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ABCs what to plant in spring vegetable garden, A-C

Spring is here, start growing cool season vegetable garden

P. Allen Smith, in his article on planting a spring vegetable garden, says, “Cool season vegetables are those that can thrive during the shorter days and cool temperatures of spring and fall."  Here's the 1st of an ABCs list of his tips on what to plant.
P. Allen Smith in his garden.

At last January and February are over and the cool spring season is here. It’s the best time to get ready and plant for your cool season spring vegetable garden. Here’s the first in a series of articles of an ABCs listing of what to plant in a spring vegetable garden from someone who knows.

P. Allen Smith, gardening expert recommendations

P. Allen Smith, noted gardening expert, in his article on planting a spring vegetable garden, says, “Cool season vegetables are those that can thrive during the shorter days and cool temperatures of spring and fall,” he says also that some vegetables develop better flavors when tweaked by early spring frost while many summer season vegetable garden favorites like okra, squash and tomatoes want extended, hot days to produce.

Place seed order early, start indoors if too cold outside

Allen suggests the first thing to do is place your cool season vegetable garden seed order. If it arrives before spring starts in your region, it could still be too soon to plant the garden seeds outside, but various a cool season vegetable can be started from seed indoors 6 - 8 weeks prior to the frost free date in your growing zone area. He adds that a few vegetable garden transplants can be positioned outside a few weeks before the frost free date as well.

Deep South gardeners’ resource

Allen adds,

Now I foresee the comments from readers in the Deep South already, “This doesn't apply to me!” Well, you are right. You are already mid-way through your cool season vegetable garden time frame, but there is still time to plant. A great resource for you is

He says that gardeners in the northern colder regions have such a small growing season that they will plant their cool and warm season vegetables almost side by side.

Know your zone frost dates, cover vegetables if unexpected freeze

Know when the last frost date is in your growing zone area before you start sowing seeds and planting. This determines when your spring growing season begins. Many on-line sites provide this information, Allen provides the zone chart below for the readers use.

He also reminds us vegetables can all be wiped out by a sudden, severe drop in temperature, so it's important to be prepared

…with something to drape over the crops if an overnight cold snap is expected. Simply cover your crops with newspaper, old sheets or frost blankets. Just remember to remove the covering the next morning.

Last Frost Dates by Zone

Zone 3 1 May / 31 May
Zone 4 1 May / 30 May
Zone 5 30 Mar / 30 Apr
Zone 6 30 Mar / 30 Apr
Zone 7 30 Mar / 30 Apr
Zone 8 28 Feb / 30 Mar
Zone 9 30 Jan / 28 Feb
Zone 10 30 Jan or before
Zone 11 Free of Frost throughout the year.

ABCs what to plant in spring vegetable garden, A-C

  • Arugula – Sow seeds in the garden as soon as soil can be worked in spring. They will germinate in about 7 days and are ready to harvest in 3 to 4 weeks. For a continuous harvest, sow seeds every 2 weeks until temperatures heat up.
  • Beets – Sow seeds in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Beets prefer a well-drained, sandy soil. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers as this will encourage top growth at the expense of root development. As with all root crops good soil aeration is key to uniform, robust development. Consistent moisture is also important. Keep areas weed free to avoid competition for nutrients.
  • Broccoli – Broccoli seed can be sown directly in the garden 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area or set out transplants 2 weeks before the last frost date. The ideal day time temperature for broccoli is between 65 and 80 degrees. Feed the plants 3 weeks after transplanting into the garden. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Cabbage – Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last front date or plant transplants in the garden 2 weeks before that date. Direct sow in the garden immediately after the last frost date. Cabbage plants are heavy feeders that require fertile soil rich in organic matter and consistent moisture.
  • Carrots – Sow seeds in spring about 2 weeks before the last frost date. Carrots need deep, loose soil to form a robust root. Keep the bed weeded to avoid competition for nutrients from other plants. Too much nitrogen will result in forked roots. When the seedlings are about 2-inches tall, thin them so there is about 1 to 4-inches between them. Cover the shoulders with mulch or soil to keep them from turning green and bitter.
  • Collards – Collard transplants can be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Plant in fertile, well drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. Rich soil encourages rapid growth and tender leaves, which are the best tasting collards.

See our second article ABCs what to plant in spring vegetable garden, D-P for more spring vegetables to plant this season.

Allen’s Good to Know Tips:

  • Vegetables need 7 to 8 hours of full sun daily. Cool season vegetables get by on 6, some can even be planted in partial shade.
  • Framed Bed Soil Recipe: 50% existing garden soil, 25% aged manure, 25% compost or humus
  • Gardeners in tropical regions plant & grow cool season vegetables in fall and winter.

Source: P. Allen Smith

P. Allen Smith is an award-winning designer, gardening and lifestyle expert. He is the host of two public television programs, P. Allen Smith's Garden Home, P. Allen Smith's Garden to Table and the syndicated 30-minute show P. Allen Smith Gardens.

Smith is one of America's most recognized and respected garden and design experts, providing ideas and inspiration through multiple media venues.

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