When to plant a vegetable garden: it’s never too late to start

The best time to start a garden is now. It doesn’t matter if it’s not spring – even if it’s the middle of summer, you can still start a garden, and get a harvest before the snow flies.

Non-gardeners seem to think that you must plant everything in the spring, and then harvest it all in the fall. And for some vegetables, that is certainly the case. For example, squash is planted in mid-spring or so, and left to grow until late summer or fall. The same goes for drying beans.

The fact is, many vegetables can be planted more than once throughout the season, and you can harvest them in spring, summer and fall. Some vegetables are best planted in mid-summer, grown out during the fall, and harvested in the winter. Brussels sprouts falls into that category.

There are quite a few vegetables that love the cool weather of fall and early spring. Radishes, lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and mustard greens are all cool weather crops. They will grow during the heat of summer, but can rapidly go to seed; so they need to be grown and harvested quickly.

With cool weather crops, it’s best to grow a crop in the spring, and then another crop again in the fall. You can grow just as much as you’re likely to eat, or grow excess to preserve.

I have a LOT of mustard greens this year. It’s time to harvest them from the shop roof planter, to make room for the tomato plants. The weather is heating up, and they are starting to look like they’re going to bolt, so into the fermenting jars they go!

mustard and tomatoes
This mustard has been an excellent spring green. It has now been harvested and put into the 3 gallons of fermented veggies I made today.

There is a small patch of salad greens in the garden; and another small patch of mixed mustards. Oh, and radishes as well. Most of these will probably have gone to seed by July. But I’ll replant before then.

One way to have a continuous supply of greens is to plant short rows, or small patches, every few weeks. As each planting goes to seed, the next one will come ready. Because I like to eat salads in the summer, with a nice variety of greens, I’ll keep planting them every few weeks, so I’ll always have a fresh supply.

salad greens
3 kinds of lettuce, chervil, and arugula. These were planted in March, and will probably last until July. But I’ll plant more before then.

This process works great for lots of veggies. If you don’t want all of your carrots to be ready for harvest at once, just plant a small patch at a time, every few weeks. But if you prefer to have a big crop ripen in the fall for processing or winter storage, then plant them all at once.

The same goes for cabbage, broccoli, or anything else that you would like to harvest a little bit at a time, or all at once.

I have planted a lot of tomatoes this year. There are about five different varieties – and a few mystery tomatoes – and I don’t know when they will all come ripe. I’m hoping I get lots of cherry tomatoes and slicers during the summer, and then have a big crop of romas for saucing and drying in the fall.

Timing of seed planting

Now, there’s no way for me to give all of you the perfect timing for planting garden vegetables. Everyone lives in a different climate, so planting times are different everywhere.

But you can do some research and quickly find information on when to plant what in your area. The first thing you need to know is what your plant hardiness zone is. Take a look here to find a site that shows the USDA plant hardiness zones where you live.

You also need to know when your last frost date in the spring and your first frost date in the fall are. The days between the last frost and the first frost are your Frost Free Days. These dates will dictate when to plant what in the garden.

Each seed packet should let you know its Days to Maturity, and whether that is from seeding time, or from transplant time. If the Days to Maturity is longer than your Frost Free Days, it’s probably not worth trying to grow it, unless you have a greenhouse, or use some sort of covering to protect the plants during cool weather.

As I said at the beginning, you can start a garden any time. If it’s mid summer, and you want to grow some veggies, just find out when your first frost date is in the fall. Compare your remaining frost free days with the Days to Maturity of the vegetables you want to grow, to see if there’s time.

And remember, there are plenty of plants that quite enjoy the coolness of fall; and some even get sweeter after a few frosts. So don’t think that you’re out of luck if the summer is waning, and you’re just getting started.

You can also find varieties of most vegetables that have short Days to Maturity. If you have a short growing season, want to have multiple plantings, or are running out of time, growing varieties with short Days to Maturity is the answer.

snow peas
Snow peas are cool weather crops. Plant in early spring (mid February here on the West Coast) and then another crop in late summer.

Plant in the fall, harvest over winter or next summer

Another thing to look into is overwintering vegetables. There are a few things that like to be planted in the fall, and will come to life as soon as the weather starts to warm up in the spring.

Believe it or not, peas don’t mind hanging out in the garden over winter, as long as they are just a couple inches tall when the cool weather comes.

There is also overwintering cauliflower, onions, and sprouting broccoli. And of course, garlic is usually planted in October or November, depending on where you live, and harvested in June or July.

Many vegetables can be planted in mid summer or so, and then left in the garden and harvested all winter. These include Brussels sprouts, leeks, rutabagas, turnips, carrots, cabbages, and parsnips, to name a few.

Of course, if you live somewhere where the ground freezes solid and is covered with deep snow, a root cellar or cold room might be a better place to store them.

Start your garden now

As you can see, gardening doesn’t have to start in the spring and end in the fall. You can start whenever you’re ready, and sometimes go right through winter, if you live somewhere with mild winters – like I do!

If you can’t build your garden until later in the fall, you can at least plant garlic. And the garden will have the benefit of being well hydrated during the winter, and ready for planting as soon as it thaws out in the spring.

So, if you’re starting your garden a bit later in the season, there will always be something you can plant. Find varieties with short Days to Maturity, and the ones that prefer growing in cool weather, and you’ll be able to enjoy a lovely harvest before winter sets in.

I hope you learned some helpful tips about when to plant a vegetable garden, and how you can get one started any time during the growing season. You really can start a garden any time of the year – depending on where you live, of course – and planting in mid summer is perfectly reasonable.

If you have any questions or experiences to share, please drop them in the comment box below. I’d love to hear from you.

Health, Hope & Happiness


mustard greens
This planter built on the shop roof was intended for tomatoes; but we got a surprise crop in early spring. Mustard seeds were in the unfinished compost we put in, and we got an excellent harvest. And no slugs!

3 Replies to “When to plant a vegetable garden: it’s never too late to start”

  1. Gardening is something that I have never really ventured into until this year. I planted my first raised garden of romaine, bib, red leaf lettuce, spinach and chard. I also grew some radishes and I plan on planting a new batch tomorrow. I have been enjoying fresh salads since April. I also have a few tomato plants and some green beans . I am really enjoying my flowers and gardens this year, even though I live in an RV. Small space small gardens. LOL
    I really found your article to be very informative and will certainly be looking for some of those veggies with short maturity days. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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