Zone 6 Vegetable Planting: Tips On Growing Vegetables In Zone 6
Live in USDA zone 6? Then you have a wealth of zone 6 vegetable planting options. This is because although the region is characterized as having a medium length growing season, it is suited to both warm and cold weather plants, rendering this zone accommodating to all but the most tender or those that rely exclusively on hot, dry weather to thrive. One of the most important factors when growing vegetables in zone 6 is knowing the correct planting times for zone 6. Read on to find out when to plant vegetables in zone 6.
About Growing Vegetables in Zone 6
Planting times for zone 6 will depend on whose zone map you are consulting. There is a zonal map put out by the United States Department of Agriculture and one put out by Sunset. These vary greatly for zone 6. The USDA map is broad of stroke and encompasses Massachusetts and Rhode Island, extends southwest through parts of New York and New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. USDA zone 6 doesn’t stop there but branches out into northwestern Oklahoma, northern New Mexico and Arizona, and on into northern California. A very large area indeed!
Conversely, the Sunset map for zone 6 is very small containing Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This is because Sunset takes other things besides the coldest winter temperature average into account. Sunset bases their map on factors such as elevation, latitude, humidity, rainfall, wind, soil conditions and other microclimate factors.
When to Plant Vegetables in Zone 6
If relying on the coldest average winter temperature, the last frost date is May 1 and the first frost date is November 1. This will, of course, vary due to our constantly changing weather patterns and is intended as a general guideline.
According to Sunset, zone 6 vegetable planting runs from mid-March after the last frost through mid-November. In both cases, it’s important to remember that these are guidelines and winter or summer can come earlier or last longer than is typical.
Some plants can be started inside (typically around April) for later transplant. These include:
- Brussels sprouts
The earliest seeds to sow outdoors are cabbages in February followed by the following crops in March:
Carrots, lettuceand beetscan go out in April while you can direct sow sweet potatoes, potatoes, and squashin May. This, of course, is not all you can grow. For more information on vegetables well suited for you area, contact your local extension office for advice.
During January spring seems like it will never arrive, but it is actually the best time to get ready for your cool season vegetable garden.
Cool season vegetables are those that can thrive during the shorter days and cooler temperatures of spring and fall, In fact, some vegetables such as kohlrabi and kale actually develop better flavor when nipped by frost. Lettuce, collards, snow peas, cabbage and broccoli are a few examples of cool season vegetables. Summer favorites like okra, squash and tomatoes require long, hot days to grow.
So you are looking out the window at 2 feet of snow wondering what you can possibly do now to start your garden the first thing to do is place your seed order. When your order arrives, it may still be too early to plant the seeds outdoors, but many cool season vegetables can be started from seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the frost free date in your area. Some transplants can be put out a few weeks before the frost free date as well.
Now I foresee the comments from readers in the Deep South already, “This doesn’t apply to me!” Well, you are right. You are already mid-way through your cool season vegetable garden time frame, but there is still time to plant. A great resource for you is www.FloridaGardener.com.
On the flip side, gardeners in the extreme north have such a short growing season that they will plant their cool and warm season vegetables practically side by side.
Last Frost Dates by Zone
Zone 3 1 May / 31 May
Zone 4 1 May / 30 May
Zone 5 30 Mar / 30 Apr
Zone 6 30 Mar / 30 Apr
Zone 7 30 Mar / 30 Apr
Zone 8 28 Feb / 30 Mar
Zone 9 30 Jan / 28 Feb
Zone 10 30 Jan or before
Zone 11 Free of Frost throughout the year.
Before you start sowing seeds and planting it’s important to know what the last frost date is in your area. This will determine when your spring growing season begins. There are several on-line sites where you can find this information using your zip code or by checking frost dates of near-by cities. These are average dates that may differ slightly year to year but they give you a basic window of time in which you can create a planting schedule. Another good source of local, reliable advice is your area’s County Cooperative Extension Service or check with knowledgeable members of local gardening clubs.
I don’t want to mislead you, even though many of these vegetables are regarded as cold tolerant, they can all be wiped out by a sudden, severe drop in temperature. It’s important to be prepared with something to drape over the crops if an overnight cold snap is expected. Simply cover your crops with newspaper, old sheets or frost blankets. Just remember to remove the covering the next morning.
So that brings us to just what types of vegetables should we plant. Here is a list of common cool season vegetables with a few tips to help you produce a bountiful spring garden.
|Arugula – Sow seeds in the garden as soon as soil can be worked in spring. They will germinate in about 7 days and are ready to harvest in 3 to 4 weeks. For a continuous harvest, sow seeds every 2 weeks until temperatures heat up.|
|Beets – Sow seeds in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Beets prefer a well-drained, sandy soil. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers as this will encourage top growth at the expense of root development. As with all root crops good soil aeration is key to uniform, robust development. Consistent moisture is also important. Keep areas weed free to avoid competition for nutrients.|
|Broccoli – Broccoli seed can be sown directly in the garden 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area or set out transplants 2 weeks before the last frost date. The ideal day time temperature for broccoli is between 65 and 80 degrees. Feed the plants 3 weeks after transplanting into the garden. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer.|
|Cabbage – Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last front date or plant transplants in the garden 2 weeks before that date. Direct sow in the garden immediately after the last frost date. Cabbage plants are heavy feeders that require fertile soil rich in organic matter and consistent moisture.|
|Carrots – Sow seeds in spring about 2 weeks before the last frost date. Carrots need deep, loose soil to form a robust root. Keep the bed weeded to avoid competition for nutrients from other plants. Too much nitrogen will result in forked roots. When the seedlings are about 2-inches tall, thin them so there is about 1 to 4-inches between them. Cover the shoulders with mulch or soil to keep them from turning green and bitter.|
|Collards – Collard transplants can be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Plant in fertile, well drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. Rich soil encourages rapid growth and tender leaves, which are the best tasting collards.|
|English Peas – Direct sow in the garden 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. They will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees F. Seedlings will survive a late snow and short periods of temperatures down to 25 degrees F.|
|Kale – You can plant kale in early spring, about 3 to 5 weeks before the last frost date. Cover with frost blankets during severe cold. Similar to collards very fertile soil is ideal to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves.|
|Kohlrabi – Kohlrabi is similar to a turnip, but is actually related to cabbage. Set plants out 4 weeks before the last frost date. Protect young plants from freezing temperatures with a frost blanket. Cool temperatures enhance the sweet flavor.|
|Lettuce – Sow lettuce any time in spring when the soil is workable. Lettuce is more sensitive to cold than other cool season vegetables and should definitely be covered during cold snaps. The ideal day time temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees. Fertilize with fish emulsion, which is high in nitrogen. Lettuce will grow in partial shade and actually appreciates the shelter from intense late spring sun.|
|Onions – Onions can be grown from sets, small bulbs, or transplants, which look like scallions and come in a bundle of 60 or so. Either method should be planted in early spring as soon as the soil is workable. Long-day varieties are suitable for Northern gardens and short-day varieties can be planted in the South. Place time release fertilizer in the planting hole so that it is close to the roots. Follow the fertilizer’s label directions.|
|Potatoes – Greening of grass is a good indicator of when to plant potato sets, dried potato pieces with 2 to 3 eyes. In my zone 7 garden that occurs in March. Soil should be loose, fertile and well drained. As the tubers mature, cover with soil to prevent burning.|
|Radish – Sow radish seeds in the garden about 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area. No feeding necessary, but soil should be fertile and well drained. They are quick to mature so check them regularly. They are ready to harvest as soon as they are of edible size.|
|Spinach – Spinach seeds can be sown over frozen ground to germinate as the soil thaws. Transplants can be set out 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Fertilize when the plants are about 4 inches tall. Spinach prefers very fertile soil to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves. Once the days get long and warm it will bolt, meaning that it grows tall, blooms and becomes bitter tasting. For grit-free leaves select plain leaf varieties such as Giant Nobel and Olympia.|
|Swiss Chard – Swiss Chard is one the more beautiful vegetables in the garden. Bright Lights and Ruby are favorites for adding color to the garden and the dinner table. Plant or sow seeds 2 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Thin to 6-inches apart when seedlings are 3-inches tall. Water regularly.|
|Turnip – Plant 2 weeks before the last frost date. Any well-drained soil will do. Consistent moisture is key for healthy root development. Although it is not necessary, the greens will be the most tender if you plant in a fertile soil.|
Good to Know
Vegetables need 7 to 8 hours of full sun daily. Cool season vegetables get by on 6, some can even be planted in partial shade.
Framed Bed Soil Recipe: 50% existing garden soil, 25% aged manure, 25% compost or humus
Gardeners in tropical regions plant & grow cool season vegetables in fall and winter.
Your comments and tips
Post a comment or question Display Newest first | Oldest first, Show comments for USA | for all countries 25 Nov 19, william rowe (USA – Zone 9b climate) When is the optimal time to grow romaine lettuce in 9B, Ocala,Fl 04 Mar 18, Lonnie (USA – Zone 6b climate) Planting lettuce 18 Jan 18, Doug (USA – Zone 5b climate) Planting lettuce indoors and will transplant outdoors after last frost in May. Keeping some of the plants indoors and will move to larger containers before the roots bind up. My starting mix will need added organic fertilizer after the real leaves are put on and grow light intensity needs to be increased somewhat for indoor food production. If this experiment works, I may continue growing through next winter. As for my outdoor lettuce, last summer I managed to get several cuttings. This year I will be planting on the north side of pole beans so that when the beans are tall and the summer heat comes on, my hope is the shade will increase my lettuce yields for a longer period of time . 03 Jan 15, Keren (USA – Zone 7b climate) Lettuce gets bitter if it’s too hot and/or when it bolts. Lettuce is ideal is cool temps, and if grown in hot weather does better in the shade or at least partial shade. Full sun in cool weather is fine. Also, too little water causes butter lettuce. Make sure you are either harvesting the plant all at once, or you pick he outer leaves on a consistent schedule. Picking leaves inconsistently can also cause lettuce to bolt. 12 Jul 14, sherron hardin (USA – Zone 5a climate) I planted within the time frame as your chat suggested. My lettuce has gotten bitter as it has grown. I have it in full sun. I don’t know if that is the reason but it would seem on the second growing it became a little bitter and gets worse as it grows. Any suggestions? Thanks for your help
Get spinach seeds into soil
Ideally, you can plant spinach seeds “directly into the garden (as early as) four to six weeks before the last spring frost,” said Maree Gaetani, gardening-relations director at Vermont-based Gardener’s Supply Co.
Never underestimate spinach. It’s packed with vitamins A, C, E and K, plus iron, calcium, potassium, folate and beta carotene, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In short, it’s a superfood. It’s also a relatively simple to grow cold-season crop that can be grown from seed, if you start now.
Ideally, you can plant spinach seeds “directly into the garden (as early as) four to six weeks before the last spring frost,” said Maree Gaetani, gardening-relations director at Vermont-based Gardener’s Supply Co.
In central Ohio, the traditional “frost-free” date is in mid-May.
“For better and quicker germination, soak the seeds in (room-temperature) water for several hours before planting,” Gaetani said. “If you’re planting in a space you used the previous year, it’s important to replenish the soil with organic compost or a soil mix that’s high in organic matter.”
Spinach isn’t a heavy feeder, “so you don’t need to fertilize if you have (good) soil, but it performs best in soil that is rich in organic matter.”
It’s an almost ideal container crop because its roots are shallow; it can be grown in a 4- to 6-inch-deep pot.
But you have to start seeding now because spinach thrives in cool weather and quickly goes to seed, or bolts, when the days grow warmer. To delay bolting, you can “use shade cloths, which aren’t very expensive, if the area you’re planting in has extra long days or if the crazy spring weather we’re having right now gets too hot,” Gaetani said.
Spinach prefers cool days, 52 to 60 degrees. Growing spinach in partial shade can extend the harvest season by delaying bolting.
“Because spinach is grown when the weather is cool and damp, several fungal diseases, like downy mildew (blue mold) and fusarium wilt, can become problems,” Gaetani said. “Space your spinach plants (at least 2 to 4 inches apart) so they get good air circulation, and try to keep water off the leaves in the evening.”
Aphids also can be drawn to spinach and, once there, “can spread viruses,” she said. “Monitor for aphids regularly and hose them off immediately.”
Once the plants stop producing new leaves and start to form a flower spike, pull them out and “use that space for second plantings of beets, lettuce or kale,” Gaetani said. Remember, you can plant another crop of spinach in fall, for late-fall harvest.
For a continuous crop in the spring and fall, plant varieties with both short and long maturity periods so you aren’t harvesting all your spinach at one time. Or sow a second set of seeds a week or two after your initial planting.
Varieties to try:
• Bloomsdale Long Standing (45 to 50 days) has glossy deep-green leaves and stands up well to hot weather. Giant Noble (46 days) is a big plant, growing up to 25 inches across, and is good for salads and steaming. Monstrueux de Viroflay (50 days) is a French heirloom spinach that grows quickly and is good for fall planting. Regiment (37 days) is a fast-growing, disease-resistant spinach that is slow to bolt in hot weather. Bordeaux red-stemmed (20 to 40 days) is fast-growing and best harvested when young for “baby” spinach.
• Disease-resistant varieties include Olympia (48 days) and Tyee (37 days); they are likely to resist downy mildew.
• If you want to grow spinach in containers, try Baby’s Leaf Hybrid (30 to 40 days), which has tender, sweet leaves and is good for early spring and fall plantings, or Melody (42 days), an All America Selection winner that’s disease-resistant, Gaetani said.
• For fall planting, Avon (44 days), Indian Summer (39 days), and Razzle Dazzle (30 days) are good bets.
• If you want to attempt to grow spinach in warmer weather, try New Zealand spinach.
“It’s not a true spinach, but it produces flavorful green leaves and does not bolt in hot weather,” Gaetani said. “Some gardeners grow it on a trellis because it has lax stems that can be more than 2 feet long.”
New Zealand spinach is frost-sensitive, so it should be planted about the same time as tomatoes.
Harvest spinach as you would lettuce.
“Either cut off all the leaves about an inch or so above the soil level and let the whole plant grow back,” a technique that will usually produce two or three crops, “or simply harvest the largest leaves as you need them,” Gaetani said.
Most of these varieties are available at well-stocked nurseries, or via seed catalogs such as Seeds of Change, Kitchen Garden Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Jung Seeds & Plants, Burpee, and Gardener’s Supply Co.
Denise Trowbridge is a Columbus freelance writer who covers garden topics.
Winter in Ohio may not have a lot of outdoor opportunities for vegetable gardeners, but it is a great time to reflect on the past growing season and begin planning for the new year. The seed catalogs arrive, the days get a bit longer, and sometimes we even get a `warm’ day that sparks gardening inspiration. It may be tempting to scour the seed catalogs and begin ordering right away, but ensure your time and money are well spent on a successful garden. Plan ahead.
Create a planting schedule in accordance to soil temperature, not air temperature. Seeds require specific soil temperature in order to grow. You can find this information on many seed packages, in some seed catalogs and on the internet. Doing your homework is essential.
Germinating Temperatures for Commons Crops:
Note these are the lowest temperatures that seeds will germinate but warmer temperatures may yield better results.
- 35 degrees: Lettuce, onions, parsnips, and spinach
- 40-45 degrees: Beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, parsley, peas, radish, and turnips.
- 50 degrees Swiss chard
- 60 degrees Beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash (cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash prefer soil temperatures at 75F)
- 75 degrees: Tomatoes, peppers, tomatilos, eggplant and okra grow best as transplant rather than from seed.
A good resource for soil temperatures at both 2 inches and 4 inches deep is the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Visit its website and click on the closest station to your garden to find out the weather, humidity levels and more.
Sketch a simple design for your garden to determine the number of crops you can grow, making sure you use your garden space to its fullest potential.
If growing in rows, decrease your path space. Growing plants in 3-feet wide rows will still allow you to tend to plants across the row from either side.
Use trellises or fence for vining crops to encourage upward growth, rather than letting them sprawl across the ground. Pole beans, peas, cucumbers, and Malabar spinach grow well using this method.
Be sure you aren’t planting crops too far apart. Plants grown closer together will help retain soil moisture, control weeds and provide shade. Just make sure to allow enough space for you to harvest the crop.
Extend your harvest by planting in intervals. Staggering your planting schedule will ensure that crops ripen at different times, rather than all at once. Creating a continuous harvest by planting a group of crops every two weeks will keep fresh fruits and vegetables on the dinner plate while avoiding an excess of produce.
A few crops that work well with succession planting include:
- Arugula, beets, lettuce, radish and turnips- 25 to 40 days to harvest
- Kohlrabi and spinach- 40 to 50 days
- Bush beans, broccoli, and cucumbers- 60 to 70 days, plant in four-week increments
- Cabbage and carrots- 70 + days
Keeping a garden journal is essential to successful garden planning. Keep everything in one place-a three-ring binder works well with an attached zippered pouch to hold small items like plant tags and empty seed packets for future reference. Include your garden planning calendar, garden design, and notes on crops that grew well and problems you encountered along the way. Track the dates of planting and harvesting, compost applications, etc. Next year, dig out your garden journal and you’ll be well on your way to planning for the upcoming season.
Save yourself the headache and heartache of an unsuccessful garden. Start planning now to use your garden space efficiently, to create a continuous, multi-season harvest, and to ensure your hard work is enjoyed.
Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.
Backyard Garden Guide
Get Your Timing Right
Ohioans enjoy a reasonably long vegetable-gardening season, starting as early as March and stretching on through late November. But success has as much to do with when you plant as it does what you plant.
“Timing is key to making the most of the season,” says Brad Bergefurd, educator at the Ohio State University Extension office in Scioto County and the college’s South Centers research farm in Pike County. “Some vegetable plants like broccoli and cabbage need an early start, while others do better once the soil warms up.”
He says to start with cool-season vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage and peas, that can tolerate lower soil and air temperatures, even a frost. Bergefurd also suggests beginning with transplants for broccoli and cabbage, either grown from seeds indoors or purchased at a garden center.
“With transplants, you get a 4-to-6-week jump on the season,” he explains.
Warmer-season crops — squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and beans — should be planted once soil temperatures reach 55 degrees or higher and the threat of frost has passed, typically in May. (Local soil temperatures can be found on the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s website, oardc.ohio-state.edu/weather1.)
“Try laying black plastic mulch across the garden soil,” says Bergefurd. “It will raise the soil temperature as much as 10 to 12 degrees.”
Have a Plan
When Pam Bennett, horticulture educator and master garden volunteer program director at the Ohio State University Extension office in Clark County, teaches vegetable-gardening classes, she advises her students to always start with a plan.
“If not, it’s way too easy to overplant when you go to the garden store and are tempted to buy the bargain four-pack of tomatoes for $1.99 versus the larger, single one for $1.29,” she says.
Bennett says to consider four things in your plan: available time, available space, the size of your family and whether you plan to freeze or preserve what you grow.
“It’s best to start small the first year then go from there,” says Bennett, adding that a 10-foot-by-10-foot garden would be a small one for a family of four. Begin with a list of your favorite vegetables, but don’t be afraid to experiment as well.
“I also encourage people to try something new,” Bennett says. “I try a new lettuce each year and found some new favorites like deer tongue and red speckled varieties that I would never have known if I was always planting the classic Simpson lettuce.”
Next, consider your space. The ideal location has six or more hours of sunlight, good drainage and easy access to a water source.
“When it gets to be July or August, you want to have easy access to a hose and spigot,” says Bennett. “It’s a critical time for regular watering as the plants produce their fruits and vegetables.”
If sunny spaces are limited, don’t despair. Simply choose a place that gets the most sun or grow plants in containers on a sunny patio.
“Lettuce, and even tomatoes and peppers, will grow in some shade,” says Bennett. “You just won’t get as many.”
Finally, sketch your garden layout in a loose-leaf notebook with page protectors for storing seed packets. For your garden layout, choose an appropriate planting approach. Traditional wide rows are easy to weed and mulch, while hill planting warms the ground temperature for heat-loving squash and melon vines. Then, there’s intensive planting, popularized by the square-foot method, which divides a raised bed into 1-foot planting squares.
For those with limited garden space, Bennett suggests a few strategies. For one, you can tightly plant onions between rows of lettuce.
“The fast-growing lettuce is gone by the time the slower maturing onions need more room,” says Bennett.
She adds that gardeners can also train vining plants to grow upward by adding trellises, but “remember to orient the trellises east to west to avoid shading nearby crops.”
Finally, succession planting allows gardeners to grow a warm-season crop such as green beans after harvesting a cool-season crop like spinach, or plant a new row of lettuce weekly for four weeks. Another option is planting varieties of the same vegetable that have different maturity dates (found on the back of the seed packets). “For example, try three different edamame that mature at 70, 80 and 100 days,” Bennett says.
Some plant varieties are especially suited for small gardens or containers. Look for plants and seeds with names that include words such as patio, pixie, tiny, baby or dwarf
Build a Raised Bed
Amy Stone, educator at the Ohio State University Extension office in Lucas County, has plenty of experience growing food at her family’s farm and at several community plots, including one where she worked with volunteer youth to build a series of raised-bed vegetable gardens.
“A 4-by-8-foot, raised-bed garden is a good starting point for new gardeners, and you can always build two if you need more,” she says.
These large wooden frames sit atop the ground and are filled with soil and plants. Stone says they tend to warm and drain quicker, making them easier to start in early spring. Here are her 10 steps for creating your own raised-bed garden:
1. Location: Select a sunny location that drains well.
2. Frame: Build the frame with treated lumber, which lasts longer than the untreated variety. The 4-by-8-foot frame should be a minimum of 6 inches deep, but 12 inches or more is ideal for root growth. “Reinforce the corners with metal corner braces available at the hardware store,” says Stone. “Add one or two 4-foot crossbars for stability. Next, line the underside with cloth or newspapers to keep grass or weeds from entering the raised bed garden.”
3. Soil: Fill the frame with a mix of topsoil and compost (leaf, mushroom or manure). “A 2-to-1 ratio works well,” she says. “Water the raised bed, and top off with more soil as it settles.”
4. Planting: Use information on seed packets or plant tags of transplants as helpful guides for timing and spacing requirements. Add row markers to identify seeded areas.
5. Water: Make sure the garden gets one inch of water per week. “Remember raised beds tend to dry out quicker, so watch for signs of dry soil and wilting plants,” says Stone. “On the other hand, take care not to overwater, which also causes wilting.”
6. Weeding: Keeping your garden free from weeds is essential. Use markers to help differentiate seedlings from unwanted weeds. Take photos or research seedling images online if you need help identifying them.
7. Mulch: Once seedlings emerge or transplants are planted, add a layer of mulch to help control weeds and retain moisture and warmth. Newspaper can also work as mulch but needs to be tacked down.
8. Supports: Train sprawling plants like cucumbers to grow up wooden stakes or old tool handles by tying them with string, twine or stockings. Livestock fencing panels also work well.
9. Pests and Disease: Spend time daily in your garden, inspecting plants. Check the top and undersides of leaves for eggs, frass (insect excrement) and other clues. “Some insects are beneficial, and many problem ones can be removed by hand if caught early,” says Stone.
10. Journal: Keep a notebook and store it in a mailbox in the garden. Record dates and notes about planting times, weather conditions, insect activity, harvest times, successes and failures. “These notes are valuable for next season’s garden,” she says.
Mike Hogan, an associate professor and educator at the Ohio State University Extension office in Franklin County, oversees the vegetable trial gardens at Waterman Farms on the university’s west campus. “We have lots of things we can grow in the garden in Ohio, because we have multiple seasons,” he says. His suggestion: a mix of cool- and warm-season crops for an ongoing harvest.
Cool-season Crops (Spring & Fall)
Leaf lettuces are easier to grow than head lettuces and come in many different colors and textures. “Directly sow seeds in the garden as early as March or April to ensure a sweet, productive crop,” says Hogan.
Radishes are a very simple, fast-growing crop in a variety of colors. “Watch them closely, so they don’t get too big and split,” he says. “They are best harvested when small and tender.”
Peas are an early garden treat. “Plant the seeds early in March or April, and give the vines a trellis to climb,” he says. “Chicken wire or branches with string work well.”
Beets thrive in cooler temperatures. “Plant one crop of seeds in spring and another in late summer,” says Hogan.
Greens and kale are easy spring crops to grow. “Many are highly ornamental and can be added to landscape beds and decorative containers,” he says.
Warm-season Crops (Summer)
Squash come in summer and winter varieties. “Avoid insect problems by using transplants and delay planting until a little later in the season, ideally mid-June,” says Hogan.
Tomatoes can be challenging but highly rewarding. Start with transplants, wait to plant them in warm weather, stake them and evenly water them throughout the season. “Avoid disease problems by hand- or hose-watering the plants at their base and not the leaves,” advises Hogan.
Sweet corn is so desirable, but a challenge for pocket gardens. “To ensure good pollination, plant corn in a block of two or three rows instead of a long, single row,” he says.
Eggplants are available in many varieties from Albino to Black Beauty to Little Fingers. “While they’re easy to grow, beetles can be a problem,” says Hogan. “Monitor them closely.”
Peppers are very popular for their variety of spices, colors, shapes and degrees of hotness. “Remember to consistently water pepper plants to avoid thin walls,” he says.
Cucumbers are best grown on a trellis (except for bush varieties). “Plant transplants later, ideally mid-June, to avoid pest problems,” he says. “Also try compact bush varieties for container gardens.”
Green beans are best planted from seeds, but many gardeners make the mistake of planting the entire packet at once. “Try spacing four plantings a week apart to extend the harvest,” suggests Hogan.
Succession planting is the idea that you plant your garden in stages, so there’s always something to eat and you don’t get all your green beans in a 2-week window. There are tons of books and guides out there to help you figure this out, but I thought I’d share what I’ve figured out that works for me. What “works for me” means the most food for the least amount of fussing. Tweak as you see fit.
- The only things I start from seed are things I can direct-sow in the garden: peas, beans, squash, root vegetables, sunflowers. I don’t start my own tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or onions. I buy all those things as transplants on one warm weekend in May and call it good.
- The one exception to this rule is kale. I’m a kale fiend, and picky about variety. So I do generally start some kale indoors in about March. And oh, while I’ve got the lights up, maybe some other brassicas like broccoli or cabbage.
There are certain things that start early and end early, and only so many things that you can start late and have any kind of harvest. So I tend to think of these things as “pairs” in the garden bed – the early crop and the late crop. For example, after I pull the turnips out, I always then put in bush beans.
- Early crops: Turnips, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes. These are all things I can plant mid- to late-April, and they will be out of the garden by July 4th.
- Late crops: Bush beans, fall crop of kale, fall lettuce, spinach, garlic (plant in October). Bush beans planted at July 4th will usually set a crop before frost. Lettuce and kale might need to be started indoors, or under shade, because they don’t like hot weather at all. But if you don’t get those started by August, you won’t have much of a fall/winter crop. Spinach planted after October will really get eaten in the spring, but it’s totally worth planting that late because it’ll be the first thing you eat in June (even without a greenhouse).
I also like to minimize the number of times I’m planting things. So, instead of planting 1/4 of my total bean crop every 2 weeks for two months, I’ve found it works great to plant a row of bush beans and a row of pole beans at the same time. They will start to bear a week or two apart, usually. Then I plant some more bush beans when one of the early crops comes out, and that usually covers me for the whole summer. Other pairings for extending the harvest:
- Bush + pole beans
- Indeterminate + determinate (i.e., “patio”) tomatoes
- Short + tall snap/snow peas
- Early + late potatoes
- Everbearing + June-bearing strawberries
- Early + late “storage” carrots
Your seed catalog should tell you days to maturity and/or key words like “earliest bean we carry” or “great for storage” or “determinate tomato concentrates harvest over two weeks” or “harvest all summer long.” Using these kinds of pairings lets you plant at the same time but harvest at different times.
So – what I recommend for truly simple “succession” planting is:
- Pick some early/late pairs: for example, turnips + bush beans; lettuce + late kale; peas + garlic – and plan to put those in the same space in your garden. Once you figure out a couple that work for you, you can use the same pairings each year.
- For other crops, pick varieties that will mature at different times and plant two varieties as indicated in the list above.