Ever get stumped trying to figure out when to plant vegetables in your area? This definitely requires a little investigative work on your part. There are other variables to consider in addition to your geographical area such as the varieties of vegetables you plan on growing as well as how you will be growing (from seed or transplanting seedlings). So when should you get your crops in the ground?
My area (Zone 4B) is an area with distinct seasons which means that the vegetable growing season will fall somewhere between the first “frost-free” date in the spring and the first hard frost in the fall. It’s impossible to predict these dates with absolute certainty because every year is different it seems. This year has been an excruciatingly cold spring for us so there’s no doubt that gardens will be late getting started.
Fortunately, there are some great tools online to help you determine when it’s safe to plant in your region. If you’re located in Canada, consider checking out Vesey Seed’s chart on Canadian Frost Dates or the Farmer’s Almanac. If you’re in the US, the Farmer’s Almanac works too.
Keep in mind that these dates don’t take into account late season snow storms or unseasonably cold temperatures. However, you would be in good shape if you waited until after the expected frost-free dates AND the daytime soil is at least 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit). To speed things up a bit, you could always cover your planting beds with dark plastic sheets for a few weeks before planting in order to warm up your soil.
As you work at establishing your “garden planting timeline”, think of the frost-free date in the spring and the first hard frost date in the fall as your virtual “bookends” around your prime vegetable growing season. There are ways to extend your season by starting your seeds indoors or protecting your plants from colder temperatures with mini-greenhouses and cold frames.
Don’t Ignore “Days to Maturity”
When you’re in the planning stages of deciding when to plant your vegetables in your garden, don’t forget to pay close attention to the “days to maturity” information found on seed packages or plant tags. This number is expressed as a range of days and will tell you when that plant is ready to be harvested.
Some vegetables reach maturity much faster than others. For instance, radishes and lettuce can be ready for harvest in just 30 days or so. Other the other hand, some pumpkin varieties can take as long as 120-160 days before they reach maturity.
The “days to maturity” for a particular vegetable variety is a good indication of how early you need to get that plant into the ground if you want to harvest before your first hard frost date. It also tells you how late in the season you can plant certain crops. For example, if you live in a northern climate, you wouldn’t plant pumpkin seeds that require 160 days to reach maturity in the late summer. You could however plant fast-growing lettuce varieties with confidence until 30 days or so before your expected last frost date.
But when do you start counting the days? Do you start counting when you plant your garden or when you start your seed indoors? General guidelines are as follows:
- If you start your seed indoors and then transplant into your garden, start counting when you transplant.
- If you direct sow into your garden, only start counting from the time the seed germinates.
Learning when to plant vegetables in your area is worth the effort if you want to make the most of your season. Year after year, you’ll have a better understanding of which varieties thrive in your garden and which ones don’t. This learning curve is what will make you a successful vegetable gardener.