When is the best time to plant my garden? A question many new gardeners may have when planning to grow a garden. To answer that question, we need to look at a few factors that will affect your gardening success.
These factors include which region or hardiness zone you live in, when the soil temperature reaches the optimal time for planting, and which plants you choose to plant. First, we will discuss hardiness zones.
Hardiness zones 1-11 are regions of the United States and Canada and provide us with a map that tells us which zone we live in. Each zone has a different minimum winter temperature which helps us determine when to plant in our region or zone.
You can find a brief description of each Region and its Zones below. For a more detailed information on hardiness zones you can read all about each one here at What is a Hardiness Zone?
Below I have provided a USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
The 11 zones located in the United States and Canada can be broken down into 4 categories:
- Cold Zone
- Temperate Zone
- Warm Zone
- Hot Zone
The cold zone includes zones 1-4. These zones ae located throughout the upper half of the United States and Canada.
Colder zones are slower to warm up in the spring and have a minimum annual winter temperature ranging from -50° F or -46°C in zone 1 to -30°F to 20°F or -34°C to -29°C in zone 4.
The temperate zone includes zones 5 to 6, and is located mostly in the middle, United States. These zones have a longer growing season providing you opportunity to plant earlier in the season and to have a longer time to grow in the fall.
The minimum annual winter temperature ranges from-20°F to -10°F or -29°C to -23°C in zone 5 to -10°F to 0°F or -23°C to -18°C in zone 6.
The warm zone includes zone 7 to 8 and is found in the lower United States. The warm zone provides a very long growing season, usually 6 to 7 months. Some plants may even suffer from such a short winter dormancy. Heat loving plants such as tomatoes and peppers, as well as okra, sweet potatoes, and field peas do extremely well do to the long hot summers.
The minimum annual winter temperature in these zones range from 0°F to 10°F or -18°C to -12°C in zone 7 to 10°F to 20°F or -12°C to -7°C in zone 8.
The hot zone includes zones 9-11. These zones are located within the lower United States, with zone 11 being limited to Hawaii, the Los Angeles and San Diego areas and Southernmost Florida. The growing seasons in these zones are fall, winter, and spring, with summer being somewhat hot to garden.
The minimum annual winter temperature in these zones are 20°F to 30°F or -6°C to -1°C in zone 9 and 30° to 40°F or -1°C to 4°C in zone 10, and 40° to 50°F or 4°C to 19°C in zone 11.
When planting your garden, you need to know when the soil in your area reaches the temperature best suited for planting which is between 55°F and 70°F. Knowing which hardiness zone or region you are in helps you to know when the approximate date the soil will reach the right temperature for planting.
So, knowing your zone and your annual minimum winter temperature as well as when the soil is right for planting can help you to know when the best time to plant in your area.
MOON GARDEN CALENDER PLANTING
Another guide you can use to determine the best time to plant is by using the moon garden calendar. It is a calendar that determines garden chores such as sowing, planting, fertilizing, and harvesting by the phases of the moon.
Gardening by the Moon
Gardening by the moon is as old as agriculture itself and is based on the phase and position of the phases of the moon, and it is consistent across all growing zones.
Just as the tides are highest at the time of the new and the full moon, when sun and moon are lined up with the earth, as the moon pulls the tides in the oceans, it also pulls upon the subtle bodies of water, causing moisture to rise in the earth, which encourages growth.
The highest amount of moisture is in the soil at full moon and this is when the seeds absorb the most water.
Moon Phase Gardening
Moon phase gardening has 4 phases or quarters lasting 7 days each. The first phase is the new moon.
During the new moon phase lunar gravity pulls water up to the ground surface, causing the seeds to swell and burst. This factor coupled with the increasing moonlight creates balanced root and leaf growth. This is the best time to plant above ground bearing annual crops that produce their seeds outside the fruits. A few examples include lettuce, spinach, celery, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and grain crops.
2nd Quarter Moon
The 2nd quarter moon has less gravitational pull, but the moonlight is strong, creating healthy leaf growth. This is generally a good time to plant, especially two days before the full moon. You will want to plant crops consisting of annuals that produce above ground, but their seeds form inside the fruit. These plants include beans, melons, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.
You should plant just before the full moon to get the benefits of peak moisture.
The third and fourth quarters are after the full moon when the light is waning or decreasing, and the energy is drawing down. The gravitational pull is high, creating more moisture in the soil, but the moonlight is decreasing, putting energy into the roots. This is a good time to plant root crops including beets and carrots as well as perennials, bulbs, and transplanting because of the active root growth.
4th Quarter Moon
In the fourth quarter there is decreased gravitational pull and moonlight and is considered a resting period. This is the best time to cultivate, harvest, transplant, fertilize and prune.
Also, mowing your lawn in the third and forth quarter will retard the growth.
With scientific ideas to back it up, moon gardening is another way to determine your best planting time. But, remember that moon gardening is only a guide line to follow and you need to consider the weather as well. Some regions may still have snow in February and will still be far from being ready or prepared to plant. After all, if you can’t find the still frozen ground through all the snow, how can you possibly be ready to plant.
For more information on planting in your area you can contact your local extension office or local nursery or garden centers to help determine the optimal time to plant in your area.
Or grab yourself one of the books below and get started now!
You may decide to start your plants from seed and want to do this indoors. This method can provide you with healthy plants that are ready to put in the ground in the spring. If you choose this method you will want to start your seeds indoors at least 4 to 7 weeks before planting, about 6 weeks before your last frost. So, if you want to plant in April you would want to start your seedlings by mid-February.
Starting seeds indoors can be an economical way to have a garden. Since nursery and greenhouse plants can become quite expensive, by starting your plants at home from seeds you can save money and, also, you will have a larger quantity with seeds. If one seed package has 20 seeds and 10-15 of them produce plants, you will have tripled your savings. Instead of 4-6 plant for a few dollars, you have 15 plants for the price of a $3.00 packet of seeds. What a deal!
When starting your own plants from seed you can produce healthier plants because you control how they are taken care of, what fertilizer is used, the lighting, and watering. All these things contribute to a healthy plant.
You can plant outdoors whenever the weather permits, and when the soil temperature is between 65°-70°F. In some regions of the United States this may happen year round while in other regions you may have a small window of opportunity to grow.
Remember that if you have started your plants indoors you will need to make sure they have hardened off properly before planting them outdoors.
Hardening off Plants
To harden off a plant you will move the plant outside for a portion of the day to gradually introduce them to the direct sunlight, dry air, and cold nights. You will want to harden off gradually, so that the seedlings become accustomed to strong sunlight, cool nights, and less frequent watering over a 7 to 10 day period.
Some plants can withstand colder temperatures more than others can. All plants fall into one of three categories of plants, hardy plants, half-hardy plants, and tender or warm-season plants.
Hardy plants can take temperatures down to 40°F and a light frost won’t hurt them. Some hardy plants include broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cabbage, onions, leeks, and parsley.
Half-hardy plants can be hardened off at 45°F. Half-hardy plants may be able to withstand brief, light frosts. A few half-hardy plants include celery, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, and endive.
Tender crops or warm-season plants cannot take an;y frost and needs to be hardened off in temperatures of 50°F or above. They prefer warm nights of at least 60°F. Some examples of tender or warm-season plants include basil, cucumbers, muskmelon, pumpkin, peppers, squash, sweet corn, and tomatoes.
Cold Hardy Plants
Below you will find a list of cold hardy plants. These plants can be planted early in the season in warmer zones and can withstand the colder temperatures in the colder zones.
- Achillea (yarrow)
- Alcea (hollyhock)
- Aquilegia (Columbine)
- Athyruim (Japanese painted fern)
- Campanula (Bellflower)
- Convallaria mayalis (lily of the valley)
- Echinacea (Coneflower)
- Hemerocallis (Daylilies)
- Osteospermum (African Daisy)
- Bellis perennis (English Daisy)
- Sweet Alyssum
All the plants mentioned above can withstand temperatures in the 40°’s F and can also withstand a light frost. So, if you want to get started early, choose from the plants above or checkout some more cold hardy plants and get started, weather permitting in your hardiness zone or when the moon phases are just right to plant.
Some plants are considered half-hardy plants. These plants can survive in temperatures as low as 45°F. They can survive limited light frost, meaning an hour or two of light frost or near freezing temperatures. These plants need protection from anything more than a touch of frost.
- Coleus Canina
- Ageratum (Floss Flower)
- Calibrachoa )Million Bells)
- Cosmos (cosmea)
- Helianthus (Sunflower)
- Salvia(Annual Sage)
Tender or Warm-Season Plants
Warm-season plants need soil temperatures above 55°F and they need night temperatures that are around 60°F at least.
- Snap beans
- Sweet Potato
- Sweet corn
- Lima Beans
- Coral bells
- Meadow rue
- Morning Glories
- Moss Rose
- Chinese Woolflower
There are many benefits to planting in the fall. The cooler temperatures make gardening easier. The plants benefit from the cooler air as well. The soil is already warm so roots start growing immediately and grow until the ground freezes. Another benefit is the bargains you can get on plants at this time. Most garden centers and greenhouses begin to discount inventory in order to sell out before winter. This is just a few of the many benefits of fall planting in the garden.
What to Plant in the Fall?
Below you will find a list of plants that you can plant in the fall and why it is the best time to plant them.
All spring-blooming bulbs need a period of cold dormancy to bloom. By planting them in the fall you ensure a beautiful spring display.
If deer are a problem in your yard here is a list of bulbs that they won’t want to eat.
- Grape hyacinth
- Siberian Squill
- Dog’s tooth violet
- Winter aconite
The still warm soil temperature gives the roots of pansies time to establish themselves. You will get two seasons of enjoyment out of your pansies just be sure to winterize with plenty of mulch.
Be sure to plant your fall harvest crops in early August to give them enough time to mature. If using seed packets see how many days to maturity and count backwards from your frost date to allow your crops enough time to mature and produce.
Below is a list of cool-Season Vegetables suited for fall planting.
- Brussels sprouts
- Swiss Chard
Fall is the best time to establish new turf-grass and to do most lawn chores.
Fertilize Cool-Season grasses such as bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass but avoid fertilizing Warm-Season grasses until spring. Warm-Season grasses include bahia grass, Bermuda grass, centipede grass, St Augustine grass and zoysia grass.
Trees and Shrubs
Fall is an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs because although the temperature is cooler, the soil is still warm enough for root development. Be sure to keep newly planted trees and shrubs well watered so they get a good start before the ground freezes.
Just A Note!
If planting a tree or shrub always remember to call 811 or your local utilities company before digging, so they can determine for you whether or not you have any lines buried where you want to dig.
Perennials can be planted in the fall, especially plants that have large root balls. Fall is also a good time to divide your plants. Some plants you may need to divide include Hosta’s, Peonies, Irises, and Lilies. If planting Peonies avoid planting them to deep. Plant them no more than 2 inches above the bud on the root, or they won’t bloom in the spring. Be sure to keep your perennials well-watered until the ground freezes. You want your root system to become healthy and strong.
The best time to plant can be different in every region of the country. You need to do your research, know your hardiness zone, check the moon phases, and choose the best plants suited for your area.
Good Luck with your gardening and please enjoy these encouraging words by Marcus Tullius Cicero:
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”
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