proper timeline is your garden zone and frost dates.

We live in zone 5b, and our last frost (in spring) is typically around the end of April, and our first frost (in fall) is typically around the middle of October. 

Now, keep in mind that these are averages. The weather in the United States has been all over the board in recent years, so, you still want to keep an eye out for frosts on your weather forecast and cover your plants (see below) if it does get close to 32 degrees.

In general these plants are okay with some cold, so, you will plant them first in the spring, and can plant them in midsummer to harvest in the fall when it’s cold. Dig into their specifics to learn if they can handle a light or hard frost at all. In general, you don’t want your cold loving plants to be in the ground during the hottest days of your garden year (anything over 75 degrees), and you don’t want your warm weather plants to be in the ground until after your last frost date, and they will not flourish close to your first frost date in the fall. Frost will typically kill warm loving plants.

Cold Weather Plants

Brussel sprouts

Warm Weather Plants

Onions Okra
Green Beans
Squash (including Pumpkins)
Most herbs

Now, you can extend the beginning and end of your growing season by keeping these cold-loving plants just a little warmer.
Fabric cover, raised garden beds, row cover, hoop houses, high tunnels, and greenhouses can keep your plants warmer, allowing you to garden earlier in the spring and later in the fall. In my zone, we will typically seed/start plants in March/April for spring harvests (although there was a freeze in May this year), mid to late May to early June for summer harvests, and then again in mid July or early August for fall harvests. Check how many days a plant takes to mature to determine if you have enough time to seed that plant, especially in late summer when your first frost date is approaching.You can also succession plant - plant a few seeds of one plant every 2-3 weeks to extend a harvest, such as a lettuce mix if you’d like a little every week to munch on. 

I hope this is a quick, easy to understand primer on why it isn’t best to plant everything all at once. And, it gives you an idea of what to plant when.

Danielle Olson Jones

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