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When is the Best Time to Start a Garden?

You’ve decided to start a garden this spring and itching to get started, but you may be wondering, “When should you start a garden? What month do you begin and what’s the process to get one up and running for summer?” These are common questions for beginning gardeners and the answers vary based on where you live.

garden seedlings in a crate

When Should You Start a Garden?

The average time is usually around April or May. Depending on your region, it can be earlier than this or later. There are a lot of factors to consider if you want to have the best garden you can and not lose any plants to a cold snap. 

There are a few steps you’ll need to take to get the timing right, but don’t be overwhelmed. Gardening is a lot more simple and forgiving than it seems! To learn when you should start our garden, start with these steps.

Find Your Growing Zone

The USDA has the United States divided up into different growing zones, based on when it first gets below freezing in the fall (first frost date), how cold it gets during winter, and when it consistently stays above freezing in the spring (last frost date). Knowing which growing zone you are in will allow you to keep frost-sensitive plants indoors until it’s warm enough for them and avoid the disappointment of some of your garden dying in a late snowstorm.

Finding your growing zone is very simple. Type your zip code into the search box on this website and use the map to determine your growing zone! Then you can find your last frost dates here.

Write this information down somewhere, such as a garden journal so you have it handy.

A man holding a pepper seedlings over a garden bed as he plants it

Choose What You Want to Grow

This is the fun part of garden planning and it is essential for knowing when you should start a garden. I recommend starting with the easiest vegetables to grow for beginning gardenersAfter that, scrolling through seed company catalogs and websites, perusing gardening Instagram accounts, and thinking about what vegetables you enjoy eating the most will give you the best guidance. 

Planning a garden in a small space? I also have many crop recommendations for gardeners with limited square footage. 

Determine How You Will Start Your Garden

For each vegetable, herb, or flower you decide to grow, you’ll have to determine how you are going to start it. There are three options for this:

  1. Direct sowing. This means that you will plant the seed directly into the soil, outside in your garden.
  2. Buying seedlings. Seedlings are young plants that are already established, growing in small plastic pots. They can go into the garden almost immediately after you purchase them.
  3.  Seed starting indoors. This means planting the seeds indoors and growing them under grow lights until they are big enough to be transplanted in the garden. This method has its pros and cons, but I usually wouldn’t recommend it if it’s your first time gardening.

Determine Your Planting Dates

Once you know your growing zone, what you’re growing, and how you’re planting, you can make a schedule for when to start your garden. 

If you are buying seedlings, many will come with directions for when to transplant them into your garden. Alternatively, a simple internet search will help you know when it’s safe for them to be outside. Always be sure to harden off your seedlings for at least a few days before planting.

If you are growing your plants from seed, either indoors or direct sow, most seed packets come with instructions. This is the primary reason that Botanical Interests is my favorite seed company; they have very thorough and clear instructions that are unmatched by other seed sellers. 

The planting date will always be a certain number of days before or after your last frost, rather than a specific date. This is so the instructions are adaptable based on where a gardener lives. It will say, for example, “sow 2-4 weeks before your average last frost date.” You can then count backward from your last frost date to determine when you should plant the seeds. I like to categorize my plants by the plant date and then write them down into a schedule. 

Use a Planting Calendar

There are a variety of garden planners on the market that range from simple to elaborate. If you would like an easy one to get started scheduling with, I offer a free printable garden scheduler. This will allow you to follow the instructions above quickly and easily and have all of your important planting dates laid out in a clear schedule, so you don’t miss anything. 

Free garden planning guide

Download a printable garden scheduler

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You can also write everything out on a piece of paper or put it into a digital spreadsheet. Whatever helps you to schedule out your planting in a way that is clear for you is the perfect planner.

Know the Garden is Forgiving

This may seem strict and rigid, but it isn’t. The last and first frost dates are an average and every year will be different. If you miss the planting date for something, don’t stress. Just plant it as soon as you can and you’ll likely still get a harvest!

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