Many gardeners know when the last frost date is for their area, so they know better than to plant their tomatoes or annuals before that date. However, many people don’t know that there are a lot of plants that need to be planted before the last frost date.
Sure, if you do vegetable gardening you probably know that peas and spinach need to go in very early, while the ground is still cold. But there are some major food crops that are usually purchased as plants or stock that should be planted while they are still in a dormant or semi-dormant state.
It is a good idea to plant all your berry plants while they’re still slumbering. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, marionberries, and blueberries all like to be planted in early spring. Grapes do well when planted before they break dormancy.
Early spring flowering plants, should be planted in the fall. In early spring they’ll already be blooming and ready to go. Plants such as creeping phlox, some veronicas (mine is blooming right now), candytuft, forsythia, etc., will give you the biggest show if you get them in during the fall, but are such a nice surprise to see in the garden centers early. Being tempted to buy and plant them so early is perfectly fine, while some other plants may just shrivel with the cold.
There are even a few annuals that like it cool. Pansies, dianthus, and snapdragons like it on the cools side. Mine winter through here most years and I’ve had the same dianthus plants for three years now. My snapdragons are just two years old, but I grew them all myself from seed. It was so much fun seeing what colors they were and you get much more variety in the colors when you start them yourself.
Onions and garlic can be planted very early. However, some early spring crops like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower actually need to be started indoors 4-6 weeks before you want to plant them in the garden. Other vegetables that can go in about 4 weeks before the last frost date are kale, chard, carrots, beets, rutabagas, all the Chinese greens, arugula, parsley (plant the seeds), collards, and there are probably a few I’ve missed.
Fruit trees do best when planted in early spring before they break dormancy or in fall after they’ve shut down for the year. That’s the reason my husband and I were out all day on Tuesday planting all the little fruit trees that arrived. Some of them were already trying to break dormancy and we knew we needed to get them in the ground fast. Just in the two days they’ve been planted several of them are trying to put on leaves. It is too early here and I’m a little concerned that they’ll get hit with another hard frost, but there’s nothing I can do about that now…
One thing to look out for is purchasing plants that come in early and have already broken dormancy. Their tender growth will not stand up to the cold, so you’ll need to keep them indoors until after frosts are finished, as they should have been planted before they broke dormancy. Many big box stores will keep them inside, which makes them think its time to grow, since it is now nice and warm.
Learning about how early you can plant in your area is just a phone call away. As you probably already know I’m going to tell you to call your local extension office. It’s their business to know all of this and to help you succeed in everything you plant.