The cool season is my favorite time to grow in the garden. The plants are pretty low-maintenance, the pests usually aren’t as bad, and it’s pleasant to be outside. After just a couple of weeks, your harvest basket will be full of the healthiest leaves and root crops you can grow, including kale, Swiss chard, spinach, radishes, and beets.

Let’s look at how to time your spring and fall plantings to make the most of your cool seasons in the garden.

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WHAT IS THE COOL SEASON?

The cool season is when your temps range from about 35°F to 64°F and there’s still a danger of frost in your area. This season offers the opportunity to grow so many delicious, nutrient-packed plants that thrive in cooler weather; some of them become even tastier after a little frost.

Your cool season begins in the fall on the date of the average first frost in your area. (Google the anticipated frost dates for your area or look up your zip code on the National Weather Service site.)

If you live in a colder climate, you’ll transition into a cold season when hard frosts make your soil unworkable for the coldest months of the year. You make the switch from your cold season back into the cool season in the spring once your soil becomes workable again. Your cool season ends on your average last spring frost date with the arrival of warmer temperatures.

For those of you in warmer climates, your cool season will actually stretch across your winter months. You won’t experience a true cold season at all, even though you might have periods of cold temperatures. This is the case for me here in Central Texas.

Beginner gardeners are often scared to grow when there’s the risk of frost or snow, but there are actually so many herbs and vegetable plants that prefer to grow during this gardening season.

OUR FAVORITE COOL-SEASON CROPS

These cool-weather vegetables thrive in cooler temperatures and can handle a bit of frost, especially if you cover them with some frost cloth before a freeze. Cold-hardy vegetables like carrots, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard actually taste a little sweeter after a light frost.

 

Our favorite cool-weather plants include:

Our favorite herbs & flowers that like cool temperatures:

WHEN TO PLANT THESE COOL-WEATHER CROPS 

Spring

In the late winter or early spring, typically 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost, you can begin planting cool season veggies. As soon as your soil is workable get planting! You only need to be able to dig down in the soil a couple of inches to transplant frost-hardy veggies like kale and broccoli, and you need even less depth to sow seeds.

Growing in a raised bed allows you to get an early start in the spring because your soil will be workable sooner than the ground.

If you live in a warmer climate where your soil never freezes over, you can plant cool season plants as long as your average high temps will be under 65°F for the next couple of months. If you’re expecting warm weather soon, you’ll want to switch to warm season crops like tomatoes and cucumbers.

Fall

Count back 6 to 8 weeks before your first fall frost date. This is when you can sow seeds for fast-growing leafy greens and root crops. You can continue sowing seeds until you’re about a month out from your first freeze. That way, your plants will have some time to get established before cold weather hits.

Plant cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower transplants during this time as well for a fall/winter harvest.

TIPS TO GROW IN THE COOL SEASON VEGETABLE GARDEN

Test Your Soil Temperature

Consider using a soil thermometer to check the soil temperature in the spring. Most cool season vegetable seeds need the soil to be above 40 to 45°F to germinate.

Refresh Your Soil for Fall & Spring Planting

Before you plant your cool season plants, it’s a good idea to replenish the nutrients in the soil. I like to add a couple inches of compost to the soil surface. You could also mix in a balanced fertilizer (I recommend sticking with something organic like MicroLife).

Use Garden Covers

Many cool season crops are frost tolerant, if not frost resistant. Even so, you can keep your garden productive and protect the more tender vegetables by covering plants with row covers if you know a freeze is coming. A little bit of frost cloth can go a long way.

In a colder climate, you might consider covering your raised bed with a cold frame to keep your soil warm during hard frosts and to extend your growing season for frost-resistant plants into the cold season.

Learn more about protecting your garden from wintry weather.

Pro Tip:

Near the end of your cool season, plant fast-growing cool-season vegetables like radishes in spots where you’ll soon grow warm-season crops like tomatoes.

WHEN CAN YOU PLANT…?

Let’s look at when you can plant specific crops to help you get a better idea of your planting timeline.

When Can You Plant Potatoes?

Potatoes are what we call a cool-to-warm-season crop. You can plant them in the late winter or early spring as soon as your soil is workable. The soil will protect the seed potatoes from any late-season frosts, and then the plants will really take off with the arrival of warmer weather.

If you live in a warmer climate, you can plant potatoes again in the fall, about 60 to 75 days before your first frost of the season for a fall harvest. 

When Can You Plant Broccoli & Cauliflower?

In the spring, you’ll want to start broccoli and cauliflower about 40 days before your last frost date. Move them outside as soon as they’re ready. You can also plant these veggies in the fall as soon as your daytime temps begin to drop into the 60s and 70s.

 

When Can You Plant Kale & Swiss Chard?

You can start these leafy greens by seed as early as 60 to 90 days before your last frost date in the spring and move them out as soon as you can. Plant kale and Swiss chard again in the fall once your daytime temps begin to drop. If you’re starting them indoors, you’d need to dust off your seed starting supplies about 12 to 14 weeks before your first frost.

When Can You Plant Peas?

You can direct sow peas in the garden about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost in the spring. In the fall, I’d do about 10 to 12 weeks before frost. The plants themselves can handle frost, but you don’t want the flowers or pods to be damaged by the cold because then you won’t have as much to harvest.

When Can You Plant Root Crops? 

You can start sowing carrot and radish seeds about 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost in the spring. Wait until you’re just 2 to 4 weeks out for beets. I continue to sow root crops every week or so until the temps begin to warm up. In the fall, start again about 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost. Continue sowing until 4 weeks before your first frost.

 

When Can You Plant Garlic?

Plant garlic cloves about a month before the ground freezes if you’re in a colder climate. If you’re in a warmer climate, aim for the end of October through early December. Your cloves will stay in your garden throughout the winter months and into spring and maybe even summer.

When Can You Plant Onions?

Plant onion transplants or onion sets as soon as your soil can be worked in the spring. The earlier you get them planted, the bigger the bulb.

The cool season is such a wonderful time of year! Let us know if you have any questions about when to plant your favorite cool season veggies in your garden.  

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