Seasonal Planting Guide
“Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream.” – Josephine Neuse
A big part of being a successful gardener is knowing what time of year is best for planting. Some plants and vegetables should be planted in the spring, whereas other plants can be planted in the fall. Likewise, not all vegetable varieties are created equal. That is to say, some varieties of a given vegetable will grow better in a certain environment/climate than others. For example, some tomato varieties grow better in southern climates than they will in northern climates. Further more, some plants have longer growing periods than others. This means that some vegetables will have to be planted earlier and harvested later.
Plant Hardiness Zone:
A big part of determining ones growing season, and when to plant any given vegetable depends on which “Plant Hardiness Zone” they live in. The Plant Hardiness Zone is determined by the average low temperature of a given area. The zones are commonly divided up into intervals of 10 degrees (sometimes 5 if you want to be really specific). For example, zone 6 has an average low temperature between -10 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, as opposed to Plant Hardiness Zone 13, which only experiences low temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Plant Hardiness Zone was developed by the USDA in order to help farmers and gardeners determine their growing season, as well as to determine which plants will grow best in their area. If you aren’t sure of your Plant Hardiness Zone, I would encourage you to visit the USDA website (Click Here). Their website should have all the information you need to easily determine your zone. If you live in an area with a low Plant Hardiness number (8 or lower) you may find it advantageous, if not a necessity, to start many of your plants indoors before transplanting them in your garden.
Month by Month Planting Guide:
This planting guide will vary depending on your Plant Hardiness Zone. In regards to the Northern Hemisphere, spring covers the months of March, April and May; summer covers June, July and August; fall covers September, October and November; and winter covers December, January and February. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere then it goes without saying that the seasons are reversed.
Winter: For most of the United States (Plant Hardiness Zone 10 and lower) there isn’t much outdoor gardening to be had. However, this is the time when seed catalogs start to roll in, people begin planning their gardens, and purchasing supplies. The fall and winter months tend to be the best time to buy gardening supplies such as potting soil, lights, and containers, since they will typically be offered at discounted prices in order to make room for new inventory.
Mid to late winter is a good time to start seeds indoors so they will be ready for transplanting in the spring. Plants such as tomatoes and peppers will take between 6-8 weeks before they are mature enough to be transplanted. However, I don’t need to tell you that tomatoes and peppers are especially susceptible to frost. As such, one would do well to wait until they are sure that the last frost has passed before transplanting them. My neighbor got a little overly excited one year and planted her tomatoes just a couple of weeks to early. Needless to say, they fell victim to a late frost and were un-salvageable.
Besides peppers and tomatoes, onions are quite popular to start during the winter months. If you live in Plant Hardiness Zones of/or between 6 to 10, then it’s best to start onions in late January. If you live in colder climates of/between 1 to 5, than it’s advisable that you start your seeds around mid to late February. After you onion seeds germinate, it’s best to keep them cut down to about 3 to 4 inches until they are ready to be transplanted. Keeping them trimmed down will help them produce a stronger and more viable root system.
Herbs for their part are extremely popular to grow indoors during the winter months. Herbs that are of small stature such as basil, chervil, bay, mint, and oregano lend themselves particularly well to indoor gardening. Some ambitious household chefs choose to grow such herbs indoors despite the season, just so they can have them quick at hand.
Spring: Spring is the busiest time of year for gardeners. It’s the time of year when one tills the soil, spreads compost/fertilizer, and sows seeds. Spring is what your winter months of preparation and planning were all about. However, this is the time of year that can make or break a gardener’s spirit. You don’t want to get to overly ambitious and plant tomatoes too early only to lose them to frost. In my region (zone 6) a good frost can come about as late a early April. If you do transplant frost sensitive plants too early, then you many find it advantageous to carefully cover them at night in order to protect them from the elements.
Late April to early May is the best time to start planting for my area (zone 6). There isn’t any risk of frost, and the soil temperature is more conductive to germination and rapid plant growth. Good springtime seeds to start planting are Beans, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Corn, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Melons, Onions, Peas, Peppers, Spinach, and Tomatoes.
Summer: By early summer most of your vegetables will have been planted and sprouting. Plants such as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant should already be in the ground by early June. Although many vegetables will germinate and grow quickly during the summer months due to the warmer temperatures. Good summer vegetables include Beans, Beets, Broccoli, Carrots, Corn, Cucumbers, Kale, Radish, and Spinach.
A big part of summer planting revolves around maintenance; such as, keeping weeds under control, as well as keeping an eye out for plant diseases and pests. Irrigation is also a big concern during the summer months. However, some plants require more water than others. As such, one should keep this in mind when planning a garden.
Summer can also be a good time to visit your local nursery in order to find good deals on mature plants (such as tomatoes) that you can transplant into your garden.
Fall: For me fall is all about composting; getting and collecting organic material so that it can decompose into nutrient rich material for the next year. Fall is the best time for composting because there is no shortage of leaves. And nothing makes for better compost/worm food than leaves. This is because leaves are packed full of all the mineral and nutrients that are required for growing big and healthy vegetables. In the fall I will typically collect all of the leaves I can find, mix in a liberal amount of horse manure, and add a good quantity of red worms. Red worms love horse manure and leaves. They will work hard all fall and winter to turn them into nice, dark, nutrient rich, compost.
Fall is also the time of year when you start harvesting and preserving food. There are many different ways to preserve vegetables, whether it be canning, drying, pickling, utilizing your root cellar. While I was in the process of writing this I came across some pumpkins I had all but forgotten about. They were in perfect condition, despite the fact that I hadn’t taken any steps to preserve them, and had merely laid them aside in the pantry.
When it comes to fall planting, in most Plant Hardiness Zones, you can still get some planting in during the month of September before the first frost comes rolling through. Good fall crops include: Blueberries, Broccoli, Garlic, Lettuce, Radish, and Spinach. If you live in warmer climates you can grow some of these plants as late as October to early November.