image of flowers growing in a garden

Knowing the right time to plant seeds and seedlings in your vegetable garden is important if you’re trying to grow as much food as possible in your homestead garden. Let’s dive deep and learn about how you can know when is the perfect time to plant your garden using our Homesteaders of America Growing Guides!

There are backyard gardeners and then there are homestead gardeners. 

Want to know the difference? A backyard gardener is a person who plants vegetables in their garden each spring and happily gets some fresh produce out their doorstep for a couple of months each year. They’re content with the occasional harvest and if life gets in the way, no big deal. They garden as a hobby for the simple pleasure of it. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but these gardeners tend to take a more laid-back approach.

Homestead gardeners on the other hand are hardcore. We take our food production very seriously and aim to maximize every opportunity to grow as much food for our families in the space we’re given as possible. Homestead gardeners take gardening to a whole new level and over time realize they’re just as much of a botanist and biologist as they are a gardener. 

garden row with greens

Why Do You Need to Know When to Plant Your Garden?

If you’re growing your own vegetables for reasons of self-sufficiency, decreasing your dependency on the grocery store (and our broken food system), getting access to the freshest and most organic produce possible, and/or putting up food for the winter, then getting the timing of when to plant your garden is critical. 

If you plant your seeds too early they may rot in soggy soil before the soil warms enough for them to germinate. You may risk exposing tender seedlings to an unexpected late frost or even freeze. Or even if they don’t have quite as catastrophic a beginning, a slow start in a poorly timed sowing will leave young plants struggling to hang on instead of growing big beautiful plants. Along with inadequate nutrients, this makes them more susceptible to insect pests and disease later in the growing season.

If you plant your seeds too late, the growing season will be shortened and you may not reap and produce before the seasons change again. 

To maximize the potential of your garden and reap an abundant harvest, it is important to understand what factors affect planting times for your specific geographical location.

plants growing in rows through the snow

So my best advice to new gardeners in their first season is to learn when to plant your garden and then keep homesteading records so you can make adjustments over time based on the microclimate in your backyard. 

How to Determine When to Plant Your Vegetable Garden

There are several things you can do to help decide when & how to plant your garden. These tips and planning methods will allow you to grow more food successfully and reduce a significant amount of frustration and waste. 

1. Know Your USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) divides North America into growing zones that correspond to a specific range of minimum winter temperatures. 

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can be a helpful tool for generalizations in knowing the best vegetables to grow in your area. For example, don’t bother planning to plant an orange tree in your Zone 6a orchard. They do best in Zone 8 or warmer. 

But when it comes to the wide variety of vegetable plants that can be grown throughout the entire continental United States, we can do better than broad generalizations. Let’s be realistic. Even though coastal Maine and southern Nebraska are both Zone 5b, they are very different growing climates for your garden. Or let’s look at two Zone 6a cities, Flagstaff Arizona and Columbus Ohio. According to the Hardiness Zone calculator, Flagstaff has the last frost date of 6/11 and Columbus has the last frost date of 4/28. That’s quite the range! 

View the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Many gardening resources recommend using the Hardiness Zone maps alone to plan the growing season. While using the Hardiness Zones will give you a one-month window of when to plant, as we’ve seen that can be risky business. We take growing food way too seriously to mess with that! 

Use the hardiness zone map, but not by itself. In addition to the map, consider the estimated last frost date for your area and the soil temperature before you begin to plant. 

**Recheck your zone this year even if you think you know which one you are in as the hardiness zones changed in 2023.

peas growing in vegetable garden

2. Know Your Frost Dates

At Homesteaders of America, we prefer to use “Last Frost Dates” as the best guide to know when to plant in early spring. The last frost date for your zip code is a statistical average that tells you when your chance of frost drops below 30% after a date.

Typically, it is safe to start planting after this date has passed. 

For a late summer or fall garden, you can use the first fall frost date to count back from. You will want your harvest date to land before the first frost date. 

Using frost dates is simply a more targeted approach to knowing when to plant your garden. 

Learn what your last frost date is by location

3. Pay Attention to Soil Temperature

Another consideration for knowing when to plant is your garden soil temperature. Certain seeds, such as corn, cucumbers, and beans, simply will not germinate until the soil reaches a certain temperature. 

Unfortunately, soil temperature will vary drastically from year to year depending on the weather so there is no handy reference that can help you with this. Thankfully, it’s easy to check with a thermometer! 

A good rule of thumb is that the soil temperature should be at least 50° F before planting.

You can use solarization methods such as black tarps to warm the soil more quickly in the season. But if you can’t afford to use those methods, those seeds will do best if you hold off for a week (or even two if you’ve had a late spring) after your last frost date. 

seeds & seedlings started in plastic pots

4. Look at Planting Calendars

There are many planting calendars available online and in gardening books. You can find calendars in different layouts that are tailored to your growing climate. Check out the planting calendars below to see which one suits you the best. Some are interactive and color-coded (Seedtime is my favorite and it is free) and some are basic guides with seed starting dates and transplant dates. 

5. Keep Detailed Garden Records

  • Keeping a homesteading journal and studying your own microclimate is the ultimate way to know your last frost dates. Write down weather patterns during this growing season so you can look back on it when planning the garden for next year. 

In addition to keeping a garden journal, you should create a written garden plan as well. Your garden plan can be on pen & paper, in a printed planner, or on a spreadsheet. The method doesn’t matter so much as long as you are keeping track of the vegetables that you want to plant, their planting dates, and estimated harvest dates. 

Vegetable Garden Planning Tools

Homesteaders of America wants you to get your garden off to the best start possible so we’ve created several tools to help you know when to plant this year!

Vegetable Gardening Growing Guides

At the beginning of each month this year, we will be helping you along your gardening journey with our Homesteaders of America Growing Guides! We’ll help you keep on track to getting your garden off on the right foot this growing season so you can grow as much food as possible for your family! 

How to Use the Vegetable Growing Guides

In the Growing Guides, you will learn what to plant each month according to when your last frost date. 

The Growing Guides will be targeted for the continental United States, which also includes some of the warmer areas of our country such as southern extremes Texas and Florida. It’s hard for some of us northern folks to imagine starting our gardens in January, but believe it or not, that’s the time for them to start their tomatoes! 

Be sure to follow us on social media, read our newsletter, or check back on the blog for updates throughout the year! 

Homesteaders of America Growing Guides By Month

What to Plant in January
What to Plant in February
What to Plant in March
What to Plant in April
What to Plant in May
What to Plant in June
What to Plant in July
What to Plant in August
What to Plant in September
What to Plant in October
What to Plant in November
What to Plant in December

When to Plant a Vegetable Garden with Month-to-Month Guides