The Best Spring Plants for a Summer Harvest |

Get to Know Your Zone

Knowing your specific growing zone is paramount for getting your planting cycle just right. Find a zone map and search your exact location. Remember, some states are large, and may have a few zones and even sub-zones to navigate. For example, the northern-most part of Alaska is zone 1 but not all of the state is tundra-a very small part of the southern coastal area is actually zone 5. Likewise, the southern-most coastal area of Alabama is zone 9, making it a very different growing region than land-locked northern Alabama, which is a cooler zone 7. The southern tips of Florida and Texas, as well as Puerto Rico and Hawaii range from zone 10–13.

When to Start Seeds Indoors

Proper gardening usually requires that some seeds be started indoors or bought semi-matured from a nursery. For most crops, start seeds indoors about 6–8 weeks before your last spring frost date. This gives the plants plenty of time to grow healthy enough to survive transplanting into the garden.

Frost Variations Per Zone

Zone 3 is nestled along the northern border and is the coldest mainland garden zone in the United States, also meaning the shortest growing season. While temperatures can fluctuate as winter turns to spring, the last frost date tends to be around May 15, while the first frost date comes around September 15. Alaska is the only state with zones 1 and 2 which will experience an even shorter season between frost dates.

Cool Season/Early Spring Crops

The lettuce family can be planted directly into the ground in early spring as these leafy plants can withstand a small amount of frost. If you want to get a head start on a short season, start seeds indoors 2–3 weeks before planting, but remember that lettuce seeds won’t germinate in soil that is too warm (80 degrees or more) so keep them in a cool section of your home. Once planted, they take around two months until they are ready to be picked. Arugula grows quicker, usually in just a few weeks.

Root Vegetables

Root vegetables don’t transplant well, so it’s best to sow them directly into the ground at the appropriate time. Carrots can be planted early, as can beets (late March or early April for Zone 3). Pick beets before it gets too warm.

Cabbage Family

Members of the cabbage family, including: cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli are all excellent early spring veggies. Most of these crops can be started indoors to get a head start, but are also able to withstand direct planting.

Warm Season/Frost-intolerant Vegetables

Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, green beans, and eggplant must be started from seed indoors early to get a head start on the growing season. Zone 3 and 4 should start them as soon as March or April so that they can be planted in time for a summer harvest. Tomatoes and peppers need at least 6–8 weeks inside before going in the ground, whereas cucumbers and zucchini need 3–4 weeks before transplanting. None of these crops can endure cold weather, so plant them well after any signs of frost have gone.

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