Nothing is more discouraging than spending time and money on your new garden only to find that your sprouts have shriveled up and died. Knowing when to plant your seeds is crucial. Otherwise, your plants will continue to sprout and grow, then die before harvest time whenever temperatures climb or fall. With gardening, timing is everything.
To help, we’re sharing our ultimate planting calendar guide so you can have many successful harvests throughout the year.
What Is a Planting Calendar?
A planting calendar, also known as a planting schedule, tells you when to plant and what to plant during certain times of the year based on your location. Many planting calendars use a frost date, the last spring frost, and first fall frost, to guide you on if you should sow seeds outdoors or indoors, as well as information about when to plant those seeds in the ground or transplant seedlings.
No matter what you’re planting, referencing a planting calendar is essential when planning out your garden.
How Do I Find My Planting Zone?
A planting zone, also known as a growing zone or hardiness zone, is a geographical area where different plants can grow based on the area’s climate conditions. In the United States, the hardiness zones are based on the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which divides the country into 10-degree zones based on average minimum winter temperatures. Remember that hardiness zones are often not a good indicator of summer temperatures because they show the average minimum temperature ranges and don’t account for sudden, extreme heat, which will wither your plants.
View the Plant Hardiness Zone Map here to identify your planting zone.
After determining your planting zone, find a reliable planting guide specific to your area and hardiness zone for the best chance of success. Here are some of the best ways to find relevant information about your hardiness zone:
- Speak with local nurseries or garden center employees for information on planting dates.
- Ask experienced gardeners in your area for planting recommendations.
- Research your state’s local extension office to find the best plant time. Most extension offices have free planting calendars on their websites. If possible, look for a county extension office close to you with a planting calendar, as climates and temperatures can vary dramatically within a single state.
If you can’t find a local planting guide, identify the first and last frost dates. We recommend checking Almanac.com’s First and Last Frost Dates listing to determine these dates for your zip code.
After that, make a planting calendar by following the general rule of thumb on the back of seed packets. For example, a seed packet may recommend planting the seeds three weeks before your frost date. From there, you can count back from the frost date on your calendar and plot when to plant the seed packet. We recommend making a complete list of everything you want to grow throughout the year, then creating a calendar with estimated planting and harvest dates, so you don’t miss critical dates.
What Should I Plant?
If you’re overwhelmed with what you should plant, start with some of the easiest-to-grow vegetables and flowers:
- Lettuce: Look for “cut and come again” lettuce seed mixes, which will grow back many leaves. Otherwise, you’ll end up with individual lettuce heads that need to be replanted yearly.
- Marigolds: These cheerful flowers are annuals that will bloom throughout the summer if you deadhead them. Marigolds prefer the full sun and come in many vivid colors.
- Carrots: Carrots grow well in many parts of the country. Consider sowing chantenay or Nantes carrots in the spring or Autumn King for a later autumn harvest. Amsterdam forcing carrots are a great year-round crop.
- Perpetual spinach: As the name suggests, this spinach-flavored leaf is a fantastic grower that will continue growing throughout the year, providing you with endless spinach.
- Calendula flowers: These vivid yellow or orange flowers add a burst of color to any garden. They’re annual plants that thrive in zones 2a to 11b and need partial shade when planted in a hot climate.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a delicious vegetable that will take to many climates as long as they’re planted at the optimal time. For example, if you live in a hot, dry climate, plant your tomatoes in March or April to give them time to establish before the extreme heat hits. Otherwise, these are best planted around Mother’s Day.
- Radishes: Radishes come in many varieties and grow fast, making them an excellent choice for beginner gardeners wanting a quick payoff for their hard work. You can expect radishes to be ready to harvest in as little as four weeks.
When Should I Plant Vegetables?
As with all plants, you should plant vegetables based on your hardiness zone and recommendations from an expert gardener or the seed packet’s guidelines. If you don’t live somewhere with an unusually late frost, veggies tend to do very well because the plant will have enough time to establish itself before freezing temperatures. In these areas, you can plant almost any vegetable, but you’ll want to stay conscious of when to actually put the plants in the ground.
In most areas, March and April are the best times of the year to plant vegetable seeds, such as cabbage, Swiss chard, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, kohlrabi, sweet corn, leeks, parsley, okra, collards, chives, parsnips, beets, summer squash, and broccoli. Other vegetables and fruits, like pumpkins and cucumbers, grow better when planted in early May to June and are harvested in the fall. Some vegetables, such as brussels sprouts and turnips, are versatile and can be planted in early spring or mid to late summer.
You’ll also want to consider if you’re planting the annual or perennial version of a plant if it comes in both varieties. For example, you should plant annual artichokes in spring, but you should plant artichokes grown as perennials in late summer.
Look into a specific vegetable planting calendar for your area for the best-estimated planting times for your vegetable garden.
When Should I Plant Flowers?
Always check that the flower you’re interested in planting will tolerate the temperatures in your zone and your frost dates. Hardier flowers, such as alyssum and pansies, will survive light frosts. However, tender flowers like nasturtium and dahlias need warm soil to grow well. Consider how hardy the flower is and what your area’s typical frost date is so that you can plant your flowers far enough in advance to avoid sudden temperature drops that will kill off young, vulnerable plants.
Generally, you should plant most flowers after your area’s last average frost date. As a result, most flowers are planted in spring, but perennial flowers can be OK if planted in early fall in the North or late fall in the South.
What Is a Growing Season?
A growing season is the number of days between your last and first frost date. If you live in a colder climate, your growing season will be shorter, giving you a smaller window of time to plant seeds successfully. Learn the length of your growing season so you can choose vegetables and flowers suited to the area.
Remember, it’s easier to go along with native crops that will thrive in your climate rather than fight Mother Nature throughout the year as you try to keep your plants alive. Work with your hardiness zone and opt for plants, such as asparagus, onions, shallots, garlic, and peas which thrive in cool fall temperatures, rather than choosing tender vegetables and flowers that will wither in freezing conditions.
Can I Extend My Growing Season?
With a bit of help, you can outwit Mother Nature temporarily by covering your crops to extend your growing season. A high-quality polytunnel cover is an excellent choice to protect your crops from the cold. Take note of where to place it so that both sides of the cover get equal amounts of sunlight.
Most areas allow polytunnel covers but always double-check with your local government about how large a polytunnel you can have in a domestic plot.
You may need to warm the soil in spring if you live in a cold area. Look into soil-warming mulches to help transplanted crops and direct sow crops have a strong start. Hot caps, tents, cold frames, floating row covers, and tunnels are other great choices to protect your plants from the wind and cold.
Can You Have More Than One Planting Season?
Yes, you can have more than one planting season, especially if you live in warmer climates or zones 7 to 10. These zones often give you the opportunity for “second plantings,” especially for vegetables. For example, in February, you can plant tomatoes and peppers for a summer harvest and in early fall for a winter harvest in areas like Florida.
We hope this guide gives you plenty of ideas for creating a custom planting chart based on your hardiness zone and the vegetables and fruits you’re most interested in growing. Always consider if your estimated planting time will provide the plant with enough time to establish itself before the possibility of extreme cold or heat comes into play, as this is the quickest way for your crops to die off.