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Growing Hardy Annual Vegetables and Frost-tolerant Flowers in Spring

The onset of spring can be both good and bad for gardeners as a late frost can wipe out well intentions. But those eager to get their hands dirty can still get going by growing hardy annual vegetables and frost-tolerant flowers.

Know Your Frost Risk

A late frost can strike your garden long after you’ve packed away the snow blower and tuned up the lawn mower. To find the risk of a late frost where you live, visit the The National Climatic Data Center’s website. Select your state and then find the nearest town in the state’s table. The table lists the dates when temperatures of 28 degrees, 32 degrees and 36 degrees are 90 percent likely, 50 percent likely and 10 percent likely. Growing Hardy Annual Vegetables and Frost-tolerant Flowers in Spring

Here are the dates when the temperature is only 10 percent likely to drop to 32 degrees, for sample cities:

  • Dallas, Texas: March 28
  • Memphis, Tennessee: April 9
  • Raleigh, North Carolina: April 25
  • Buffalo, New York: May 6
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: May 10
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: May 12
  • Denver, Colorado: May 13
  • Rockford, Illinois: May 14
  • Fargo, North Dakota: May 21
  • Taos, New Mexico: June 9

Choose Hardy Annual Vegetables and Flowers

Fight the temptation to plant frost-sensitive vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) and flowers (petunias, geraniums, marigolds) until after the date when freezing temperatures are 10 percent likely. Instead, give into temptation by choosing hardy annual flowers and vegetables that can tolerate a late frost. These frost-tolerant plants fizzle in the heat of summer; replace them with heat-loving plants.

Hardy Vegetables Hardy Flowers
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts
Cabbage, all types
Cauliflower
Collard greens
Kale
Leeks
Lettuce
Peas
Potatoes
Radishes
Spinach
Turnips
Annual lobelia
Annual phlox
Calendula (Pot marigold)
Dianthus
Forget-me-nots
Pansies
Snapdragons
Stock
Sweet alyssum
Sweet peas Violas

Speed Things Up

Beyond choosing vegetables and flowers that laugh in the face of cold, here are five things you can do to make your early spring gardening more successful.

Buy transplants. Seeds need warmth to grow and so languish — and sometimes rot — in the cold soil of spring. Growing annual vegetables and flowers can cut weeks off the time to harvest.

Harden off. Ask the salesperson at your Kmart garden center if the transplants have been hardened off — exposed to wind, sun and fluctuating temperatures so they adapt to real-world growing conditions. If not, set the transplants outside for a few hours a day; bring them inside if the night temperature nears freezing. Check often to see if the soil needs watering; spring winds can be very drying. Gradually increase time outdoors and in sun over the course of a week, before planting.

Warm the soil. Rake aside mulch so sun can shine directly on the soil. For even faster soil warming, cover it with black plastic mulch; cut holes in it to make room for the transplants. You can rake the mulch back into place when summer arrives, so it can keep the soil moist, smother weeds and keep roots at a comfortable temperature. If you used black plastic, you can cover it with the mulch, or remove it first. If you leave it, sunlight will break it down in a few years, and you’ll have to collect the shredded remains.

Feed with a starter fertilizer. Fertilizer helps young plants establish healthy roots. You can add a little dry fertilizer to the planting hole right before planting, pour liquid fertilizer into the soil over the roots right after planting, or spray the leaves with diluted liquid seaweed every few days for a couple of weeks after planting. Whichever method you choose, follow the instructions on the fertilizer label, so you don’t damage the plant.

Protect. Protect your plants from spring’s crop of hungry baby rabbits by covering plants under a tunnel of hardware cloth. Secure the edges with a brick or pin them into the soil with u-shaped wire pins. You can buy pins or make your own by cutting the bent ends from wire hangers. Another option is to cover them with bird netting, but lift the netting every few days so new growth doesn’t get tangled in the holes.

If you want to be hyper-vigilant, protect plants with a floating row cover. It’s a lightweight, sheer, gauzy fabric you can rest on young plants to shield them from frost, wind, insects and intense sunlight. It also traps heat around plants, so they grow faster.

 

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