When to Plant Vegetables – Charting for Success all Summer
Always Have Something to Harvest!
Reading Time: 5 minutes
When you plant your vegetable garden, you want to be sure that you can use all the food that grows. You also want to be sure that you constantly have food, not just at the very end. That can be easily done with a little extra planning and even a bit of math. Here we will detail how to plan a garden that will produce food throughout the growing season, without empty spots when one vegetable is done for the year.
I wish that I could give you very specific details of exactly when to plant, but that depends on your gardening zone and microclimates. More northern areas of the U.S. need very different plans from the southern parts of the U.S. The suggestions given will apply to most of the U.S. Gardeners in southern areas that have very hot summers and possibly don’t freeze in the winter will plant their cool weather crops during winter and warm weather crops during spring or fall.
The basic principle of having a continual harvest is to vary what you plant when you plant, and always have something growing. Having knowledge of what plants prefer cooler weather versus the hot summers will help, as will time to harvest. When one grouping is done, don’t leave the soil bare. Immediately plant something else. Even if you have plans to plant the same cool-weather crop in both the spring and fall, you can use a very short-season crop to fill that ground in the between-time.
As you plan your garden area, first know which plants need a longer growing season. This includes tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn, carrots (most varieties, but some are short), melons, and winter squashes including pumpkins. Typical varieties of these vegetables take anywhere from 65-120 days to fully mature with usable produce. If you need food soon, you will be staring wistfully at those growing plants for at least 2-4 months. However, these are often staple crops that store well either through canning, freezing, or a root cellar. (Hint: you don’t have to have a real root cellar to store root vegetables, just a dry, cool area. Also, store onions away from potatoes.)
Shorter season plants include mostly vegetables that prefer cooler weather. In some northern areas, you don’t actually have to worry as much about the heat making plants bolt, but for the rest of us, planting accordingly will give the best harvest without losing plants. There are a few short-season plants that don’t mind the summer heat, and there are also ways to shelter a plant from the worst of the heat. Planting in a more shady corner of your garden, using shade cloth, or pairing the plants with ones that grow taller can help keep them cool during the heat of the day. Planting smaller patches of some plants a few weeks apart will also spread out your harvest.
Here is a chart that details when to plant certain popular vegetables. Again, this chart is applicable to most of the United States, but a few very southern parts may have to adjust. Plant names that have been bolded tend to produce for many weeks; the days to harvest are simply how long until the first fruits come. Remember that these numbers are averages, and there are often varieties that take more or less time. If the name is specified with “plant” then the days to harvest are after transplanting a live seedling.
|Early Spring||Days to Harvest||Midspring||Days to Harvest||Early Summer||Days to Harvest||Midsummer to Autumn||Days to Harvest|
|Broccoli Plants||60-80||Onion sets||100||Bean (Bush)||50-60||Beet||55-70|
|Cabbage Plants||45-110||Cauliflower||55-80||Bean (Pole)||65-85||Broccoli Seed or Plant||90-110|
|Peas||55-80||Beet||55-70||Potatoes||70-120||Cabbage Seed or Plant||45-110|
|Radish||21-30||Swiss Chard||60||Tomato Plant||60-85||Lettuce||45-84|
The Early Spring grouping can all be planted a few weeks before the average last frost date of your area. Growing up in Idaho, I remember always planting peas on the first weekend of April. Our average last frost date wasn’t until mid-May. These plants tend to be resilient to light frosts. You may still want to cover them with a sheet or blanket if a hard frost or snow is forecasted. Because many of these plants bolt in higher temperatures (some as low as 75 degrees F), you want as much growing time before your temperatures are consistently high. If things go well, you may be harvesting spinach at the same time that you are planting summer squashes. Right there, you can plant the summer squash in the middle of the spinach row, and it will grow as you continue to harvest the spinach completely. No wasted soil.
The Midspring grouping would prefer not to have below-freezing temperatures, but a light frost won’t necessarily spell doom upon your harvest. If you are having a warm year, feel free to plant these crops a couple of weeks before your average last frost date. If your spring seems to be late, maybe wait a week or two before planting. Here we have a mix of shorter and longer growing plants that are more tolerant of the summer heat, but often prefer to start when the weather is still cool.
Our Early Summer list cannot handle even the slightest frost. Many of these are started indoors and transplanted to extend the growing season because they take too long to reach maturity otherwise. Many of these can be put in as your early spring crops finish.
The grouping of Midsummer to Autumn is mostly repeats of the early spring vegetables. That is because by the time they are growing, the weather has mellowed, and they are not likely to bolt or become bitter. For fall crops, take your average first frost date and count backward using the average days to harvest, and then give yourself a couple more days.
You can also take advantage of crops that overwinter in the ground such as garlic. Because garlic is harvested midsummer, it may leave a hole in your garden. Utilize this by placing young plants around the established garlic that won’t be harmed by a little root disturbance. The garlic doesn’t have a big root system, so pulling it up won’t affect the other plants much. This doesn’t work well for root vegetables that don’t like being disturbed, but above-ground vegetables will accept it better. Tomatoes love garlic, by the way.
You can have food throughout the entire growing season as long as you vary what you plant when you plant, and always have something in every space.