Think Ahead About the Spring Garden – Create a Garden Schedule

We’re still in the middle of winter and the weather outside is bitter cold as I’m writing this post but that doesn’t mean gardening should be out of your mind. Now is the perfect time to get your garden plan together for 2016 so that you can maximize your yields and minimize your workload! Today I’ll walk you through my typical time frame each year for planning my garden. As a part of your garden plan you should create a garden schedule to guide you through the season. My garden is in Spring Hill, TN which is a zone 6b-7 so you may have to adjust your garden plan schedule to match your local area.

Create a Garden Schedule

Dates and Timing

Black-Pearl-Ornamental-pepper-Seeds-12-13-2010-1The first step to create a garden schedule is to look for the key dates. The first date to take note of is your area’s last frost date. Here in our area our last frost date is usually April 15th. That doesn’t mean you won’t have a frost after that or that the last frost won’t be before that, but it is an average frost date and a decent guideline to plan around.

When to Plant

The other key date to know is when to start your plants. For that you need to decide what method you plan to use for your garden.

  • Start from Seed
  • Start from transplants.

Starting Seeds

If you start your plants from seed you will notice on the back of the seed packet (or look online if you haven’t ordered seeds yet) that it will give you a time to sow the seeds. You could see instructions that say “direct sow after last frost date” or “sow indoors X weeks before last frost date.” Count back the number of weeks it tells you on the package from the last frost date and that will be about when you should plant your seeds. The longer your growing season usually is the more flexibility you have in getting a later start. If you have a very short growing season you will want to keep your schedule very tight!

Starting Transplants

If you are starting transplants your planting date will be tied closer to the last frost date. Tender plants or annuals should not be planted until 2 weeks after your frost date. This allows the soil time to warm up and reduces the chance of diseases damaging your plants early in the season. If you can provide protection in the form of a row cover, caterpillar tunnel, cloche, or greenhouse you certainly can start earlier! Also you can try covering the soil for a week or two with black landscape fabric to help warm the soil.

Seed-sowing-in-flats-on-heat-mats-12-2012-1

kale-seedlings-9-2014-001Now that you know when to start you need to go back and figure out when to order your seeds. Figure at least a week from the time you order until you receive them. With hard to find seeds order as early as you can because they can sell out quickly!

When you create a garden schedule for your garden plan take the timing of all these events into account.

Safe Planting Date – Annuals/Tender Perennials Two weeks after last frost date
Safe Planting Date – cool season Usually 2-4 weeks before last frost date.
Seed Starting Date Count backward from last frost date according to seed packet instructions.
Seed Selections Allow time for shipping!

Planning out your seed starting and planting dates is just one area where it is important to create a garden schedule. Don’t forget about soil preparation, your garden layout, and succession planting! I’ll try to cover more on those areas in the coming weeks.

Dave’s Personal Garden Notes:

For my planning I usually get my seed order in at the beginning of January. I’ll start sowing seeds for peppers and eggplant at the beginning of February and start my tomatoes about 2 weeks after that. Tomatoes need 8-10 weeks of time before planting outdoors. The same time frame applies to eggplant and peppers but I’ve always noticed that they need more time to grow. Peppers and eggplant have always been slower to start than tomatoes so I factor that into my schedule.

I can start onion anytime indoors after January. Use fresh seed if you have it since seeds of the onion family tend to have a short viability. I’ll start kale and chard 6 weeks before the last frost and plant outside when they have two real leaves (not cotyledons – the first leaves/starter leaves). I’ve direct sowed kale and chard about the same time and depending on the weather that season had good results. I’ll direct sow lettuce 3-4 weeks before the frost date and can start indoors earlier than that. Kale and chard are hardier cool season vegetables than lettuce so they can be put outdoors earlier.

I’ll direct sow beets in the garden about 4 weeks before the last frost date. Radishes can be ready fast so start succession planting them every two weeks.

Once you’ve done this a few seasons you will get the hang of it! Every year is different and sometimes that last frost date will be much earlier than you planned. The problem is you can’t ever predict that when you need to start planning so you have to plan for the average frost date.

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