When Should You Plant Your Summer Garden?
We’re about to head into the most exciting time of year (in my opinion, anyways), Spring! The days are already lengthening and if you look closely around here, trees buds are beginning to swell and early blooming daffodils are already showing their sunshiny faces. The itch to get out in the garden is deepening as the days begin to grow warmer, and the temptation to get your summer vegetable or flower garden planted is getting stronger!
But WAIT! Don’t plant anything out just yet. One of the key foundation pieces to a successful garden is timing. Read on to find out exactly when you should plant those heat loving vegetables and flowers to ensure your best season ever.
Timing your planting, no matter where you live, really comes down to two things: Temperature and day length. Let’s break it down:
Last Expected Frost Date: If you’re in North Carolina, use this website to look up your historical last expected frost date. Now, I know what you’re going to say, “but last year we got frost two weeks after this date”, or “well we haven’t gotten a frost that late in three years”. And while those statements may be true, your historic last expected frost date is still a deciding factor in when you should plant your garden. As a rule of thumb, I wait until my last expected frost date and then look at the 10 day forecast. Does it look like frost? Will temperatures be chilly or warm? If there are cold nighttime temperatures expected, I wait until after that has passed to plant.
Nighttime Temperature: Unless you’re prepared to take extra measures (I’ll discuss those in the next blog post), you should wait to plant your summer garden until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Daytime temperatures, especially in our area, can be all over the place in late Spring/early Summer, so nighttime temperatures should be your main focus.
Soil Temperature: This is one we don’t often consider but is just as important as air temp, especially if you plan to directly sow seeds into the garden. Your soil should be above 60 degrees at the minimum before you consider planting. Keep in mind that soil temperature is usually about 15 degrees cooler than air temperature, which is part of the reason why nighttime temps above 60 are so important. All the heat stored in the soil from the warm day is less likely to be lost if nights don’t get as cold. Also remember that raised beds and beds in full sun will warm up a little quicker than those in partial shade or ground level.
Daylength: Many heat loving plants are also daylength sensitive, meaning they perform best when the days are long and warm. Planting in the shorter days of Spring can really stunt the performance of your plants. Remember that all fruiting, and many flowering, plants need a minimum of 6+ direct hours of sunlight to reach peak performance – closer to 8 hours if possible.
So what happens if you plant your garden out to early? Well, truthfully maybe nothing. But plants that are grown outside of their ideal conditions are more prone to disease and pest damage throughout their life. They will also likely not produce their peak yields because they’re spending extra energy combating that damage.
Before you plant your summer garden, remember to ask yourself these questions:
What is my last expected frost date and what does the 10 day forecast look like after that?
Are nighttime temperatures consistently above 60 degrees?
Are my days long enough for my plants to get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day?
Armed with this simple knowledge, you can give your garden the best shot at thriving. I know it’s hard to have patience, but good things are worth the wait. Happy gardening friends!