It has been a long, cold winter for most of the country. Even some of the southern states had freezing temperatures in April! This lingering cold has thrown a kink in many people’s gardening plans. You may have planted in March and then lost some of your garden in late spring freezes. If you did, you aren’t the only one. Determining when to plant your garden depends on a variety of factors including the plant, your location, and the date.
Whether you are planting vegetables or flowers, you will need to study the plant specifically, as there is no shared rule for all plants. Different plants will have different temperature tolerances. Lettuce, for example, prefers cooler temperatures and cannot tolerate high heat—as you may expect, it wilts. Tomatoes, however, prefer warmer temperatures, they do not thrive at temperatures below 55 degrees.
When buying seeds, seedlings, or established plants, they often contain information cards that detail when they can be planted and what temperatures they can tolerate. If you receive a plant as a gift, you may need to do some research before putting it into the ground.
For example, here are some of the vegetables that thrive when planted in seedling pots indoors in May:
The agricultural hardiness zone you live in will also influence when you can start your garden. These zones show the average minimum temperature in your area, and they can help you determine if the plants you’ve chosen can thrive in your area.
If you live in the north, you will have to wait longer to plant outdoors. Only a few vegetables can survive a hard freeze, and you don’t want to put them in the ground when there’s still a chance of a plunge in temperature. In the northern part of the country, you may not be able to start planting cool weather plants outdoors until the end of April or May, but in the southern part of the country, you may be able to start as early as February.
In conjunction with your location, you need to consider the date. Many seeds state that they can be sown when the danger of frost has passed. NOAA has the average first and last frost dates for the each state. You can use the information to help determine when it should be safe to plant your garden. You may want to err on the side of caution and wait a week or two past your average last frost date before you plant.
Another factor when planting seeds is that they will take time to sprout and grow. Planting too late in the spring months could diminish the time the plant has to soak in the correct weather and produce flowers or fruit.
Some plants can tolerate a freeze, and some of them actually do better in cooler weather. This is why it’s important to consider the specific plant.
Starting Your Seeds Indoors
Starting seeds indoors has a number of advantages. First, with vegetables you can increase your growing season by several weeks. By starting the seeds indoors, when it’s too cold to plant outdoors, plants are able to mature enough to be planted in the ground when the weather breaks. This means your plants will start producing fruit more quickly than if you were to plant the seed directly in the ground.
Second, the plants are protected from late frosts. Some years, like this year, late frosts will occur expected or not. It might be sunny and spring-like one week, then cold and blustery the next, so it can be hard to predict when that last frost will occur. It’s disappointing (not to mention costly) to lose plants due to a late frost. Protect them by starting your seeds indoors and keeping the delicate seedlings protected from the weather until they are stable enough to make it on their own outdoors.
Plant Your Seeds
Starting seeds indoors is fairly easy, and you need only five items:
- Water bottle
- Potting Soil
- 4-inch containers if your indoor growing time will be longer due to colder months.
- Seedling containers if you are only sprouting the seeds before planting. You can also use bathroom tissue rolls bound in a small plastic container (as seen below).
Plant the seeds according to the date on the package. Because you are planting indoors, you have leeway to plant toward the beginning of the cultivation period.
Seeds should be spritzed with water when planted, and periodically as they grow. Use a water bottle to ensure they are not over saturated with water, which can rot the seed.
Seedlings need a lot of sunlight. A sunroom or all-season room is a great place to start seedlings. These rooms provide enough light, while keeping the plants protected from the elements. If seedlings start bending toward the sunroom windows, rotating the containers will help keep them straight.
Planting a garden is a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It’s a great way to beautify your outdoors, spend time with your family, relax, and/or grow your own food. Doing the research before planting your garden will ensure a fruitful garden and healthy plants.