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When to Plant a Garden — Key Dates Explained

barrel in the rain garden

If you are just beginning your gardening career, one of the most important things to learn is when to start planting. Many plants will produce a bigger harvest or bloom more often if you plant them at the right time, and planting certain varieties too early can damage them. If you’d like to become a better gardener but aren’t sure how to get started, keep reading as we look at several key dates to help you determine when to plant your garden for the best chance of success.

divider 5When to Plant Your Garden

Listen to your Soil

Your garden itself — or more accurately, its soil — will be one of your biggest helpers when determining when to plant. You need to wait for the soil to thaw enough for it to start draining and become somewhat dry before you even think about planting. Check the soil regularly without stepping on it to see if the soil is workable. If it’s clumpy and muddy, it’s still too early to plant, so check back in a few days. Don’t bother the soil much before it’s ready. Stepping on it or tilling it can compact the soil and make it hard to work with all year long. Ideally, your soil temperature will be between 65 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit when you plant. You can use a soil thermometer to get an accurate temperature reading, but check it early in the morning.

man holding soil
Image Credit: Piqsels

Zones

The most common method to determine when to plant is to use hardiness zones. These range from 1 to 13, with higher numbers being warmer and lower numbers being colder. To use these zones, you must first check a map to learn the hardiness zone in your area. Once you know your zone, you will have a better idea of when to plant. In cold zones, you will need to wait until later in the year to plant so soil can warm up to an acceptable temperature of 65 to 75 degrees, while warm zones can get started planting much earlier in the year. The United States typically ranges from zones 3 to 10. Zone 10 dwellers can begin gardening in the middle of January, while people in zone 3 need to wait until late May.

Zone Planting Dates
Zones 3 and 4 May 1–May 31
Zones 5, 6, 7 March 30–April 30
Zone 8 February 22–March 30
Zone 9 January 30–February 28
Zone 10 January 15–January 30

Cold Weather Plants

Even when referring to your planting zone, it’s still important to listen to your soil. Seasons don’t always change when they are supposed to, and the soil may not be warm enough for planting even if the zone guidelines suggest that it is. If you are desperate to get your garden going, you can begin several cold-weather plants as long as the soil is about 55 degrees. Plants that can survive slightly colder temperatures include radish, broccoli, peas, lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard. While these plants can withstand marginally cold temperatures, the soil cannot be too wet.

lettuce being planted
Image Credit: Filmbetrachter, Pixabay

Other Helpful Tips for Planting

Till your ground, and add organic compost or manure to prepare the garden for next year in late summer or fall.

Fruits are not as hardy as vegetables, so don’t plant them until all danger of frost is gone.

Start your seeds indoors 8 to 12 weeks before the projected last frost in your area. Check the seed packet to get more accurate information for the type of seeds that you’re growing.

If you started your seeds indoors, you need to gradually expose them to outside temperatures for 7–14 days to help them adjust to the new environment.

Check your seed packet to see how far apart you need to space the seedlings. It’s extremely easy to overcrowd your plants when they are so small, but it will cause problems later.

If your plants are in the ground but it’s still early in the year and there is a risk of frost, you will need to make sure you cover them with a light blanket if it gets too cold. Commercial frost covers are extremely effective but can be expensive if you have many plants that need protecting.

When What
Late summer or fall Till ground with organic compost to prepare for next season
8–12 weeks before predicted last frost Start seeds
7–14 days before planting seedlings outside Gradually expose seedlings to the outside environment

divider 5Summary

It’s best to get started with gardening the year before by tilling the land and adding organic compost, which will break down over the winter and add important nutrients to the soil so it will be easier for the plants to grow. Starting your seeds inside the house 8 to 12 weeks before your last frost can help you get a better harvest. Make sure you listen to your soil, and when the soil temperatures start to average around 65 degrees Fahrenheit, put the cold-weather plants outdoors first, ensuring adequate spacing. It will be time to plant regular vegetables a few days after that, before finally planting fruits when all danger of frost is gone. If there is any danger of frost, you will need to cover any plants before it arrives, so they are not damaged.


Featured Image Credit: Richard Pratt, Shutterstock

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