What Vegetables to Plant in Your Edible Garden Each Season

Not all veggies should be started at the same time. Here's how to figure out the best timing for the crops you want to grow.

Having your very own vegetable patch in your yard can be very rewarding. Not only does it give you the chance to spend time outdoors, plus you'll also reap the benefits of all the fresh produce you grow. In order to get the most bountiful harvests from your efforts, you need to plant your crops at the right time of the year. But when exactly that is depends on several factors, including your area's climate and the type of vegetables you're looking to grow. Luckily, there are only two main groups of vegetables to consider: cool-season vegetables and warm-season vegetables. As you may guess, the climate you're growing in has a lot to do with figuring out when you should plant these types of vegetables. Here's what you need to know.

Raised bed vegetable garden with flowers
Denny Schrock

When to Plant Cool-Season Vegetables

Cool-season vegetables usually develop edible roots, stems, leaves, or buds, such as cabbage, onions, and potatoes. These crops grow best when soil temperatures range between 40 degrees F and 75 degrees F. Cool-season vegetables are unique in that their seeds germinate best in cool soil. Because of this, they're typically planted as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. In most areas, that's between 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost. Avoid planting in soggy soil that is still full of moisture from snow or spring rains—it's best to wait until the soil dries out a little so your seeds or transplants don't rot.

Seed packages or plant tags will tell you the specific temperature at which a particular vegetable can be planted. A soil thermometer can also come in handy if you want to start your cool-season vegetables as soon as possible. Some typical crops for various cooler temperatures include:

It's important to remember that the root systems of cool-season plants are shallower (and the plants themselves smaller) than warm-season vegetables. They typically stop producing in early summer when temperatures reach 80 degrees F. In regions where nights remain cool, you can continue to sow cool-season vegetables every two weeks for a continual harvest that extends into fall. This is known as succession planting. In warmer regions, plant cool-season vegetables as early as possible in late winter or early spring, and plant seeds or transplants again when temperatures cool down in fall so you can enjoy winter harvests.

A few cold-hardy vegetables, including carrots, parsnips, and garlic, can survive throughout winter in regions when insulated under a blanket of snow. Look for vegetables labeled "frost-hardy" to know which ones will tolerate prolonged freezing temperatures. Some varieties also have higher frost tolerance—for example, 'Coronado Crown' broccoli tolerates frost better than many other types.

Patio tomatoes
Peter Krumhardt

The Best Time to Plant Warm-Season Vegetables

Many warm-season vegetables, like tomatoes, peppers, corn, and okra, originated in tropical climates and technically grow as edible fruits (the reproductive part of the plants where the seeds develop) instead of edible roots, stems, leaves, or buds, as cool-season crops do. These tender crops are killed by frost and won't perform well if temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. Avoid planting before the soil and air temperatures have warmed up above this point in spring or early summer because the seeds and plants simply won't grow. Wait until about two weeks after the average last frost date for your region to plant warm-season crops.

You can encourage many warm-season crops to slowly continue growing into fall by protecting them from frost with row covers, cold frames, and other season-extending devices. Warm-season crops can also be sown indoors from seeds, which is a great way to give them a jump start on the growing season. Just remember to harden off seedlings before transplanting them into the garden. This often entails slowly acclimating them to outdoor life by placing them in shade instead of full sun and allowing them to adjust in short periods to outdoor temperatures over a few days.

Popular crops that do best during the warm summer months include artichoke, beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant, melons, okra, peanuts, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatillos, and tomatoes.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I pick my vegetables before a frost?

    There are certain types of vegetables you should pick before a hard frost. They include vegetables like tomatoes, which will continue to ripen off the vine, and summer squash, which will wilt if exposed to frost. Other vegetables, like carrots, peas, and some lettuces, can handle a mild drop in temperature and may be OK.

  • What is a hardiness zone?

    The concept of a hardiness zone was developed by the USDA to refer to designated geographic areas where certain plants (including vegetables, fruits, and flowers) will thrive. It can also further dictate when the best time to plant certain species is, and acts as a road map when planning out your garden for the seasons.

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