Nothing beats the first few days of spring when the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and you can finally enjoy a day of gardening. While it's easy to assume gardening season begins in April or May during the heart of spring, you may actually be able to start planting far sooner, right after the first frost while it's still relatively cold. With proper soil preparation and the right plants, it doesn't matter! Your family can be harvesting fresh veggies and enjoying beautiful blooms while your envious neighbors are just getting started.
In this guide to spring gardening, we're breaking down how and when to plant a spring garden, along with recommendations for the best vegetables and flowers to plant in cold weather. So put on your gardening gloves, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to enjoy bountiful harvests of lettuce, potatoes, peas, beets, onions, broccoli, and more.
When should you plant a spring garden?
Planting your garden at the wrong time can be detrimental to its success. Too early and delicate plants like spinach and pansies could die in spring snow; too late, and you'll need to plant summer vegetables like tomatoes, pumpkins, and cucumbers instead.
The proper time to plant your spring garden depends on where you live, so you'll need to do a bit of research on your local area. The USDA's Plant Hardiness Map can help determine when and what to plant based on how cold your region is in the spring. In general, most of the United States can begin planting in late March after the last frost of the winter.
Factor in at least two to three weeks to prepare the area before you begin planting your seeds. You may want to start your seedlings indoors under a grow light and transplant them outside when the weather is a bit warmer.
How to plant a spring garden:
Before you dive into planting, you'll need to prepare the soil in your garden. Start by pulling weeds and removing any leaves or debris that have been collected throughout the winter. As we said before, you should give yourself a few weeks to get prepared before actual gardening begins.
Test Your Garden Soil
First things first, you'll want to test your garden soil to see what nutrients it has and which it needs. Most at-home soil test kits measure for common nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash, as well as the soil's pH level. While professional soil tests can get pretty pricey, they offer a more comprehensive analysis that includes a wider range of nutrients and health indicators.
Feed Your Soil with Fertilizer
Ensuring the soil has the proper nutrients, and pH level sets your garden up for success. The tests you just completed should provide a good idea of what nutrients the dirt in your garden needs.
For a natural alternative to fertilizer, try adding organic matter like compost, mulch, or aged manure. These organic alternatives supplement the soil and help prepare it for planting.
Plan Your Garden
Once the ground is ready to go, it's time to plan your garden's layout and purchase the seeds and supplies you need to succeed.
Map Out the Location
While mapping out your garden may seem like a tedious task, it's certainly a worthwhile one. Taking a few minutes to sketch out a garden plan now can lead to larger harvests, more impressive floral displays, and easier garden upkeep throughout the spring and summer.
The most important thing to get right is sun exposure. Be sure to place plants in a spot with the right balance of sun and shade. Here are three types of plants you'll often see:
- Full sun— at least six hours of direct sunlight per day, preferably eight to ten
- Partial shade— three to six hours of direct sunlight with protection during the scorching mid-day sun
- Full shade— indirect sunlight during most of the day with some dappling direct light, no more than one hour of direct sunlight
New gardeners often fail to leave enough room for each crop. Though something may start as a small seed, it'll quickly grow roots and leaves that need lots of space. Be sure to leave adequate room between each seed or starter. Group similar crops together to keep things organized.
Purchase Your Materials
In addition to seeds or small starter plants, you'll also want to purchase any other items on your gardening list like trellises, stakes, hoses, watering cans, and sprayer heads. If you'll be using baskets or pots, now is a great time to purchase the dirt and the containers you need. It's a simple fact that it's better to have a garage full of everything you need now versus realizing there's an important thing or two missings later.
Plant Your Spring Crops
Once the last frost has passed, and the temperatures are right, it's time to get planting. Before planting seeds, bulbs, plants, or starters, be sure to read instructions on the package or do some research online to ensure you're planting them at the right time and temperature. One frost or freezing cold night and your spring garden could be ruined.
While most food is available year-round in a grocery store, each different crop requires its own unique growing season in your home garden. Here's a list of the popular spring produce to grow at home:
- Root vegetables— beets, carrots, parsnips, onions, radishes, potatoes
- Hearty lettuce— kale, spinach, swiss chard, mustard greens, arugula
- Versatile vegetables— cauliflower, broccoli, celery, cabbage, peas, Brussel sprouts
- Herbs— parsley, sage, rosemary, mint, oregano
- Fruits— honeydew, raspberries, strawberries
Many traditional spring blooms begin as bulbs that are planted during the previous fall. You'll need to plan well in advance if you want to enjoy plants like daffodils, tulips, or hyacinths in your spring garden. Here are a few things to grow once the final frost has passed and temperatures aren't too cold:
- Hardy Geraniums/ Cranesbills
- Bleeding hearts
- Native wildflowers
Give Everything a Good Water
While April showers help bring May flowers, your garden probably needs a manual rain shower from time to time. It's essential for plant growth that the ground stays properly hydrated so the roots of your swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, kale, and other plants can soak up water alongside vital nutrients.
Check On Your Houseplants
Now is also a great time to give your houseplants a little love. Give them any additional watering and fertilization they may need. Any houseplants, succulents, or cacti in need of extra sunshine can be placed on your deck for a few hours each day. Treat anything with signs of pests, disease, or other problems to ensure they don't spread.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
Once the hard work is finished, it's time to kick up your feet and enjoy the taste of your home-grown cabbage, carrots, radishes, and other veggies. One of the best ways to celebrate your accomplishments is by cooking something delicious. Nothing beats the taste of fresh veggies, especially when you can share them with the ones you love.