The best month to plant vegetables depends on two main factors: the vegetables in question, and your specific growing region.
Most Americans live in growing zones that experience all four seasons, with a winter that kills off the crops we plant in the summer.
There will be variations even among these zones, so not everyone will plant veggies at the same time. Even your own backyard has its own specific microclimate.
We'll go over when to plant vegetables according to these factors.
Plant According to Growing Zones
Also called "hardiness zones", growing zones refer to the average climate of specific areas across the country. They're given a number and sometimes a color code on a map where you can see what category you fall into.
You can also search the internet and get a quick answer as to what growing zone your particular city or region is. Interestingly, even towns that are close to each other may be in a different zone. There are subcategories that differentiate even the slightest changes in temperature, as well, for instance, 5a and 5b.
There are 13 zones across the US, and the higher the number, the warmer the climate. Knowing your zone is important when planning your planting calendar, as it won't be the same for everyone.
Once you know your zone, the next thing you need to find is the last frost date for your area. This is merely a guideline, but generally speaking, you want to wait to plant warm-season crops after the chance of frost is gone.
There are many cool-weather vegetables that can be planted much earlier, even if temps are cool and some frost is still expected.
Last Frost Date
Knowing your last frost date is a good rule of thumb to follow, but keep in mind that sometimes mother nature has ideas of her own, and a frost can happen after the so-called last frost date, especially in colder regions.
Cool-season vegetables may be tolerant of a little frost, and some more than others. Planting these either late winter or early spring can actually make them taste better, as they don't do well in hot temperatures.
Warm-season crops are plants that will die if they experience any frost, even a light one. Again, it's not a cut-and-dry method, as some may be okay if temps go below zero just for an hour overnight, while others cannot handle any frost at all.
A "light" frost means temps fall below freezing for only a few hours and then conditions warm up again. In this case, hardier plants may not suffer any damage at all. A "hard" frost is also called a "killing frost" and is when temps drop below 28 degrees F for a longer duration.
Most flowering plants will lose their blooms with a hard frost, but may handle a light frost. You may have to learn the ins and outs of this the hard way, as not all cultivars of the same plant will act the same.
Vegetables to Plant Early
These cool-season crops thrive in cooler temps like late winter and early spring, and some will taste even better after a light frost. Usually, cool-season vegetables will "bolt" once the hot heat of summer comes around, which means they go to flower. Whenever a plant flowers, it signals the end of its growing cycle.
Beets are hardy in zones 2-11, and do best in moderate zones between 3 and 7 where seeds can be direct sown a full month before the last frost date, and have a long growing season. Beets are hardy and can withstand frosts around the 30-degree F mark, with some cultivars withstanding even lower.
They'll tolerate part shade when warmer months come around since they prefer a cooler temperature and taste better, too. Otherwise plant in full sun and keep soil moist. Seeds take around two months to mature, but you can harvest beet greens while you wait for the root to fully form.
Asparagus is one of the few perennial crops that do well in zones 3-10, meaning you only have to plant it once and it will return year after year. It's an early sign of spring once the small heads start to poke their heads up when the soil is around 50 degrees F.
To start a crop, plant mature crowns once the soil can be worked. Asparagus needs full sun and tolerates sandy soils. They bounce back from a light frost, but spears may suffer some damage. Better to cover if you see temps dropping. Once established, you don't have to worry about when to plant it.
Many plants in the Brassica family are cool-season crops and are best planted in early spring. Broccoli can be direct sowed two weeks before the last frost date in a location with full sun, or you can start seeds about two months ahead of planting.
Brussels sprouts are even hardier and can be planted two months before the last frost date! Frost actually makes them more flavorful. Choose a full sun location with amended, nutrient-rich soil.
Kale is another cool-weather-loving Brassica with some varieties that are frost-tolerant down to -10 degrees F. Plant one month before the last frost date and enjoy sweet-tasting harvests right up until the heat of summer brings on its bitter flavor.
The damp chill of spring is perfect for growing lettuce, as it wants full sun (will tolerate part shade), but not the heat that comes with it. With so many types to choose from, you could plant an entire garden or mixed planter with red and green leaf varieties, Romaine, butterhead, and iceberg.
Many types of lettuce continue to grow while you snip off leaves, or harvest full heads and continue to succession plant every 2-3 weeks. Lettuce won't tolerate a hard frost, but harvests will last until the heat of midsummer when it usually bolts. Direct sow 2-4 weeks before the last frost date.
Spinach has very similar needs and growing habits to lettuce, but is even more cold-tolerant and will handle light frosts down to 20 degrees F. Direct sow four weeks before the last frost date, as spinach will bolt and go to seed as soon as the hot temperatures arrive.
Cool tip: If growing spinach and lettuce in pots, move them away from sunny areas in the spring to part-shade spots in the summer to extend their harvest time. You can also plant leafy greens in the shade of larger plants.
Peas prefer moderate temps: not too cold, and not too hot. Plant after the last frost date when the soil is around 50-60 degrees F. There are lots of varieties to choose from, and soil needs will depend on the variety, but nutrient-rich, well-draining, moist soils work best.
Give them a trellis and watch climbing varieties go; even bush varieties will appreciate some support. Good in zone 2-11 and happy in part-shade (though this also depends on the variety). Cover the plants if a light frost is in the forecast.
Radishes have an amazingly fast-growing time and are ready to harvest in a mere three weeks. Super easy to grow and great for filling in vacant spots in the garden, radishes can be directly sowed 4-6 weeks before the last frost date.
They're frost-tolerant to around 25 degrees F, and while a hard frost may damage the greens, the root is unaffected. If a dip in temps is in the forecast, snip the greens for a stir-fry. Plant in full sun and succession plant up till 70-80 degree weather.
Parsley is a highly overlooked, easy-to-grow, and nutritious herb that can live on even after being covered in snow. Its growth stops and its leaves are no longer tasty once temps drop, and since it's biennial, gardeners treat it like an annual.
It's slow to germinate, but you can direct sow 3-4 weeks before the last frost date. It will germinate quicker in 70-degree weather, but will also start to grow as low as 50 degrees F. You won't have to worry about any light frosts with this one.
Vegetables to Plant After the First Frost Date
Warm season vegetables need to be planted after the last frost date, as they cannot handle any frost at all. In colder regions, veggie seeds may have to be started inside in order to get a jump-start on the growing season, or to give them enough time to fully mature. Here are some popular warm-season veggies and when to plant them.
Tomatoes taste the best when they come straight from the garden, but they need a long growing season and often just as they're ripening, cold weather sets in and a light freeze can take out full harvests. Start seeds indoors at least 6-8 weeks before the last frost date to give them enough time to mature.
Higher zones can direct sow in time for fruit to ripen, and can safely plant a few weeks after the last frost date or when temps are consistently around 55 degrees F. Tomatoes want full sun and lots of heat! They're also heavy feeders and need nutrient-rich soil.
Cucumber can take the heat, too! Another summer favorite, and so many varieties to choose from, this veggie is easy to grow in pots or in the garden. Wait to plant until two weeks after the last frost date, or start seeds indoors around 4-6 weeks before the last frost date.
Like tomatoes, they love full sun and rich soil. Keep them well-watered or fruit may taste bitter or grow in an odd shape. Give them lots of space to crawl around, or train them on a trellis or tomato cage to help them spread upwards in pots.
Beans can be planted any time after the chance of frost is gone as long as the soil is at least 60 degrees F. Check the cultivar info on the tag, as there are many different types of beans.
They don't do well when transplanted, so best not to start indoors. If you plant in full sun, bush varieties should mature quicker, in about 45-70 days, but also check for fast-growing varieties of pole beans if you live in a colder climate with a shorter growing season.
Hot tip: beans are "nitrogen-fixers" meaning they bring nitrogen back into the soil which is often depleted by heavy feeders like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.
Like beans, there are hundreds of different types of peppers and they all need a fairly long growing season. This can be difficult for colder regions, but you can transplant them with good success.
Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date in order to get them ready for planting, or direct sow 2-3 weeks after the last frost if you have a longer summer.
Peppers can be grown side-by-side with tomatoes as well as eggplants because they have similar growing requirements. They all want full sun, well-draining, rich soil, and deep watering.
Eggplant is ready to harvest in around 70 days once seeds are planted, and can continue growing for 5-6 months. Direct sow three weeks after the last frost date, or start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost date.
Eggplant will benefit from having its roots kept cool so consider adding mulch around it, or plant low-growing herbs around the base. Eggplant can get heavy, so give it the support it needs and harvest young fruits for the best flavor.
Zucchini is the most popular summer squash, and if you give it the right conditions, it will return the favor with large, bountiful harvests. It prefers warm soil, so direct sow once air temperature is consistently around 70 degrees F, or start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost date.
Seeds germinate in only a week or two when the soil is warm enough, and harvests are ready in 35-55 days. Sprawling vines need a lot of space to spread out in the full sun and require rich, well-draining soil with deep watering. Bush varieties are better for small containers.
Basil is a wonderful herb to grow alongside summer vegetables, and it adores heat. Seeds need to be started indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost date, or just like zucchini, wait a bit longer until the outdoor temperature is consistently 70 degrees F before direct sowing.
Basil needs full sun, rich soil, and lots of water. If growing in small pots, add mulch to the top to keep moisture in: even though it loves the heat, it's not as drought-tolerant as other summer herbs like lavender and rosemary.
Planting never really stops when you consider the different needs of various crops in the garden. While there are warm and cool-season veggies, even these categories have a lot of variation when it comes to planting times.
There's no easy answer as to when to plant vegetables, as it depends on the crop and where you live. Colder climates will benefit from starting the seeds of warm-season crops indoors, and taking advantage of the optimal weather for cool-season crops.
Wherever you live, if you want a healthy harvest, follow the instructions on the seed packet, and get to know each plant's needs when it comes to ideal growing temps. You may still lose some to extreme temperatures, but then you'll know how to do it better next year.