NGA Articles: Planning a Vegetable Garden

Planning a Vegetable Garden (cont)

By: Lynn Ocone

Decide What to Grow and When

Many vegetables are best started from seeds sown directly in the ground (direct-sown); others go in as seedlings. You can grow your own seedlings indoors or buy them. As you plant, you'll need to keep in mind which vegetables are frost-tolerant and which are not.


In early spring, a week or two before the last frost, I sow beets, carrots, parsnips, peas, radishes, Swiss chard and turnips, as well as the many delectable salad greens such as arugula, Asian mustards, cress and leaf lettuce directly in the garden. These greens grow particularly fast from seed. After the last frost, I direct-sow beans, corn and squash. Among herbs, dill and cilantro are sure bets from direct-sown seed.


I always plant transplants of cole crops -- broccoli, Brussels sprouts, heading cabbage and cauliflower, as well as, eggplant, parsley, peppers and tomatoes.

There are several vegetables, such as summer squash, lettuce and fall-planted broccoli, that grow and produce equally well from either seeds or transplants. My choice with these crops is based on convenience and timing more than anything else.

Easiest to Grow

I've found that the most reliable crops to grow in much of the country are arugula, beets, Swiss chard, green beans, leaf lettuce, parsley, peppers, radish, summer squash and tomatoes. All adapt unusually well to various regions if planted at the right time for your region.

Time it Right

The average date of frost in spring is the key date to use in garden planning. If you don't know the date for your region, check with your local extension service or a local nursery.

You can safely plant the "cool-season vegetables" such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, parsley, peas, radishes and spinach before the last frost date. In mild-winter climates, these crops are usually planted in fall for winter gardens. Arugula, beets, endive, leaf lettuce, parsnips, potatoes and Swiss chard are a bit less frost-hardy but still grow well in cool weather. Plant "warm-season vegetables" such as green beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, summer squash and tomatoes only after the threat of frost has passed.

Fine-Tune the Process

Like anything else, once you go through the process once or twice, you'll make refinements. For instance, you'll discover various ways to use your space more efficiently. One of my favorites is planting a warm-season crop such as zuccini after harvesting a cool-season crop such as peas.

Another example is interplanting. My favorite trick is planting a quick-maturing crop such as lettuce close to a slow-grower such as broccoli. The lettuce is harvested by the time the broccoli needs the space.

Anytime I grow a lot of one type of vegetable -- tomatoes, for instance -- I plant several different varieties. This increases my chance of success, since some varieties will perform and taste better than others.

Finally, don't neglect the most obvious advice; ask your local experts. Your local extension service can usually supply a list of recommended vegetable varieties for your area. Master Gardeners, garden centers and gardening neighbors are other great sources of information.

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