When is the Best Time to Plant?
Planning ahead is critical for every garden project. And when you’re just getting started, it’s easy to get tripped up on knowing when to actually start planting. Can you really start in February? Are the little charts on the backs of some seed packets really accurate? These questions and others like them present a challenge for newbie gardeners. In this post I’ve highlighted four key resources to help you out. Together they form the strategy I personally use for my garden plans.
My first key resource is both the most obvious but also the easiest to overlook. You need to check the weather forecast for your zip code. Remember, the stuff you find in books or online may be based on accurate observations about climate and weather patterns for your region, but none of those generalizations are able to tell you if you’re getting freezing rain or snow in the coming weeks. Your trusted local meteorologists will. As a general rule of thumb, give your seeds at least a few days to acclimate to the soil before a freeze or snow storm. And give planted sprouts some sort of cover to help them weather these conditions.
Once you know what kind of weather you’re expecting, you want to check the backs of seed packets. Many commercially produced seed packets (such as two examples pictured above) will include information on when to plant their contents. The time frame described on these seed packets will correspond to the seasonal weather these plants are best able to thrive in. You may also find written instructions such as ‘plant two weeks before last frost’ which refer to the last or first frost dates of the year. This step will help you determine which seeds you already own are suitable to plant at what time of year.
When information is not readily available on seed packets, or to get an idea of what seeds you’d like to buy at what time of year, refer to my third key resource. Check online sources like the USDA or Urban Farmer. While the USDA provides a great hardiness zone map, my opinion is that Urban Farmer is easier to navigate and more useful. For instance, Urban Farmer provides a month-by-month ‘what to plant’ page based on the plant hardiness zone map available from the USDA (pictured above). This resource can also help you organize your garden’s planting all year round, rather than just in the coming weeks even when you don’t have all the seeds you want yet.
My fourth and final key resource is to check annual almanacs like the Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar or The Farmer’s Almanac. The Maria Thun almanac provides a day-by-day monthly calendar for which types of vegetables, fruits, roots, and herbs should be planted when using correspondence tables derived from astrological and lunar phenomenon. The Farmer’s Almanac also gives you a reliable prediction of month-to-month weather for your region, which can complement or predict beyond local weather forecasts and won’t be as limited to the political ‘climate-framing’ of state agencies like the USDA. Together these resources can help you plan out your day-to-day planting schedule all year round, and hypothesize at least a general idea of what weather will be like further out from local weather reports.
With all four of these key resources together, you’ll be able to plan out when to get your plants in the ground with no worries at all. As for me, I’m about to start planting a few hardy veggies this week. You can check back here for updates in the future on how my garden grows this season.
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Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org