When starting a vegetable garden or preparing your seeds for the next growing season, knowing when to plant vegetables is an essential step to success. Horticulture studies show that planting seeds at the wrong time results in your seeds not sprouting properly or dying off due to growing in poor weather conditions.
Everyone should grow vegetables in their home gardens, if not for the benefit of saving money, then for the reward of creating delicious meals using organic and homegrown ingredients.
While growing delicious veggies is not tricky, each plant has its own growing needs. Spacing, soil conditions, and planting dates all affect the growth of your plants, so catering to an entire vegetable garden may seem daunting.
When to Plant Vegetable Seeds
Our article details the recommended planting time for common vegetables and suggested times to sow seeds based on the USDA Hardiness Zone map. Because the temperature and other weather conditions are vital to a plant’s germination and growth, partner with your local cooperative extension to discover which crops grow best in your area.
The timing of sowing seeds is crucial because the weather is the most significant determining factor in understanding the best time to plant vegetables. We categorize vegetables by the weather they grow best in as warm-season crops and cool-season crops.
Though a variety of veggies grow in many different climates, you can also choose to plant herbs to grow in fall or spring, as well as fruits, that can thrive indoors and out.
Vegetable Growing Seasons
Home growers living in warmer climates and those who start plants indoors have the option of planting earlier in the year: plant chilies, peppers, cucumbers, and rhubarb indoors in February before transplanting as the weather warms.
Although there are several vegetable seeds you should plant in February inside, for many, March is the start of the spring gardening season because knowing when to plant vegetable seeds relies on temperatures warming up after winter. Important crops like root vegetables, cole crops, and plants in the onion family thrive after being planted in mid-March.
As temperatures rise, transplant crops like artichokes and savoy cabbage. Depending on your growing zone, plant spring onions, pak choi, peas, winter spinach, and beetroot starting in June and stopping in August to harvest before frost hits.
When to Plant Warm-Season Crops
Warm-season vegetables are the best choices for vegetable gardening in the summer. If you’re looking for when to plant vegetables in zone 7 and above, warm-season vegetables may still be options for you outside of summer.
Because warm-season vegetables require heat to reach maturity, or in the case of watermelon, the desired sweetness, cold weather, or frost damage and may even kill a warm-season crop. For most warm-season crops, the average temperature should range between 65 and 95°F. Most of these crops require a soil temperature of at least 65°F to germinate.
Some crops like horseradish, okra, and rutabaga, although they are warm-season crops, enjoy a bit of cool weather. Rutabaga thrives when allowed to mature in cool weather, so plant it in late spring to harvest it as a fall crop.
Horseradish has a long growing season and is best planted in spring when the soil is workable. Planting in spring allows horseradish to mature over the warm season for a fall harvest before the season’s first frost.
Knowing when to open warm-season seed packets depends on your growing zone. Early May to late June is ideal for pumpkins, sweet potatoes, beans, and cucumber depending on your area. Some harvestable crops from the summer have longer vegetable growing seasons; these include carrots, lettuce, and peas.
Some crops like cantaloupe, summer squash, and other melons thrive when planted directly in the garden. If you live in a cooler growing zone, growing indoors is beneficial for helping these plants reach maturity by extending the growing season by a few weeks.
Although specific crops within this category vary, generally, cool-season vegetables are planted with enough time to harvest before the average temperature reaches 80°F.
Spring and early summer temperatures between 45 and 75°F are ideal for cool-season vegetables as this range allows seeds to germinate and grow. However, some seeds grow in garden soil temperatures as low as 40°F.
Depending on your growing zone, start to plant in March or April, usually weeks before the final frost date for some crops. Plant seeds indoors first before transplanting for crops that cannot handle frosts.
On top of avoiding ice, avoid planting seeds in soil soggy from melting snow. As the weather warms, excess moisture in the ground dries up, making your garden beds perfect for spring seeds.
Leafy vegetables like kale and lettuce do well when the soil temperature is at least 40°F so when to best plant lettuce requires close attention to your average temperatures in spring. These vegetables tend to wilt or bolt when exposed to extreme heat, so plant them early to ensure you reach harvest before the temperatures rise.
Allium vegetables like onions and leeks do well when the soil temperature reaches at least 50°F. The best time to plant cabbage and Swiss chard with onions is in spring in most areas.
As temperatures rise, plant beets, sprouts, and cauliflower in spring to harvest in early to mid-summer. Wait until your soil temperature reaches at least 60°F before sowing these seeds.
When to Plant Cool-Season Crops
Some cool-season vegetables prefer colder temperatures and possess some cold-hardiness, providing wiggle room when planting around the last frost date in your area. Plants like Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, Swiss chard, and collards even enjoy a light frost as it causes the water in the plant to freeze, making their yields a bit sweeter.
If you’re wondering when to plant vegetables in zone 5 and below, a goal to aim for is to start planting around mid-March if you are sowing seeds outdoors. This date varies based on soil temperature and whether the soil is thawed and workable.
Plants like artichokes, broccoli, and cauliflower transplant well, so growing them indoors in late winter or early spring allows you to get a head start on the growing season. By the time they are ready to transplant, these plants are ready to handle the cool temperature of mid-spring.
Rhubarb, radishes, turnips, and parsnips do not require a growing period that begins indoors. Radishes and turnips grow quickly and do well when planted in early spring or late summer before the first expected frost.
Rhubarb and parsnips are unique in that the cold does not bother them. Parsnips tolerate frosts at the beginning and end of their growing seasons, and rhubarb planted in late fall continues growing in spring after its dormancy ends.
Members of the onion family like chives and leeks enjoy cool weather, making planting them in March and April ideal. Home growers living in cool northern climates can get away with growing them later in the year, around June.
When to Plant Vegetables in Fall
Unless you live in a warmer climate, you lose your ability to sow seeds to freezing temperatures and the frozen ground when winter comes. However, cold weather doesn’t have to stop bringing fresh produce to the table.
Implementing cold frames or hoop houses extends your ability to harvest vegetables during the winter through fall planting. If you plant seeds directly into the garden in the fall, timing is essential to ensure you give plants enough time to grow during the end of summer to germinate.
There are several tasty vegetables to plant in September and late August. It’s the perfect time to plant crops like fennel, spinach, and arugula if you need suggestions on when to plant vegetables in zone 6. Learn how to harvest vegetables you plant so you pick them at just the right time for optimum flavor.
Plant spinach and scallions in the fall, but starting these plants indoors during the summer months offers the best results. Crops like carrots, chard, and sprouts taste better when harvested during cold months because the temperature turns their starch to sugar, making them sweeter.
Caring for Crops during Vegetable Growing Seasons
Aside from knowing when to plant vegetable seeds, caring for your plants and protecting them is crucial for reaching maturity. Besides harsh weather conditions, pests and diseases are common threats to your plant’s health and chance to produce edible fruits.
Adding protective barriers to your garden beds helps avoid unwanted pest activity; however, adding plastic covers may limit your plant’s ability to become pollinated and produce fruits. A row cover may also protect your crops from freezing until all threats of frost pass.
While most insects become highly active in the summer months, many pests overwinter in soil or plant debris and become active again as spring starts. Protecting your plants from new larvae is crucial to keeping bugs at bay and avoiding an infestation from taking over your vegetable garden.
Protecting Your Vegetables from Insects and Disease
Early detection is essential for keeping your plants safe as they sprout. Diseases like leaf spot and powdery mildew are easy to recognize when they affect your plants and are treatable with homemade solutions or by removing affected leave and plants from the garden.
For other diseases, like ones that target your plant’s root system or live in the soil, crop rotation and applying fungicides help avoid diseases from ruining your gardening plans. Follow label instructions for the specific type of fungicide for whichever vegetables you target.
When dealing with insects, various pests target your plants, and some prefer families of plants. For example, some beetles and worms like squash and cucurbits exclusively.
Some insects are large enough to spot and pick off by hand easily. Like aphids and some beetles, other pests are too small to control by hand. Creating an insect spray is easy by combining items around your home to keep your plants safe. Monitor and treat your plants regularly to stay on top of the pest population.
Combine the ingredients in a sprayer bottle and liberally apply the mixture to the leaves of your plants. Spraying pests directly kills them, and the spray left on leaves deters more bugs.
Dealing with Climate Specific Problems
In the United States, the summer months mean warm temperatures and hot sun. For non-gardeners, these are great benefits, but when you’re trying to grow crops in the summer, it means increased watering and high pest activity.
If you are growing many vegetables or growing them in raised beds, using an irrigation system helps keep your plants watered to avoid drought. Adding mulch to your garden beds is another way to retain moisture in your soil. Mulch made from organic matter reduces the appearance of weeds by blocking sunlight from the soil.
If you are experiencing weather where the temperature isn’t rising as quickly as you’d like, there are several tools available to benefit you by growing plants in bad weather. Many of these tools are found in garden centers or made at home.
Cold frames come in various forms; sometimes, they are constructed from wood and old window frames, and other times they look like steel frames with UV-treated plastic coverings. These portable frames are excellent additions to your garden to protect seedlings and plants from frost.
A cloche is any covering used to protect plants. Like cold frames, cloches look different based on the material you use. Chicken wire is commonly used to make a cloche, but a simple version using a water jug is equally effective.
Row covers are typically made from plastic but can be made from frost blankets or tarps and are versatile tools for any garden. If used at night, they protect plants from colder temperatures, and during the day, covers protect plants from insect pests and limit the use of pesticides.
Start planning which seeds you want to sow to give you the best advantage for tackling the growing season. Use all your outdoor space and containers or pots not in the garden to set yourself up for the best harvest season every year.
If you learned when to plant vegetables with help from our guide, please share our tips on Facebook and Pinterest with your fellow home gardeners who may need advice on vegetable growing seasons.