Originally Published on May 27, 2021. Last Updated on August 31, 2022.
Planting and managing a garden is a fun family activity that gets you outside and enjoying your outdoor space. While gardening is exciting, it does take planning and research to know what to plant and when to do it. Whether you’re a novice or seasoned pro, a garden planting calendar is a helpful tool to ensure you’re heading in the right direction. Keep reading to learn why you should follow a planting calendar, as well as the importance of planting zones and frost dates.
Why You Should Follow a Planting Calendar
A planting calendar tells you the ideal time to plant any vegetable, fruit, flower, or herb. Taking care of a garden can take a lot of time and energy. You’re busy enough with work and kids, so you can’t afford any missteps that set you back. After all, you’re following Mother Nature’s schedule, not the other way around. That’s why planning is a huge part of gardening. A planting calendar helps keep you on track throughout the year so you can reach your gardening goals.
The Importance of Planting Zones
The United States doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all climate. That’s why the USDA — the United States Department of Agriculture — created the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. It divides North America into 13 separate planting zones — aka plant hardiness zones — that show 10-degree differences in average yearly temperatures between each zone.
Plant hardiness zones are critical because they help gardeners pick the right plants to grow in their respective areas. Without the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, you’d have to take a trial-and-error approach to find what plants can and can’t grow in your garden. Nobody has the time or patience for that! While it doesn’t consider some factors like snow cover or freeze time, the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is still a helpful tool to streamline your garden planning.
How to Find Your Planting Zone
Finding your planting zone is very simple. Here’s what you need to do:
- Go to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
- In the top-left corner, you’ll see a section that says “Find Your Plant Hardiness Zone.”
- Enter your zip code and click Find.
- You’ll receive your zone, as well as the average annual extreme minimum temperature.
What Is a Frost Date?
A frost date is an average date when temperatures fall to 32°F or lower in a particular area. You have two frost dates to keep track of — the first and the last. The first frost date is the average time of year when the first fall/winter frost occurs in your area. The temperatures subsequently get colder until the last frost date, the average time of year when you can expect the last frost in late winter or spring before temperatures start warming up again.
Frost dates are important for determining the right time to start planting your garden because many plants cannot withstand harsh winter conditions. Plus, many seed packets and transplant seedlings come with instructions such as “sow outside 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost date.” Knowing your frost dates and following instructions will help ensure your plants start growing at the right time.
Planting Vegetables (The types of seeds to plant by season)
When it comes to vegetables, you need to decide the ones your family will actually eat. There’s no reason to plant leeks if nobody in your family likes them. Once you pick out your veggies, decide whether you’ll start the seeds inside, purchase transplants, or plant seeds outside. These methods all have different timelines you need to follow, which you can find on the back of the seed packets or plant tags. Additionally, a vegetable planning schedule helps you decide exactly when to plant every type of veggie relative to your zone.
You can get away with planting fruit trees in early spring or late winter if you plant them in the ground. Container fruit trees usually do well if you plant them any time between September and May. But if you’re in the thick of winter, wait until the temperatures are milder to plant them. Again, the best time to plant fruits heavily depends on your location and the type of fruits you want to plant.
Figuring out when to plant flowers is easy once you determine the first and last frost dates in your zone. It’s also important to look at the type of flowers you want to plant and see if they will handle your zone and frost dates. For example, delicate flowers such as dahlias require warm soil to grow properly, while hardy flowers like pansies and daffodils can tolerate light frosts. Ultimately, it’s a combination of flower type and frost dates that will help you create your garden planting schedule.
If you’re interested in starting an herb garden, you can start most herbs from seed indoors or outdoors. If you’d rather use transplants than seeds, you can put those directly into the ground. Whatever method you choose, consider whether you want annuals, perennials, or a mix of both. Of course, the right time to plant your herbs depends on the type and your zone location.
Gardening isn’t something you do on a whim. It takes research and planning, and a tool like a planting calendar helps keep your eyes on the prize and get the garden you want. But once everything is situated, gardening is a fun activity that you and your kids can enjoy doing together!
Check out the POLYWOOD blog for more related articles on gardening.