Wondering if you still have time to build a stunning vegetable garden for an early fall harvest? The answer is yes! Once you understand frost dates and planting times, you’ll be ready to start your garden and reap the benefits this autumn, and every year from now on.
As you develop your green thumb, you’ll find that planting a combination of seeds and transplants is the way to go. However, timing can be everything, depending on what you’re growing. Here are some helpful tips if you’re just starting your veggie garden.
Direct seeding means planting seeds directly in the ground. Some vegetables need to start this way to ensure the best possible results, as their gentle root systems won’t always survive when transplanted or moved to a different location.
If you plan to transplant seedlings (AKA, starter plants), you’ll either start your seeds in trays or purchase them already started from a nursery. You’ll then plant those directly in the ground instead of the seeds.
Direct seeding is cheaper, and you can select from more varieties, but transplanting purchased seedlings takes less time and effort, and is ideal if you’re getting a late start on your garden. You can even plant them on the same day if temps are warm enough.
While purchasing seedlings and planting them in the ground sounds simple, a little more goes into the equation. Every vegetable has its own specific instructions for when it should be planted, and one important piece of info you’ll need is your region’s last frost date.
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There are two main ways you can start your vegetable garden from seeds: you can start growing them indoors, and then transplant the seedlings later, or you can just plant the seeds outdoors immediately.
You can also purchase seedlings and plant those. To decide what the best approach would be in your location, you’ll need to find out what the frost dates are. These are different in every region, but based on these dates, you’ll know whether it’s best to plant seeds or seedlings.
A frost date is an estimated date of expected weather conditions that would cause frost to form. These are essential for gardeners to minimize the threat of cold weather that could damage or kill your precious plants. Whether you choose to sow seeds in the ground or start them indoors, knowing frost dates will give you a better idea of when to plant that specific seed or starter plant.
Luckily, The Farmers Almanac website has a convenient tool called the Planting Calendar. Just type your zip code, and the calendar will give you the frost dates for your area, and even tell you when would be the best time to grow specific veggies.
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Seeds are pretty inexpensive compared to starter plants. Also, some vegetables must be planted from direct seeding because they won’t transplant well due to their delicate or deep roots. To ensure they’ll survive, use the direct seeding method with the following plants:
- Beans and peas
- Most lettuce varieties
Carrots, beans, peas, beets, and lettuce are also short-season crops that mature and produce vegetables quickly. This means they’re all fantastic options if your area’s growing season has already begun. You can calculate your area’s growing season by counting the days between the last frost in spring and the first frost in fall.
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Typically, seeds are started indoors during winter, or about 10 weeks before the last spring frost. Check out the video above for an in-depth look at how to start seeds and transition them from trays to larger containers. It even covers soil specifics.
The instructions on the back of a seed package will also tell you everything you need to know about how to start that particular plant indoors.
Remember, every plant has its own specifications. When you’re browsing seed packets, look for information about the planting time, sunlight and water requirements, days of maturity (or, how long it takes for the plant to produce vegetables), and the best type of soil to plant it in.
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Once the weather is warm enough (and that last frost date has passed), you’ll know it’s time to prep your garden and transplant your seedlings. With the exception of the veggies we listed above that should only be started from seeds, most others will adjust to new environments and transplant well.
The following vegetables tend to grow well after transplanting:
When selecting starter plants at your local nursery, be sure to choose a stalky plant with healthy-looking leaves and properly watered soil. Avoid any with diseased leaves or little critters hiding in the leaves.
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Once you’ve purchased your starter plants, it’s time to prep your garden. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to dig up and clear all the grass, weeds, and/or rocks from the area where you want to grow your plants.
If you already have a veggie patch, just loosen the soil so it’s light and airy. This will allow the roots of your plants and water to penetrate the soil more easily.
Before adding those starter plants to your garden, you should consider hardening them off by gradually giving them some time outdoors. For about one or two weeks before transplanting, set them outside for a few hours in the shade and let them acclimate to the cooler temperature.
The rest of the day, keep them indoors in a window or sunroom. Hardening off your plants will significantly improve their chances of survival. Sudden changes in their environment can shock and kill some plants, and who wants that?
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It’s not too late to start your summer veggie garden! All you need are the right tools and some plants and/or seeds from your local nursery to get going. So, what are you waiting for?