When do you start your garden?

VermontCathy Posts: 1,911 ✭✭✭✭✭

Yesterday, I attended one of the first in-person church services my local congregation has held since COVID lockdowns began. It was great to see old friends at Pentecost this year.

After the service, I was chatting with a friend who has been gardening (together with his wife) for many years. He asked me whether I had put my garden in yet (May 23).

I was flabbergasted.

We've been harvesting claytonia and spinach from the cold frames for close to 2 months, peas are about 4 inches (10cm) high already, six tomatoes have been transplanted from either my own indoor starts or purchased locally, onions are 6 - 12 inches (15 - 30 cm) high and the first one is already starting to form a bulbil, potatoes are leafing out nicely, and even beans and pickling cucumbers (which need hot weather) have not only been seeded, but already sprouted.

If I had not started my garden much earlier than this, we would miss out on a significant amount of the vegetables that it can produce this year.

(In his defense, he has been busy working with the local gardening club, just not in his own garden.)

When do you start YOUR garden?

Since we are all in different climate zones, I'm less interested in calendar dates than in dates relative to your last frost date.

Do you start 2 months before last frost? 1 month? Do you wait until last frost is over to put anything in? Is a significant part of your garden fall-planted and wintered over until the next spring (such as garlic)?


  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,356 admin

    @VermontCathy Here we usually go by calendar date as it generally corresponds with the possibility of the last frost date. We have our cold weather seeds in as of Saturday. Wednesday, they are still calling for lows below the freezing mark. Considering, it will be a bit before we put tender seeds & plants in.

    If I go by my grandfather's folk wisdom, (keep in mind that this is field knowledge, but works for gardens here), you don't seed until the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear. This would be burr oak around where he settled, and that would easily correspond with what we can see here. My husband has watched for this sign and has confirmed that it is accurate.

    Most fall planting would not be a possibility here as our winters get too cold. However, there are some varieties of garlic grown here that do well.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,911 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning I'm surprised that your winters are too cold for any fall planting. We routinely get lows here as low as -5F (-20C), and in spite of that, I can easily winter over strawberries, onions, and garlic with no more protection than a thin layer of leaf mulch. Spinach will winter over in a cold frame.

    I would have guessed that your winter lows reach about -25C, cold enough to need some protection, but not so cold that stuff that winters over here wouldn't winter over there with just a bit more protection, like a thicker mulch layer such as 10 - 12 cm or so of straw bedding. Maybe your climate is colder than I thought.

    It sounds as though you only put your cold weather seeds in about a couple of weeks before your last frost date. Is that right, or am I misunderstanding you? What is your normal last frost date? (Mine is around May 23, but I routinely cheat on that by at least a week and get away with it. If needed, I throw a row cover on for a night or two and then remove it.)

    My cold weather seeds go in as much as six weeks before the last frost date, though not all at once. The limiting factor is usually whether there is snow on the ground, and whether the soil is too frozen to dig.

    I like your grandfather's trick of using tree leaves as an indicator. That makes more sense than a calendar date that will be a little different each year. I wish I had learned the folk wisdom of my great-grandparents, who came to Maine from Quebec, but that was gone long before I was born.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,356 admin

    It can easily be -40°C or colder without windchill for quite a long period of time in our winters. This past winter, we had an exceptionally cold spell for an extended time. I have also known frost to have have gone down to 10'. Whether or not we get snow before the ground actually freezes also factors in. Eventually it will freeze, it can just take longer in those conditions.

    Things such as strawberries can be overwintered, but certainly need a lot of straw mulch to survive. I really am not aware of the strawberry losses that occur over times like we had last winter, but winter losses have happened due to cold. We have yet to go strawberry picking & ask our strawberry farmer how he faired, and that won't be for quite some time yet.

    Cold frames are used by some, but of course, their use is often limited to a few types of plants.

    May 21-31 is the time frame for our last expected frost dates. Six weeks ago, the ground was nowhere ready for much of anything. Where I grew up, it was at least a week later.

    I wish that I had thought of asking my grandfather more. He was passionate about his farming & gardening. I did get some wisdom from him, but not as much as I would have liked now that I am older.

  • jowitt.europe
    jowitt.europe Posts: 1,411 admin

    @VermontCathy in Tirol, in Austria, we do have cold winters. Locals say that you should not plant any sensitive plants before May 15, because we can still have frosts at night. But I do start much earlier and the garden starts itself with onions, garlic, all kings of edible weeds. These I can use already end of March, mid April. I plant radishes and potatoes under cover. We enjoy our own radishes since mid April.

    But I do have to have the possible to protect my plants against frost at night.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Posts: 3,535 ✭✭✭✭✭

    In Pennsylvania, 8 to 12 weeks before frost for seedlings and windowsill veggie in the late fall.

    This year was too cut up or I would haven grown all winter long. Next year!

  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,482 admin

    @VermontCathy where I live on the east coast of Australia, we are classed as subtropical but we can have frosts in winter, not many but they happen. So we are about to go into winter very soon. I have in already, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, lettuce, onions, carrots, parsley, coriander etc. September is the start of spring and back in August, I will usually try to start the summer growers, tomato’s, cucumbers, pumpkins etc in a sheltered undercover area, this year I’m going to try grow lights. As for seeds I plant directly, I’ll put them in early Sept and then another planting in Nov to get a couple of crops.

  • karenjanicki
    karenjanicki Posts: 947 ✭✭✭✭

    I just returned to school this year so unfortunately I have done absolutely nothing with my garden :,(. I'd like to at least get a little herb garden going this year though.

  • MissPatricia
    MissPatricia Posts: 318 ✭✭✭

    I usually start mid-April, which is when our last frost date is. This year I started late because I was trying a new system, raised bed and making my own soil mixture; we had a very cool spring; and I was tired. I still have not planted everything that I wanted to plant. Oh, I did start tomato and pepper, lettuce, and spinach under grow lights and that did well. Actually, I started the spinach in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,911 ✭✭✭✭✭

    It's interesting to see that gardening starts in this thread range from 8 to 12 weeks before last frost (Pennsylvania), to 6 weeks before (Vermont), to just before last frost (Canadian prairie provinces). And of course in the subtropical climates (northern Australia) a lot of winter gardening is possible.

    There seems to be a pattern here. The farther you are from the equator and the tropics, the longer you have to wait before you can plant. Not just longer because last frost happens later, but closer to that last frost date, with less ability to jump in weeks before last frost.

    So in Pennsylvania, zone 5-6, last frost is around mid to late April. Safe planting for cool weather plants is 8-12 weeks before, very early in March.

    In Vermont, zone 4, last frost is around May 23, and I can usually plant about six weeks earlier, or mid-April. My limiting factor is when the ground thaws enough to be workable.

    On the Canadian plains, last frost is in late May, and even cool weather plants can't be planted until late Mary.

    JodieDownUnder can probably grow something or other every week of the year. :-)

    Gardening really is one of those things that is very local.

  • dipat2005
    dipat2005 Posts: 1,225 ✭✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy I live in Oregon in the Willamette Valley. Some people start their summer crop in April. I only tried that once and all seeds had to be replaced because of so much rain. This year we had a very mild winter and my neighbor started his garden in April. His corn is already about six feet tall. I am sure he has tomatoes,, beans, and pepper plants. I haven't actually looked inside the garden.

    Frost date for this area is mostly early May. One July2nd there was frost back in the '70's. This year I planted just past the first week of June. Most people will plant around the Memorial Day weekend. The fall crop goes in July 25, for peas, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, and anything else like garlic. I have overwintered carrots and did not like the results. I am overwintering small beets, onions, carrots and planting a fall crop of peas in late July as mentioned. Once again I will probably take some of the greens inside in late fall or when the ash gets bad. I had several cuttings from the inside plants last year.

  • Michelle D
    Michelle D Posts: 1,415 ✭✭✭✭✭

    For years and years I tried to plan my garden based off of frost dates and starting things as early as reasonable to extend my growing season. I was never really successful and usually just got frustrated and overwhelmed. Last year I realized that it was because I was planning one of the busiest times in the garden at one of the busiest parts of the school year. Since I homeschool my kids along with all of my other responsibilities it was just to much. This year I gave myself an extra month, skipped some of my spring plants, but had a much better time of it. I will probably go back to early gardening when the kids are older but for now. The majority of my gardening starts mid May when the kids are finished with school.

  • Ruth Ann Reyes
    Ruth Ann Reyes Posts: 576 admin

    I usually go by calendar dates too!

    In zone 5b - where I am in the summers, I try and refrain from planting until mother's day. However, I generally get to antsy and plant closer to the second week of May.

    I also cannot refrain myself from starting seeds too early So, I ended up planting in early May this year (and of course) had late frosts because my tomatoes were just too huge and i couldn't bear the thought of re-potting them for a third time!

    No worries! I just covered them up!

    I plant cooler season crops in March.

    If I'm in the south, zone 7b, I generally grow in a cold frame all winter...and plant the warm season crops in mid-to-late March. So, two months earlier.

    I know this is not much help!

  • Cornelius
    Cornelius Posts: 872 ✭✭✭✭

    I tried to start my seeds early this year and plant in mid April, but of course multiple late frosts occurred so I planted later than I wanted. @Ruth Ann Reyes I live in 7a so I will have to try the cold boxes and see if I can overwinter my plants.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Posts: 3,535 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I am starting my fall garden now. In late October I will start some of my winter crops. I pretty much grow all year long now

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,911 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Ruth Ann Reyes "I try and refrain from planting until mother's day...I ended up planting in early May this year.

    "I plant cooler season crops in March."

    I find it interesting that you initially describe "planting" as only covering the warm-weather crops (in May), then making an exception for "cooler season crops" in March.

    For me, there are far more cooler season crops to plant, and they produce food for a much larger part of the year, so when I talk about "when I plant" I am thinking first and foremost of the cool weather crops. The hot weather crops are almost an afterthought here because the season is so short.

    What does everyone else think? When you think about time to start the garden, are you focusing on tomatoes, beans, and corn? Or do you see lettuce, spinach, chard, onions, and other cool-tolerant crops setting the date when you start to plant?

  • Gardening Grandma
    Gardening Grandma Posts: 3 ✭✭✭

    I've put in a lovely indoor grow room so I can grow all winter long. I shared a photo from last winters garden.

    I start my seedlings indoors to get a jump on the growing season as I grow in a Zone 2 garden. I'm starting more and more of my plants indoors in controlled conditions so I can have an up and growing garden in June. Our last expected frost date is June 7th but I use row covers so I can plant my cool weather plants earlier and have some protection from frost.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,356 admin

    Welcome @Gardening Grandma!

    I am from MB, zone 3, but am very familiar with zone 2 gardens. It is good to see another Canadian in our midst.

    It looks like you have a bustling grow room! That's great!

    I would like to invite you to check out our FAQ & Rules sections to become familiar with them. I left a link below for your convenience. I see you are already making connections in the Introductions area. 😄


  • Ruth Ann Reyes
    Ruth Ann Reyes Posts: 576 admin

    I think it depends on what you like to eat and what your purpose for gardening is.

    Personally, my reason for gardening is mainly focused on preserving the harvest for the winter months, rather than eating fresh. As well as knowing I have clean, organic ingredients that I grew myself. I prefer dehydrating or canning because it doesn't require dependency on electricity, as oppose to freezing.

    For me, tomatoes are a big deal. I like to have at least 20 to 30 quarts of whole canned tomatoes for the winter months.

    I also focus on chili peppers, both warm and cools season herbs for dehydration, and fresh green beans for canning. I also do many cool-season vegetables like potatoes, onions, garlic, squash for cool storage...

    Some of the other cool-season crops take up a lot of my space, so I don't bother. Things like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels...etc. Plus, they don't preserve as well (or at least - they are not my favorite veggies to preserve). And since I'm not a fan of freezing I usually don't focus as much on the brassicas.

    With that said, I do plant a bed or two of lettuce, spinach, silverbeet, and kale for fresh eating.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,911 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Even a small bed of spinach or lettuce produces a lot of greens for fresh eating!

    I agree that a large harvest you can preserve for winter is a great thing. Here in Vermont winter lasts about 5 months, and the only fresh greens we get during those months have to be grown inside.

    I just picked about 10 servings of peas, shelled them, and froze 8 of them. The rest will be eaten at supper.

    We love tomatoes and eat a lot of things based on tomato sauce, including pizza and spaghetti. But the only months that produce tomatoes here are August and early September, and our small garden does not have the space to grow a year's worth of tomatoes for sauce.

    We grow and store potatoes, but by the end of winter we have run out.

    Small gardens can produce more annually if you can keep them planted with fast growing, seasonally appropriate varieties.