Following January and February snows, anticipating erratic freezing temperatures through March and April, hopeful gardeners order seeds from catalogs and peruse seed packets at hardware stores, waiting eagerly for the time to plant. For your early spring garden, the time begins now! It’s time to start your cool weather vegetable crops. All you need to know is what, when, and how to plant.
What to plant
Adventurous gardeners can sow frost-tolerant vegetables long before May plantings of heat-loving crops. With chilly nights, cool sunny days, and few insect pests, plants such as arugula,beets, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, kales, kohlrabies, leeks, lettuces, mustard greens, onions, parsnips, peas, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, Swiss chards, and turnips thrive much like fall crops—and many are harvested by spring planting time! So, much of your early spring garden not only provides hardy greens and root crops, but room for succession planting—allowing you to plant something new in each vacated spot as you harvest.
When to plant
In planning your cool season garden, it is important to know when to plant which crops:
- In mid-February, start with onions and peas.
- In early March, add cabbage, carrots, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips.
- In mid-March you can begin planting chard, kale, lettuces, and mustard greens.
- Early April is the time to add arugula, beets, cauliflower, collard greens, kohlrabi, leeks, and
For specific date ranges for our area see the Western North Carlina sections of the NCSU Extension calendar: https://extensiongardener.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/NC-Vegetable-Planting-Table_2021-accessible.pdf?fwd=no
Soil temperature is also a good indicator for planting time, so a soil thermometer may be a valuable investment: beets, cabbages, carrots, lettuces, onions, parsnips, radishes, spinach, Swiss chards, and peas can germinate and grow at a soil temperature as low as 40 degrees! But the optimum soil temperature for germinating these and other crops is 45 or even 50 degrees.
How to plant
Although you can direct seed all these crops, you can get an even earlier start by growing your own transplants indoors 4 to 6 weeks before your outdoor planting date, or even sooner by using winter sowing techniques (see link below). Plant seeds in cell trays in a germination (seed starting) soil mix kept indoors in a sunny location and tended with care to see that they don’t dry out or outgrow their containers and become root bound. These plants will benefit from being “hardened off” or placed outside to acclimate for a few hours each day during their last week or two in containers. If there are unusually severe temperatures, seedlings and transplants will benefit from nightly individual pot coverings or a row cover. Once your crops sprout or are transplanted, mulch around your plants to keep soil temperature and moisture more consistent and keep weeds down.
With early spring planting at hand, evaluate your garden space. Do a soil test if you haven’t done one in the past three years. Add compost to your soil and choose sunny locations for cool season crops. Sunny days invite us outside and your emerging plants will keep you returning to the garden!
Article by Mary Alice Ramsey Buncombe County Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer
For more information:
Vegetable seed germination temperatures:
Winter sowing video: Winter Sowing