The early spring can make for a good time to jumpstart your spring garden, especially for plants that can withstand lingering shots of cold air.
Cold-hardy plants can handle a few frosts, and you can start the seeds either indoors or outdoors, depending on where you live. The United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map provides detailed information about which plants are most likely to thrive in your location.
These five salad standards can be planted directly in the ground during spring:
This supermarket staple comes in a variety of flavors and colors and is relatively easy to grow, but sow these seeds in while temperatures are lower because lettuce won’t germinate in soil that’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Spring is a perfect time for lettuce production and the plants will be ready to pick in about two months.
A peppery addition to any plate, arugula grows quickly -- in a few week's time. However, arugula needs a lot of water to maintain that growth rate.
“Leafy greens… can be safely planted directly from seed, and it’s beneficial for them to be planted early in the season,” said Venelin Dimitrov, senior product manager of vegetables, herbs and fruits at W. Atlee Burpee Company. “It’s part of the natural cycle… the leaf rosette is triggered by cold weather.”
Dimitrov suggests using a cover on your garden at the beginning of the process to encourage the ground to warm up.
Whether they are red, orange, yellow or purple, these cooler season vegetables are packed with vitamins and an undeniable sweetness. Carrots are root vegetables, and with proper sun and water, they can be picked early as tender baby carrots or later on as crunchy mature ones.
Some nutritionists label the beet a super food for its connection to improved health in humans. They are relatively easy to grow, starting in late March or early April. According to the Utah State University Cooperative Extension, beets taste best when they have a few weeks of cool air. However, make sure to get to the garden to gather these veggies if the mercury rises above 65 F.
“If weather is constantly cooler, they will get bigger and bigger,” Dimitrov said. “If you are satisfied with the size, pick them as you go. But if it starts to warm up, harvest them -- otherwise they will go to waste.”
Radishes move fast in the garden from seed to bulb so keep an eye on them after a few weeks. This category of produce is virtually pest-free, although watch out for maggots. This plant is a great choice for beginners because of the easy success with each harvest. Radishes are often eaten raw or used as garnish, but other recipes include salsas, slaws and sautés.
These five seeds can be started indoors during spring:
Kale may do better if it is started indoors at this time of year and hardened off a little bit before it’s replanted outside. Spending a few weeks inside to germinate will allow kale to become a small plant in the garden. It doesn’t have to be warm outside, but this vegetable crop needs light and well-drained soil to flourish.
This vegetable will also flower when there is warmth, so now is the time to get it going. Experts say they typically start to form heads through May, and they can be harvested from spring to fall. The broccoli flower remains a tight rosette because of the cold air.
Though not the easiest to grow at home, cauliflower is a popular choice to eat, whether raw or cooked. Cauliflower has a difficult time with warmer weather, so success depends on your climate. Dimitrov told AccuWeather to consult with local experts on varieties of cauliflower and other cool-season vegetables that work best for your area.
The University of Illinois Extension calls tropical tomatoes the most popular garden vegetable in America. You have hundreds of varieties to choose from and can transplant them outside after the last frost, which gives you an opportunity to extend your season. Tomato transplants should grow 4 to 6 inches high in about two months before moving them into the garden.
Glossy, purple skin is the hallmark of this crop. Eggplants, like tomatoes, will not survive a frost, so be sure not to plant them too early. They are considered a low-calorie fruit and are a good source of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Consult with local experts, like the cooperative extension in your area or a neighborhood master gardener program, on varieties that work best for your area and don’t be afraid to experiment.
“Gardening is an occupation of discovery,” said Dimitrov. “You can always experiment with a new variety and discover new things.”