Cool season vegetable garden: 12 crops you should plant before your last frost date | #24CarrotDiet | growing vegetables | spring gardening |

Starting Your Vegetable Garden: 12 Vegetables You Should Plant Before Last Frost

Your vegetable garden is probably the last thing on your mind when the mercury is hovering just above the freezing mark. But did you know that there are some vegetables that you need to plant up to 6 weeks before your last frost date? If you wait until the warm weather to plant your garden, many of these vegetables will either bolt or wilt in the heat of summer, or simply run out of time at the end of the growing season.

You need to start planting some of those crops in your vegetable garden as soon as you can work the soil. So throw on a couple of extra layers, find a warm pair or gardening gloves, and plant those cool season vegetables while you can still see your breath in the cool spring air!

12 Cool Season Crops for Your Spring Vegetable Garden | #24CarrotDiet | spring gardening | planting before your last frost date
Early spring is time to plant cool season crops in your vegetable garden


Starting Your Vegetable Garden: Timing is Everything

When should you start planting your vegetable garden? You can plant some cool season vegetables as much as six weeks before your last frost date. But what the heck is that? Simply put, it’s a prediction that tells you approximately when you can expect the warm spring weather to stick around for the rest of the season. Based on historical data for your area, the last frost date gives you a decent idea of when all the snow and frost danger will be over in any given year.

Frost dates are based on USDA Hardiness Zones, apply in Canada as well as the United States. The Farmers Almanac web site is a surprisingly good reference for frost dates. It includes even very small towns in Canada. If you don’t see your town listed, enter your postal code. The site will search for your closest weather station and give you the frost dates for that location.

Remember that your last frost date is just an estimate. Depending on the year, the weather may warm up much earlier or much later than expected. So use your common sense too. If the fruit trees are in full bloom several weeks early this year, you probably need to plant your cool season vegetables a few weeks early too. But if you’re buried under a foot of snow when the daffodils should be flowering, chances are spring has been delayed quite a bit. When it comes to frost-sensitive plants, err on the side of caution.


Cool Season Vegetables

Growing Early Spring Greens in Your Vegetable Garden to Prevent Bolting

Some plants really want to go into your vegetable garden when it’s still quite cold, though. Peas, lettuce and other greens such as Swiss chard and spinach, and cole crops like kale, kohlrabi, and collard greens all thrive in the cooler weather. Root vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes can all be direct seeded in your vegetable garden before the last danger of frost has passed.

Each crop has its own reason for preferring cooler temperatures. Green leafy vegetables tend to be sensitive to both light and heat. Once the temperatures get to a certain point, or the plants start getting so many hours of light each day, they will try to set seeds for the next generation of plants. This process involves sending up a long stem and producing flowers.

Gardeners call it bolting. When your lovely, tender greens bolt, they turn tough and bitter. You need to grow greens early in the season so they’ll be ready to harvest before the conditions are right for bolting. Or plant them later in the season, so you can harvest fall greens from your vegetable garden once the days get shorter again.

Plant lettuce, kale, collards and other greens before last frost to prevent bolting

Spring Peas Fix Nitrogen in the Soil for Later Crops

Peas suffer from heat stress when temperatures rise. This means they have fewer flowers, and ultimately they’ll set fewer pods. Planting them earlier in the year will improve your harvest. It also means you can plant another crop in their place after you harvest.

Summer squash or cucumbers can make use of the trellises you put up for your peas. Or you may want to plant out brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage in the soil your peas were nourishing in early spring. Peas are nitrogen fixing plants, so use the space for crops that can use this plentiful nitrogen.



Sow Root Crops in Your Vegetable Garden Early to Accommodate Their Slower Growth

Root vegetables often need to go into your vegetable garden early in the season because they need a long time to mature. Luckily, even those root crops that grow quickly tend to tolerate cooler spring temperatures. So you can plant your radishes, beets, and turnips alongside the slower maturing rutabagas, carrots, and parsnips.

The fun thing about these root vegetables is that they also provide greens while the roots are growing. So when it’s time to thin the plants in your vegetable garden, you can eat the baby greens in salads and sandwiches. Or you can treat your root vegetables like a cut and come again crop, trimming more mature leaves a few at a time without harming the root below. You may already be cooking with beet greens. But you can also enjoy turnip greens, kohlrabi greens, radish greens, and even carrot tops much the same way.



12 Crops to Plant in Your Vegetable Garden Before Last Frost

  1. Peas: Plant 4-6 weeks before your average last frost date.
  2. Broad Beans: Plant as early as March – or February, if you provide protection from the cold.
  3. Radishes: Sow seeds 4-6 weeks before last frost date.
  4. Spinach: Plant 4-6 weeks before your last frost date.
  5. Winter purslane: Plant this green 4-6 weeks before last frost.
  6. Radicchio: Plant up to 4 weeks before last frost.
  7. Carrots: Sow seeds about 3 weeks before last frost. Carrots germinate unevenly. It helps to plant a few radishes in between the carrot seeds. The radishes break the soil and mark your rows until the carrots all come up.
  8. Collard greens: Plant 2-4 weeks before last frost.
  9. Turnips and rutabagas: Another member of the cabbage family. Plant 2-4 weeks before last frost.
  10. Endive: An alternative to cole crops. Plant 2-4 weeks before last frost.
  11. Kale: Plant kale seeds 2-4 weeks before last frost.
  12. Swiss chard: Plant Swiss chard about 2-3 weeks before last frost. (If you’re planting a red-stemmed variety like ‘Ruby Red’ or ‘Rhubarb,’ provide some cover or wait until after the danger of frost is past. These varieties tend to bolt if they are exposed to frost when the plants are young.)
Check out 12 cool season crops you can plant in your vegetable garden before last frost


Still Waiting for Spring Weather?

Does it still feel like winter where you live? I know here in the BC Interior, we were hit with snow on Easter Sunday, just when we had been hoping the spring was right around the corner. April Fools! What little work we managed to get done in our little backyard garden has been stalled. The tiny row of peas we managed to get into the garden have been covered with snow, twice over, since they were planted in late March.

Nevertheless, we intend to keep working on our vegetable garden here at home. And we have a new land share that needs setting up on a nearby farm. Hopefully, the weather forecasts will hold true and we’ll see an increase in the temperatures next week. But we still may have some snow over the weekend, which will likely throw off any more planting until early next week. We are expecting a seed order from my youngest daughter’s school fundraiser, so I do hope the rain and snow will let up long enough for us to get out there and put in more of our cold season crops!


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Vegetable Garden Planting Guide: 12 Cool Season Crops to Plant Before Your Last Frost Date | #24CarrotDiet | spring gardening | growing vegetables | lettuce | kale | peas | root vegetables | cruciferous vegetables | cole crops
Direct seed these crops in your vegetable garden before last frost
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Original content © 2018 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
Public domain images by Pixabay users sardenacarlo, Anestiev, Dumbonyc, Nietjuh, and JoshM

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12 Vegetables You Should Plant Before Last Frost
Article Name
12 Vegetables You Should Plant Before Last Frost
Don’t wait until after the last frost to plant your vegetable garden! There are plenty of cool season vegetables you can plant in your garden right now.
Kyla Matton Osborne
24 Carrot Diet
24 Carrot Diet
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22 thoughts on “Starting Your Vegetable Garden: 12 Vegetables You Should Plant Before Last Frost”

  1. My husband and I have been wanting to start a garden- this is great information, because it keeps snowing and we don’t know when to start planting.

    1. We have been bouncing back and forth between sunny, warm days and periods of rain and snow here in British Columbia, Christin. Don’t let this weird weather keep you from planting your garden, though. It may take a little longer for seeds to germinate when the ground is cold. But you’re still better off than if you waited for your last frost date or whatever date the local nurseries set out their annuals.

    1. It is so cool that a whole tiny, little plant is all coiled up inside a seed! I love watching the seeds germinate, and seeing how the plants go from just a couple of embryonic leaves to a fully grown, bushy plant covered in greenery, flowers, and fruit. I hope you won’t give up on gardening, Brittany. For most people, it is quite the learning curve. But you learn from both your successes and your failures. And eventually, your skills will grow 🙂

  2. Great list. Here in Alabama, it is hard to grow those cool season crops because our spring is so short. But I still plan to give it a try next year.
    🙂 gwingal

    1. Have you ever tried planting cooler weather crops in the fall, Gwin? Or starting them very early (January/February)? I was looking at some gardening info from one of the university extension offices for Alabama, and the planting dates they gave were very early for crops like peas, lettuce, and carrots. Most of the melons, squash, and other cucurbits can go into the ground by April in central Alabama. So it seems you really need to shift your planting calendar back quite a bit, compared to us here in British Columbia.

    1. We’ve had a lot of bad luck over the past few years too, Vivian. But we are learning from our mistakes – as well as from other gardeners. That’s partly why I wanted to include gardening topics here at 24 Carrot Diet. I figure that if we’ve learned something that works and it helps even one other gardener, I can pay it forward a bit in return for all the lovely people who answer my incessant gardening questions in my Facebook groups!

  3. We move into our new house mid-may, and I can’t wait to start our own vegetable garden. This is a great resource, thank you 🙂

    1. You might want to consider buying started plants this year, Mar. By the time you are all moved in, depending on your weather, it will probably be too late to plant cool season vegetables. But you should still be able to plant started tomatoes, peppers, and cucurbits like squash and cucumbers 🙂

  4. Such fantastic tips! I’ve gotten really into plants and gardening lately and am finally feeling confident enough to start a tiny garden. I think the Farmers Almanac is such a great resource – I’m on there every week looking around.

    1. You’re very fortunate to have someone to learn from, Emily! My mother was never a big vegetable gardener, and we lived too far away from my aunt for me to benefit from her experience. So I find that I’m really just learning from the internet and from trial and error. It’s a steeper learning curve, but there are a lot of great folks out there who answer questions and give great advice 🙂

    1. I find the beginning of the season is always quite exciting. It’s fun to anticipate what the garden will look like at its peak, and what the harvest will bring.

      The seeds we ordered through the school fundraiser came in yesterday, and I just got a reminder that it’s now safe to plant my lettuce. So I will try to get more peas, Chantenay carrots, lettuce, kale, chard, and radicchio started this weekend. I can’t wait till the veggies start to germinate!

  5. This is great! We are in SC and just planted Kale and Brussels Sprouts – I can’t wait to see how they turn out 🙂

    1. I don’t know if I’ll attempt Brussels sprouts this year, though I’d love to try them again one year. We are definitely growing at least one kind of kale this year, and possibly have a second coming back from last year’s failed crop. I look forward to a successful harvest this year, as kale is a huge favourite in our family. Good luck with your garden, Cass!

  6. These are some amazing tips to start a home vegetable garden. I’ve a small garden where I grow my own fruits and vegetables. Over the years, I’ve developed true interest in gardening. I love starting with seeds, setting them in the garden and waiting to see how they do. This is my most favorite way to eat healthy and saving money as well!

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