It’s hard to know just when to start planting in our corner of Pennsylvania. Due to our unpredictable springtime weather we need to be cautious of those surprise frosts or snow flurries, but we don’t have to wait until summer to get into our gardens. We can start with cool-season vegetables, herbs, and hardy flowers. So let’s start gardening.
What are Cool-Season Plants?
Cool-season plants germinate, grow, and mature in cool temperatures with short periods of sunlight making them perfect for early spring planting. They are usually tolerant of light frosts, but do not prefer the warmer temperatures of spring or the hot days of summer.
When to Plant
Warmer temperatures can not only cause cool-season plants to bolt and go to seed, but they can affect our crops flavor as well, so it's important to know when to plant. Cool-season crops need to be planted so that they have time to mature in the cool temperatures before the heat of summer arrives. Most cool-season plants can be started indoors but will need to be acclimated to our outside temperatures before they can be placed outdoors. Greenhouses, such as ours, are very conscientious to ensure our cold-hardy plants have been hardened off before they are placed out for sale. Once hardening has occurred the plants can typically be planted outside weeks before our last frost date.
What to Plant
Here are a few plant types that are hardy enough to withstand our area's light frosts, allowing us to get into our gardens as soon as the ground thaws.
Vegetables in the Cabbage Family Vegetables that can grow in our cool spring weather include varieties of the Brassica genus such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kohlrabi. Some of these crops, such as cabbages, react to colder weather and frosts by producing more sugar, which can improve their overall flavor. These vegetables not only tolerate a frost, but they taste better because of it!
Leafy Greens & Herbs Many varieties of lettuce such as buttercrunch, iceberg, romaine, and leaf lettuces grow best in our cool spring temperatures, as do some common herbs like cilantro and parsley. Warm temperatures can cause them to bolt and taste bitter, but they thrive in cool weather.
Onions & Leeks Onions and leeks are both tolerant of cool weather and can be planted in early spring. Onions are sensitive to daylight (photoperiodic) so there are different varieties for different day lengths. There are also “day-neutral” varieties, such as candy onions, that will grow and produce a crop regardless of day length. Like other cool-season crops, leeks can improve their flavor from a frost or two.
Hardy Annuals & Perennials These plants can tolerate our cooler temperatures and light frosts without being damaged. We can usually grow these hardy flowers outdoors weeks before last frost date. Cool-season flowers bloom much earlier than heat-loving ones so you can enjoy the first splashes of color from annuals such as pansies, snapdragons, dianthus, violas, and sweet alyssum.
Don’t miss your opportunity to get an early start in the garden this spring with cool-season plants. Enjoy those colorful blooms earlier, supply a much-needed food source for early pollinators, and relish the first vegetables of the season. And don’t forget to stop by the greenhouse, where we’re always happy to help you in the garden.
See you down the road!