Timing Your Planting
One of the most important things to understand about gardening is timing. Generally people start their garden in the spring and harvest in summer and fall. However, the exact time you will need to start planting is based on the climate where you live.
The date(s) that you need to plant your seeds depends on which plant hardiness zone you live in. The USDA divides the U.S. into zones based on climate. You can find out what zone you are in using this map.
U.S. Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Image by USDA.
It also depends on the frost dates for your location (you can look them up here for the U.S. and here for other locations). The frost dates are estimates of the date of the last frost of the spring and the date of the first frost of the fall, based on climate averages. Frost dates are important to know because frost kills plants. Certain plants are more frost resistant than others, but most plants need to be planted in the ground after the last danger of frost has passed.
So how do you know when to plant? Whenever you buy seeds, the back of the seed packet will contain instructions on when to plant the seeds, such as “three weeks before the last frost of spring” or “after all danger of frost has passed”. It may also have a suggestion for which month(s) to plant the seeds based on your plant hardiness zone.
You can also use this handy tool to look up approximately when you need to plant each vegetable based on your zip code. The first column tells you when to start certain seeds indoors. The second one outlines when to transplant seedlings outside, and the third column lists when to plant certain seeds directly outside. For the most part, these dates are guides instead of hard deadlines! You can also look online for a planting calendar put together by gardeners in your area.
When you plant also depends on the length of your growing season. If you live in a warmer climate (zones with higher numbers), you have a longer growing season. This means that there is more time between the last frost of the spring and the first frost of the fall.
Different plants and varieties take different amounts of time to mature. Maturity is when you can harvest the fruit. The number of days to maturity is usually labelled on the seed packet. If you have a longer growing season, you will likely be able to plant multiple crops of a particular plant in one year, especially if the plant matures quickly. For example, you plant the first crop in the spring and harvest in mid-summer, then plant another crop and harvest it in the fall. You can also stagger your plantings so that you have a continuous supply of whatever it is you are growing.
If you live in a cooler climate (zones with lower numbers), you unfortunately have a shorter growing season. In areas with very short growing seasons, your plants may not have enough time to mature between the frost dates.
However, there is a way to get a head start on your garden while it is still cold outside: starting your seeds indoors! This involves planting your seeds in trays and letting them grow inside before transplanting the seedlings outdoors.
Now that you have a general idea of when to start planting, you can think about what to grow.
As always, if you have any questions or tips to share, please comment below!
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