When Should I Plant My Spring Garden?
Few things in life are more rewarding to avid gardeners than watching new plants blossom in the spring, thrive through the summer and still produce well into the fall. Most American gardeners have a three-season window to produce the flourishing home garden of their dreams. What separates the skilled from the novice gardeners is the knowledge of proper timing.
Those of you just getting into gardening may be wondering when the best time to plant your spring crops is–whether that be vegetables, perennials, annuals or bulbs. While there’s no definite answer to this curiosity other than: it just depends, the Garden Goods Direct team is here to share the important factors you should consider when deciding when to plant that spring garden.
Our number one tip when it comes to the timing of your spring garden is to be proactive! The best time to start planning for your spring garden is now! In fact, many experienced gardeners start planning their spring gardens the previous fall. However, if you are just getting into your plans for spring, do not be discouraged!
With a few simple assessments of your circumstances, you too will soon be able to better gauge that perfect spring garden timeline.
Picking Your Spring Crops
First on your spring gardening checklist is to decide what crops you’d like to see in your spring garden this year. You can divide your list into four groups: vegetables, annuals, perennials, and bulbs.
You might start your vegetable garden by planting the seeds directly into your garden, or perhaps you plan to start the seeds indoors and later transplant them. Some veggies like brussels sprouts, pees, kale and lettuce are considered cool season vegetables and can go into the ground right after it thaws. Others, such as tomatoes and peppers, can’t tolerate chilly temperatures and will be late-planters.
Most gardeners start annuals as bedding plants, which means they seed them indoors and allow them to germinate and leaf long before planting time. However, the early birds of the season may be eager to get their yard spring-ready. Depending upon when you'd like to see blooms, you may decide to get a jumpstart on the season and plant some annuals that are more tolerant of the cold.
To get a head start on your flower beds this season, many gardeners choose to first raise their seeds indoors. If you choose to go this route, you'll then be better prepared to get your garden planted as temperatures warm. It’s not too early to start planting bee balm, poppy, lupine, blazing star, baby’s breath, and blanket flower indoors if you live in zones 3-5. This way they’ll be good and ready for transplant when things start warming up.
Perennials are plants that return year after year. These garden anchors are mostly flowering plants that go dormant in the fall. Unless you’re starting new plants from cuttings, you won’t need to worry about spring planting time. Nature will take care of triggering fresh growth.
However, if you intend on expanding your perennial collection, you’ll be dividing and transplanting them. In this case, timing is critical, as you want to split the plants just when the ground is thawed and divide them before they start into spring growth. Otherwise, your perennials will become shocked and may not survive.
Bulbs need their own category because they’re not really annuals, and they’re not truly perennials. While bulbs are mostly flowering plants like tulips, crocuses and gladiolas, you can argue that vegetables like potatoes also originate as bulbs or root eyes.
Bulbs are capable of bouncing back the following season when left in the ground over winter. However, experienced gardeners know that many perform far better when they're uprooted in the fall, stored dry in the winter and planted at precisely the right time in the spring. With bulbs, like various other plants, timing is everything.
Assessing The Conditions
Like so many activities, successful flower and vegetable gardening depends upon proper conditions of weather, temperature, and ground quality. Certain plants thrive well in cool parts of the spring, like March and April, while other plants are sensitive to the cold and will only survive with warm feet.
To choose the best time to plant spring bulbs and other spring plants, our best advice is to plan ahead and coordinate your timing. First on your list of assessments is determining your growing zone’s approximate last spring frost date of the season.
1. Determining Your Area’s Last Spring Frost Date
To determine your growing zone’s first and last frost dates, we recommend first identifying your area's USDA hardiness zones. Then, you can better work to calculate your area's average frost-free date of the growing season.
The USDA website identifies 13 specific hardiness zones in every part of America. It’s rated from a 1-zone, where permafrost exists in remote places like Alaska, to warm and humid 13-zones like south Florida and Hawaii. To find your plant hardiness zone, go to the USDA website and enter your zip code.
Another helpful resource to take your research a step further is the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). The NCDC uses your area's general climate, hardiness zones and historical data to nail down your area's average frost-free date. You can also use this handy reference by simply entering your zip code.
In using these resources, you will minimize the risk of cold damage to the more tender crops you choose to grow.
2. Understanding Spring’s Mini Seasons
Next in your assessment of conditions, it is important to grasp a general understanding of spring’s three seasons: early spring, pre-frost-free spring and post-frost-free spring.
This is right when frost leaves the ground, but the outdoor soil is still too cool for sensitive plants. However, your indoor conditions of artificial warmth and light will give slow starters the lead time required to mature before transplanting.
Early spring is prime time for bulb placement and perennial division — it’s also time to seed early risers. Most of America’s colder zones rate early spring as mid-March to mid-April.
Pre-Frost Free Spring:
Your average frost-free date is a vital gardening milestone to watch for. This is that date in spring when ground frost is gone, but you can still experience nightly surface frost. This is a moving target in all areas because the frost risk date has early and late arrivals.
Many vegetables and flowers can’t tolerate frost on their leaves or blossoms and will die even with a light icing. As a rule of thumb, most experienced gardeners in America’s cooler zones use the late-May Memorial Day weekend as their frost-free date.
After Last Frost Spring:
For most areas, the after last frost period runs from late May and throughout June. This is the time of year us gardeners have been eagerly awaiting: warm season. By this time, your bulbs will be up and blooming, your perennials will be well-adjusted and your early veggies will be on the table.
Now, it’s time to transplant bedding plants from your greenhouse or cold frames and sow warm weather plants. Another gardening rule of thumb is that it’s always best to err on the warm side than the cold. Warm weather plants can quickly catch up when air and soil temperatures are right for their species.
3. Determining Lead Timing
Once you’ve chosen what plants you’re tackling this season, and you’ve made a point to assess the growing conditions of your area, it’s time to determine lead timing for your crops.
In doing research on your crops of choice, you can then classify them into one of the three mini season’s of spring. To make these groupings, you will have to take a look at the lead time you’ll need for each crop before pulling the planting trigger.
Lead time is the date you have to start germinating your seeds, planting your bulbs or dividing your perennials. Our Garden Goods Direct Woodie-approved advice is to determine how much lead time each plant needs for germinating in relationship to their outdoor soil and air temperature requirements. Your list should contain this critical information, as it will allow you to transfer your four plant groups and their three mini-season requirements to a planting calendar.
Making a Planting Calendar
Making a planting calendar is the best way to organize your spring garden planting because it's inexpensive and easy to follow! Planting calendars are a pro-gardener's best kept secret, for they are a natural way to plan when to prepare plants according to their germination time and optimum planting date.
A helpful planting calendar should include:
- Count Back Date: A good planting calendar works by establishing a count back period from ground planting time. For instance, say you want to plant bedding plants like geraniums on Memorial Day. Your seed instructions will state that geraniums require 12 to 14 weeks from seed to transplant. This means you have to start propagating geranium seeds no later than mid-to-late-February if you want to meet your spring planting date. Mark that February geranium seeding date on your planting calendar.
- Planting Milestones: You’ll want to mark dates for all planting milestones — that includes bulb planting dates, perennial division dates and direct seed sowing dates. It’s not necessary to be to-the-day specific, as planting windows work well on a weekly basis. There are too many variables involved to nail down what will happen on a particular day.
- Planting Variables: Planting variables could be due to your schedule or other personal requirements. It could be weather variations like an average frost-free date running a week or two late. You might even be hampered by a short seed supply or late delivery. The most important things are to plan early, give yourself plenty of time and be flexible.
You don’t have to get fancy and use a computer spreadsheet to create your gardening calendar unless you like that sort of thing. However, you might find flipping back and forth on a regular calendar is a bit clumsy. The best schedules are on a whiteboard that lays out three or more months, so you see all of them at the same time.
Whiteboards are great visual aids. They are a great tool that allows for simple color coding, quick note taking, and the convenience of easy adjustments to dates and conditions. Best of all, you can easily correct all those inevitable mistakes.
Shop Garden Goods Direct This Spring
For three decades, Garden Goods Direct has been more than a garden supply store. We evolved into a one-stop online garden supplier, dealing directly with our customers and bypassing the expensive middleman. We like to call ourselves the nation’s local garden center.
Now that you have a better idea of when you should plant your spring garden, check out the wide range of gardening supplies Garden Goods Direct has for you. Or, contact us with any questions you have.
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