Spring Gardening: When to Plant

Spring is here and it’s time to get gardening; when to plant is the question. The answer will depend on a number of different factors, but here are a few tips to point you in the right direction…

When getting started with gardening, when to plant is an important consideration. This will vary depending on many factors, including your location, climate, gardening zone, choice of crops, and more. If you live in the Northern half of the United States, most likely you will need to give your growing season a head start by starting some of your seeds indoors.

Alternatively, you can purchase pre-started seedlings from a nursery or garden store, but this can get expensive if you have a sizeable garden, and you can also run the risk of bringing unwanted pests or diseases into your garden if you aren’t careful. Be sure to thoroughly assess any seedlings you plan to purchase, looking for signs of health issues that may indicate a problem. This video shares some helpful tips.

Starting your own seeds is surprisingly simple, although you will need a few supplies, such as a good seed-starting mix, planting containers, and a grow light if you don’t have a sunny spot for your seedlings to sprout. Depending on the type of crop you are growing, you will want to plant these anywhere from 2-6 weeks from the date when you will be planting them outdoors.

When to Plant What Indoors

Slow-growing plants like celery, peppers, and onions will take the longest and should be planted earliest. Peppers are especially picky and need warm temperatures to germinate, so it may be worthwhile to invest in a seed germination station or heat mat.

Quick-growing plants like melons, cucumbers, or squash can be started just a couple of weeks before planting outside. Make sure it is warm enough outdoors first, as these warm-weather crops won’t do well if it gets below 50 degrees at night.

Use your average last frost date to determine when it’s safe to plant outdoors, and for sensitive crops (tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.) wait an extra week or two just to be safe.

When to Plant What Outdoors

In many areas, you can also sow quick-growing crops directly outdoors in the garden, rather than starting them indoors. This works well with things like squash, melons, corn, beans, and peas. You will want to wait until after danger of frost for warm weather crops, but cool weather crops like peas, onions, lettuce, radishes, and carrots can be direct-sown out in the garden in early-to-mid spring. (While you can technically direct-seed brassicas like cabbages and broccoli in some areas, the tender seedlings make tasty snacks for many insects, and since they don’t care for hot weather, giving them an early indoor start is usually best. This way you can plant out established seedlings while it’s still cool and give them time to mature before the heat of summer arrives.)

Tools for Success

As you can see when getting started with gardening, when to plant will depend on quite a few factors. This can make it tricky for beginner gardeners, but there are many tools that can help. Gardening calendars like this one can be very handy, and of course, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with your growing zone and average first and last frost dates.

However, nothing beats first-hand experience, and as you become more experienced with gardening when to plant what will become easier to determine. It’s a great idea to keep a garden journal each growing season, which will become an invaluable resource to you over the years. It will be especially helpful to note your first and last frost dates for each year, your first and last hard freeze, monthly rainfall totals, high and low temperatures, and which crops do best for you each year. By doing this over a number of years, you will begin to see patterns such as which plants like a lot of water at various stages of their lifecycle, which crops need to be planted earlier (or later) for best production, and many more useful insights.

Whether you’re extending your season by starting seeds indoors, purchasing established seedlings, or direct-sowing seeds when gardening, when to plant is an important question that will get easier to answer with time and experience. The important thing is to get started and learn as you go. As every gardener knows, when it comes to gardening, that’s half the fun! 🙂


Rose S.

An avid gardener since childhood, I love sharing my passion for gardening with others! I have gardened in a number of different climates and settings, from large fenced garden plots, to tiny patio and container gardens, and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to grow at least some of their own food - no matter where you live. Growing your own food can help you take control of your own health and food supply, and there has never been a better time to get started!

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