Now is the perfect time to plan your greatest garden ever, and one of the best ways to ensure success is to plan ahead about when you’ll plant what. Some plants thrive in cooler soils, while others will only think about growing when it’s warmer. It’s important to plant your garden seeds and transplants at the right time so they can benefit from appropriate temperatures. New gardeners may want to begin by using purchased seedlings from a garden center or mail-order company, while those with proven green thumbs often like to start seeds indoors in advance of the garden season. Either way, this handy Spring Garden Worksheet will help you put the right plants into the ground at the right time.
Spring Garden Planting Guide
Step 1: Determine your last spring frost date
To estimate your date, use the range of dates on the map in the Image Gallery above. For a more precise date that takes microclimates into consideration, visit the National Climatic Data Center. (Your best bet is to choose their listing of a 90 percent probability of a freeze-free period.)
The spring frost-free date in my garden is ___________.
Step 2: Calculate planting dates
If you want to start with seedlings:
Get out a calendar and, for each crop, add or subtract the number of weeks in column 2 of the Spring Garden Worksheet (“Safe Setting-Out Time”) from your frost-free date. Record these dates in column 3 (“Setting-Out Date”). This is the date it should be safe to plant your seedlings outside. Learn more about how to successfully transplant seedlings to your garden beds in "How to Transplant Seedlings."
If you want to start your own seeds:
Take each date from column 3 (“Setting-Out Date”), subtract the number of weeks shown for that crop in column 4 (“Start Seeds Indoors”) and record that date in column 5 (“Start Indoors Date”). That is the latest you should start those seeds indoors.
Remember to harden off your seedlings over the course of a week or so by exposing them to outdoor conditions for a few hours each day before you finally plant them. (Note: All of the plants listed, except slow-growers such as eggplants and peppers, can be direct-sown in the garden. If you start them indoors, however, you can gain an earlier and sometimes better harvest. For the best results, start most seeds in a warm location (70 to 80 degrees) but move them to a cooler location (60 to 65 degrees) as soon as they sprout. Be sure all have adequate light.
Step 3: Print, fill out and save the Spring Garden Worksheet
The “Setting-Out Date” is relative to the last spring frost date, determined by the map in the Image Gallery above. The “Start Indoors Date” is relative to the “Setting-Out Date” in column 3.
Spring is the right time to plant all of your seedlings, but make sure you plant each set at the right time of the season. Cool- season crops such as cabbage, broccoli and lettuce will grow best when sown a couple of weeks before your last spring frost. Some, such as peas and spinach, are so cold-hardy they should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked. But warm-season crops such as squash, cucumber and basil will be killed by frost if seeds come up too soon. Ditto for warm-season transplants such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants—if you don’t wait until danger of frost has passed before you set them out, a late frost will kill them. Here’s a summary of which crops to plant early, and which ones not to plant until after your last spring frost date. For more detailed planting information, organized by state, visit What to Plant Now from Mother Earth News.
Very Early Spring (as soon as the ground can be worked)
Early Spring (a couple of weeks before last spring frost)
After Last Frost Date