Prepare Your Garden for Early Spring Plants
Summer gardens tend to get the most attention, but expert gardeners know not to overlook the impressive array of early spring plants. Not only are there a number of vegetables and flowers capable of growing in cooler weather - many prefer it! An early spring garden can brighten up your winter-weary yard with the promise of summer and is a great way to increase homegrown vegetables in your seasonal diet.
When to Start Planting
The majority of spring vegetables and flowers benefit when started by seed indoors. This provides young plants with a milder environment to germinate, promoting faster growth and stronger establishment. Depending on the plant, seeds should be started 2-8 weeks before transplanting. To prepare seedlings for their transition outdoors you’ll need to “harden them off.” During their last week indoors stop fertilizer use, reduce watering and place them outside for a few hours every day. Plan ahead so that seedlings are ready to be moved outside in time for the recommended ground planting date.
Ground planting times for most spring flowers and veggies are determined by the last frost and your growing zone. Use a tool like the Frost Dates Calendar by the Old Farmer’s Almanac to determine your expected last frost date. The Plant Hardiness Zone map shows growing zones based on temperatures within each region, knowing what zone you live in can help determine what veggies and flowers you are able to grow and the best time for planting in the ground.
Early Spring Vegetables
Hardy plants like leafy greens and root vegetables thrive in cooler weather and make a great addition to early spring gardens. To insure your vegetables get the best possible start, plant them in a well-drained area with healthy soil and a high-calcium plant food. Clean Water Grow Tomato & Veggie Food offers calcium and Root-Activated™ technology for the perfect balance of nutrients. Add it once and it lasts up to six months.
Carrots thrive in temperatures between 61° and 70 F°, making them a perfect early spring vegetable. Begin planting 10-12 weeks before the last expected frost, in most regions this is around February-March. You can expect your first harvest within 70-100 days after planting.
Beets are difficult to transplant, so always plant seeds directly in the garden bed once soil temperatures reach 50°F - usually in March or April. You can stagger the plantings for a continuous crop that will last throughout spring into early summer. Stop planting in time for your last crop to reach maturity (50-70 days) before temperatures rise above 75°F.
Tip: Don’t forget to use the tops! Beet greens are edible and extremely nutritious, they can be added to salads, sautéed, blended into smoothies and even steamed.
Cabbage needs cool weather, so early spring planting ensures these nutritious veggies will mature in time to harvest before the early summer heat. For best results, start cabbage by seed indoors 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost. Move them outside 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost. Depending on variety, cabbage is ready to harvest 60-80 days after planting.
Broccoli can grow in temperatures as low as 40°F. Like cabbage, broccoli benefits when started from seed indoors several weeks in advance. When broccoli starts have two to three leaves, transplant them outside, usually 2-3 weeks before the last spring frost.
As soon as temperatures rise above 40°F and the ground is soft enough to break up, it’s time to plant your spinach. Remember to plant spinach early because seeds won’t germinate in temperatures over 70°F and leaves become bitter in warm weather. Taking from 40-50 days to reach maturity, spinach is another crop recommended for staggered plantings, so a consistent harvest continues through spring into early summer.
Early Spring Flowers
Planting flowers capable of withstanding cooler temperatures is a great way to brighten your garden and add early color as the seasons change. When purchasing your starts or seeds, be sure to pick up some Clean Water Grow Rose & Flower Food to ensure your flowers get the food they need for the vibrant foliage and spectacular blooms you want. Just mix a tablespoon into the soil before planting to provide your flowers with nutrients for up to six months.
Nasturtiums love early spring weather where they get full sun and have access to damp soil. If growing nasturtiums by seed, start them indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. Two weeks before the final spring frost, transplant your seedlings (or purchased starts) outside.
Tip: Both nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible! Containing iron and vitamins A, C, and D, nasturtiums aren’t only nutritious but have a bold peppery taste, making them a popular ingredient for chefs. Try incorporating them into your salads and soups, or boil them like spinach and serve with butter.
Pansies are one of the most popular cool weather flowers. Growing best at temperatures around 65°F, pansies can be planted in late winter for blooms that begin in early spring. Though their bloom time is limited (blooms begin to wilt at temperatures near 80°F), they provide an inspirational pop of color to your garden during the cool spring months.
Snapdragons thrive in cool soil and are even able to withstand light frosts. This makes them an excellent addition to an early spring garden – especially for beginning gardeners! If starting snapdragons from seed, sow into the ground in mid- to late-winter for early spring germination. You can also start seeds indoors and transfer the starts outside 1-2 weeks before the final frost.
Petunias are another popular flower for avid gardeners and bloom in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Most gardeners plant petunias in summer, but they actually prefer cool weather. Plant them right after the last spring frost for some early color in your garden. With proper care they’ll last throughout the summer! Petunias can be started outside, but they benefit from being started indoors as seed and moved outdoors when the plants have at least three leaves.
Geraniums are a versatile plant that can grow in a variety of settings and temperatures. Plant geraniums after the last spring frost when night temperatures are around 45°-60°F. Don’t worry if temperatures unexpectedly drop after you’ve planted your geraniums, they can withstand temperatures as low as 32°F. If you’d like to extend the life of your geraniums beyond summer, transfer them indoors for the winter.