People frequently ask me about the correct time to plant
different vegetables and fruits.
Planting times are a subject that confused me when I began
gardening. The guidance offered by seed
companies and gardening magazines is somewhat vague because the writers want
the information to appeal to everyone.
The instruction that bewildered me the most was “Sow seed as
soon as the ground can be worked in spring.”
I can work the ground in my garden in South Carolina nearly every day of
the year. If the ground does freeze, it
often thaws by early afternoon, and within a week’s time from the cold night, we
will usually have a day in the sixties.
Garden writers, I have found, often live in colder climates where they
have many months in which they cannot garden because the ground is covered with
ice and snow. They are inside, writing
about gardening and trying not to think about us fortunate Southerners outside,
on a lovely January day, gardening.
To figure out planting dates, know frost dates. In the Midlands of SC, our first fall frost
usually occurs around November 1, although frost can happen a couple of weeks
before or after that date. Our last
spring frost usually occurs around April 1, give or take a couple of weeks. To figure out planting dates, decide whether
you will sow the seed directly in the garden or whether you will first sow it
inside and transplant it outdoors later.
For example, it is best to start tomato plants from seed inside the
house under grow lights so they will be big enough to transplant outside when
the danger of frost has passed. The
package says to start them about six weeks before the last frost, which means I
usually start my tomato seeds inside around Valentine’s Day. I also start peppers, eggplant, and broccoli
inside under lights. I sow green beans
directly in the garden, and so I do not sow them until April. I sow almost all other vegetables directly in
In January, sow cabbage and broccoli indoors. In February, or six to eight weeks before the
last spring frost, sow broccoli, cabbage, spinach and other leafy greens, bulb
onions, tomatoes, peppers, basil, & eggplant indoors. Start sweet potato slips indoors. Sow leafy greens, carrots, parsnips, beets,
and English peas outdoors. Plant Irish
potatoes outside. In March, continue
sowing the crops as described above. Transplant cool-weather crops outside when
they are large enough.
In April, sow leafy greens outdoors, but know the heat we
often have in late May will cause them to bolt and to become bitter. However, we might have a cool spring, and so
planting the greens later is worth the risk.
Transplant broccoli and cabbage into the garden, but it is too late to
start them from seed because hot weather will arrive before they mature. Plant green beans, lima beans, crowder peas, corn,
okra, squash, and cucumber seeds outside.
In mid-April, or sooner if you are brave, set out tomato,
pepper, and eggplant transplants in the garden.
Just remember that in 2007 the temperature dropped to about 24°F on the
morning of April 7. That spring I had
not set out my tomatoes yet, but many gardeners lost their crop. I have planted tomatoes unadvisedly early, as
an experiment, and covered them with plastic, but nothing besides a heated
greenhouse can protect them from that sort of cold. Although some plants can survive a light
frost, tomatoes cannot. I wait until
mid-April to set out mine; just because the big-box stores have transplants for sale does not mean it's time to set them out in the garden.
Throughout the summer, make successive plantings of beans,
squash, and cucumbers. Start some more
tomato seeds indoors to set out in August for a fall crop. In August, plant cool-season crops like
beets, carrots, leafy greens, broccoli, and cabbage in the garden for a fall
and winter crop.
Draw your crop plan on a piece of paper so you can put new
crops in the spaces vacated by spent crops, and make your garden its most
productive. Purchase your seeds for the
spring, because it is time to get to work.
Labels: last frost date, seed planting guidelines, sowing seed, when do I plant spring vegetables, when do I plant tomatoes