What You Can Plant BEFORE The Last Spring Frost

I am hoping / guessing that the last of the severe arctic blasts are over for the season. Oh yes, it will still get cold, but I think the worst is over.

And we are close to the Spring Equinox. Is it March 21st this year?  The equinox is when the day length equals the night length. And as we get more sunlight the earth will warm (for us in the Northern hemisphere).

So what can you start planting now knowing there will still be some cold, but the trend is towards warming? What plants can handle a litte frost, or temps a few degrees below freezing?

Just a short while ago I got you that video with Scotty Sunflowerseed.  Scott direct seeds sunflowers right now; those little seedlings can handle a light freeze or frost.  Click here to see that video.

Here is a list of other vegetables that can be put out now – or very soon. You need your soil temperature to be above 40 degrees F or so.

These are the cold hardiest plants;

Sunflowers, Spinach, Peas, Lettuce, Radish, and Mustard Greens, Tatsoi (an Asian green).

The next hardiest (these plants want a slightly warmer soil – maybe 50 degrees F or so?);

Broccoli, Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Chard, Cauliflower, Celery, Kohlrabi, Onions, Potatoes, Rutabaga, Beets, Carrots, and Parsnips

Some plants seem to do better with direct seeding such as the Sunflowers, Potatoes, and most of the legume family (Beans and Peas). Onions are usually transplanted starts of course.

Note that I start the others in seedling flats instead of putting them directly into the garden soil.  Growing the seedlings in flats, and then transplanting out is recommended in the Bio-Intensive Gardening method.  And it is recommended for a lot of good reasons.

Mel Bartholomew, the author of “Square Foot Gardening” used to be an efficiency engineer.  (Mel’s book is available here).  He did a series of time and motion studies comparing direct seeding versus starting in flats and transplanting – and can you guess which was most economical?

Starting seeds in flats and then transplanting out is actually much less work than direct seeding and thinning. It also saves on water and soil resources. Plus in small flats, you can more easily protect the seedlings from wind or cold.

Have you got any favorites I didn’t mention here? Please add yours to the list in the comment section and I’ll expand this article to include your notes.

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This post was written by Marjory


  • Sunshine says:

    I think that asparagus may also be on at least one of those lists, for early planting. I know in the state of New Jersey, asparagus crops are usually harvested in the month of April. Take care Marjory and thank you so much for such wonderful content. Keep up the great work.

    1. Hi sunshine (love that moniker),

      Asparagus is wonderful. It is a perennial – which is also near and dear to my heart. but it comes up early too doesn’t it? I have a patch I started many years ago and I nibble on the tips all summer.

  • Dave Duggan says:

    First, I love getting your emails. As far as starting to plant early and which plants can handle the cold, how do you suggest getting under 3 feet of snow in the garden. Hah Hah Hah! What a difference from the South to the North in this country. I am in New Hampshire and hopefully last night was the last below zero nights.
    By the way, you often mention your difficulties with typing. I am not typing this I am speaking, using Dragon Naturally Speaking software. It is awesome, you should try it.
    I can even tell it to do a 🙂 and it does.
    Keep up the great work.

    1. Oh Dave. Hhhmmm Dragon Naturally Speaking? I will look into that.

      I highly suggest you read Eliot coleman’s book on four season harvest. Eliot is up in Maine and well, harvesting all year round. He uses passive solar greenhouses. Here is the link to Eliots book at Amazon

      Oh yes, we will make a tiny fraction of money from the sale at Amazon. It makes me laugh…

  • Steven says:

    Speaking of Elliot and his gardening method, he has been an inspiration to us. That, combined with finding spinach seedlings coming up THROUGH THE SNOW (self seeded), has inspired us to do more experimenting. HAH, most of our experiments have been accidents. We are compiling a list of seeds to put in during the Fall for VERY early germination. Here are some others: we have found self seeded CARROT growing and even tiny little carrots this year in February. Volunteer potatoes as well (HUGE surprise here). I harvested some potatoes in decent condition a couple of days ago and will try to get the rest today. Chard and Kale should be on the list as well as others of the brassicas I am sure. My theory is that most seeds are more hardy than we give them credit for and will germinate way earlier than we suppose.

    Try dedicating a portion of your garden to fall seeding and see what surprises you come up with.

    Hoop houses can make it even more profitable as well.

    1. Hi Steven,

      You must have excellent soil.

      When you get that list done, by all means let us know!


      1. Steven says:

        I don’t know about excellent NATIVE soil (VERY much full of clay in South Central ID). We do our gardening in raised beds using cinder blocks for the walls. We had weed cloth under the soil but removed it so the dirt critters (worms mainly) could invade and process the media. When we dig up worms in the native soil we put them in the beds. Starting to find them in the beds now.

  • JJM says:

    I think the coldest night I’ve had this winter was only 26 degrees and a couple of the nights included ice. Of the plants I have grown since last fall only the tomatoes and potatoes were severely damaged. Prior to the 1st freeze I piled leaves around the plants with the greens still poking out. Good survivors were: Carrots, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Radish, Lettuce, Peas, Onion, Broccoli, Cauliflower as well as my perennial and biannual herbs.

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