Hooray! January and February are long gone and the cool spring season is here. Gardeners know that this is the best time to prepare and plant for your cool season spring vegetable garden. Here’s the third and final in a series of articles of an ABCs listing of what to plant in a spring vegetable garden from an expert on the subject.
P. Allen Smith, gardening expert suggestions
P. Allen Smith, celebrated gardening professional, in his web piece 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 adds that a vegetable such as kohlrabi or kale in reality develop enhanced flavor when exposed to spring frost. Allen tells us that lettuce, collards, snow peas, cabbage and broccoli are also some examples this type of a cool spring season vegetable. Allen also adds, as mentioned in our first two articles for those that may have missed them, that many summer season vegetable garden favorites like okra, squash and tomatoes want protracted, hot days to yield.
Watch Allen's video on How to Sow Radish Seeds in a Container on this page. It's a great project for your kids.
Place seed orders early, sow seeds indoors if too cold outside
As mentioned previously, Allen advises the first thing to do is place your cool season vegetable garden seed mail or retail store order. If your order arrives before spring starts in your growing region, it may still be too frosty to plant the garden seeds outside, but plentiful a cool season vegetable can be started from seed indoors 6 - 8 weeks preceding the frost free date in your growing zone area. Allen says that a few vegetable garden transplants can be planted outside a few weeks before the frost free date as well.
Deep South gardeners’ resource
Allen adds, for those gardeners fortunate to live in the Deep South where growing seasons are year round,
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 www.FloridaGardener.com.
He states that gardeners in the northern colder regions have such a lesser growing season that they will put out their cool and warm season vegetables almost side by side.
Know your zone frost dates, cover vegetables if unexpected freeze
Allen also advises to know when the last frost date is in your growing zone beforehand when you start sowing seeds and planting. This governs when your spring growing season begins. Several on-line sites and local nursery and garden stores, like the big box ones, will offer this information, Allen provides the zone chart below for readers to use.
These are average dates that may differ slightly year to year but they give you a basic window of time in which you can create a planting schedule. Another good source of local, reliable advice is your area's County Cooperative Extension Service or check with knowledgeable members of local gardening clubs.
Smith also cautions us vegetables can all be wiped out by a unexpected, severe drop in temperature, so it's imperative 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, D-P
Radish – Sow radish seeds in the garden about 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area. No feeding necessary, but soil should be fertile and well drained. They are quick to mature so check them regularly. They are ready to harvest as soon as they are of edible size.
Spinach – Spinach seeds can be sown over frozen ground to germinate as the soil thaws. Transplants can be set out 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Fertilize when the plants are about 4 inches tall. Spinach prefers very fertile soil to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves. Once the days get long and warm it will bolt, meaning that it grows tall, blooms and becomes bitter tasting. For grit-free leaves select plain leaf varieties such as Giant Nobel and Olympia.
Swiss Chard – Swiss Chard is one the more beautiful vegetables in the garden. Bright Lights and Ruby are favorites for adding color to the garden and the dinner table. Plant or sow seeds 2 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Thin to 6-inches apart when seedlings are 3-inches tall. Water regularly.
Turnip – Plant 2 weeks before the last frost date. Any well-drained soil will do. Consistent moisture is key for healthy root development. Although it is not necessary, the greens will be the tenderest if you plant in a fertile soil.
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.