By Suzanne DeJohn

Although it can be tempting to try to get a jump on the gardening season during an early warm spell, it's best to be patient and wait until the weather is right to plant. Spring weather in many parts of the country can be erratic, with unseasonably mild weather followed by a severe cold snap. To help you avoid the temptation of planting too early, make a calendar with planting times for various crops.

1. The first step is to determine is your region's average last spring frost date. You can do that by entering your zipcode into this page. Alternatively, check with a gardening neighbor or call your Cooperative Extension office. Since the actual last frost can occur days or weeks before or after the average, always be prepared to protect tender plants for a few weeks after this date has passed.

2. Next, open your calendar and mark the average last frost date. You'll be counting backwards from that date for cool-season crops that can be set out before the last frost date, and counting forward for heat-loving crops.

  • Sample planting calendar
  • 3. Make a list of what you'll be planting. Consult seed packets or other resources to determine whether crops should be sown directly in the garden, or started indoors (or purchased as transplants). Determine the cold-tolerance of the crops, too. Broccoli, for example, tolerates cool weather and can take a light frost. Tomatoes, on the other hand, need warmth.

    4. Begin making notes on your calendar. Mark dates for indoor seed-starting, dates for sowing in the garden, and dates for transplanting seedlings into the garden.

    The following cool-season crops can be planted a few weeks before the average last frost date:

    Broccoli
    Cabbage
    Cauliflower
    Kale
    Lettuce
    Spinach

    For the following warm-season plants, wait until after the last frost date to sow seeds in the garden or set plants outdoors:

    Cucumbers
    Melons
    Peppers
    Squash
    Tomatoes

    A lot of this work can be done for you by the computer! Enter your zipcode into our Garden Planting Calendar for a good starting place.

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