Vegetable gardening is a way of life for families who want to eat well and save money. Determining which vegetables to plant and when to plant them so they mature and produce a finished crop before summer heat or winter cold is key to the success of growing vegetables. Timing the sowing and planting allows the plants to develop in their own natural rhythm, which produces a bountiful harvest at season's end.
Most of the vegetables planted in the home garden are annuals and produce foliage and flowers, then set fruit and die within one season. Cool-season crops, such as lettuce, spinach, peas and broccoli, tend to bolt (set seed) in the summer heat. These crops are either planted in the fall for early spring development or in early spring for harvest before rising summer temperatures cause bolting. Warm-season crops, such as corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and peppers, need long summer days of warm temperatures to flower. Warm-season crops range in growth requirements from four weeks to harvest to needing four months of warm weather to produce, so early spring planting is required for harvest before winter frost sets in.
The climate in which you live determines the best time of year to plant. In warmer, temperate regions where winter frosts are only occasional, it is possible to grow vegetables year-round. Consideration is given to crops that do not like the summer heat. Peas, leaf crops, such as lettuce and spinach and broccoli, should be planted either in late summer when temperatures start to decline or in early fall for fall harvest. Long warm-season crops are planted in early spring, after all danger of frost has passed, for harvesting in late summer through fall.
In cooler climates where summers may be warm, but fall brings early frost and winters are snowy and cold, planting warm-season vegetables occurs in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked and after the last frost has passed. Planting cool-season vegetables can also occur in late summer or early fall for late fall harvest.
Timing the Planting
Timing the planting and sowing of seed is determined by the projected date of the first and last frost in your area. The local cooperative extension office tracks seasonal temperatures and can give the best idea of traditional first and last frost dates.
Seed Package Instructions
Read the seed package to determine the timing for sowing seed. If a cool-season crop takes 80 days to mature, as with broccoli, then the seed can be direct sown in the garden as soon as the soil warms. A warm-season crop, such as corn, takes from 90 to 110 days to mature. Planting corn seed after the last frost and as soon as the ground warms by May 1 assures a crop before the first frost that might occur in late September or early October.
Planning for Short Growing Seasons
Some areas experience shorter growing seasons than stated on a seed packet. In these situations, the seed is started earlier in a warm environment, such as a greenhouse or cold frame, then the seedlings are planted as soon as the last frost has passed. If a crop takes 90 days to mature, then the packet will advise starting the seed four to six weeks before the last frost date. If the last frost date is predicted for May 1, then seeds are started indoors no later than March 15.