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Gardening Guide by Climate and Location

MULCH 101 

 

Table of Contents

Introduction Gardening by zip code/color zone
Cool-weather/warm-weather veggies Soil fertility
Considering climate change Gardening by state, at a glance
 

 

If you’re hesitant about starting a garden, always remember that the USA is founded on agriculture. Many states produce crops not only for the entire country, but also for import all over the world. Chances are, there’s always something to grow anywhere on the US map, even in places you won’t think are plant-friendly.

Serious gardeners rely a lot on climate zone maps and hardiness zone charts for reference. These may be tedious to interpret at first, especially among those who aren’t well-versed in temperature degrees. But when broken down into other factors like frost, climate, and soil fertility, they can prove to be quite handy.

Below is a map from the US Department of Agriculture indicating the hardiness of vegetables, herbs, and flowers to cold.

 

In many gardening maps online, you can simply enter your zip code in order to have a guide on how cold it gets where you live. There are websites and apps, like The National Gardening Association’s, that offer garden calendar planting guides according to your city, state, or zip code. These sites offer downloadable and printable calendar guides which include your location’s average frost-free seasons, along with suggestions on which plants are best to grow during those times.

Remember that many perennial plants (including herbs and flowers) are considered hardy enough to withstand most cold winters in certain places, like the pink to purple zones in the USDA map above. However, it helps to narrow down the frost zones according to your exact location to really ensure a good harvest or a thriving garden.

Here’s a surprising gardening zip code trivia: While interior Alaska may be considered chilly and unfriendly to plants by most gardening standards, the state’s passage going to Anchorage has been known to produce some brightly colored, healthy flowers (thanks to its abundance of rain and sunshine - but no scorching summers!). Many gardeners believe the same formula will likely yield good produce in the area, as well.

 

Plenty of vegetables, plants, and flowers can tolerate (or even thrive in) a bit of frost. They usually grow better in the fall, and can be found in yellow-green zone up to the yellow through to the ochre zones southward.

For spring, you can start seeding veggies like cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and broccoli as early as February - as long as you do so indoors. Chances are, the frost will make the soil hard to work with during this time. As soon as March rolls around, you can start transplanting your seeds outdoors. Refer to your gardening calendar app for specific vegetables and plants whose hardiness you aren’t entirely sure about.

When autumn approaches, it’s a good idea to count a hundred days from your harvest date so you’ll know when to seed and transplant vegetables. Seed packets usually indicate harvest dates, so let those guide you. Garlic can be planted in the second week of September, but it’s best to use a soil thermometer to be sure. Soil temperature at 60° is ideal for planting garlic, at a depth of around 4 inches.

 

Fertile soil trumps many other gardening issues, with some gardeners swearing by the “toss a seed, expect a fruit” method of casual gardening when they are blessed with rich soil.

Unfortunately, not all places have this. If you aren’t sure about your soil fertility, get a soil test done to determine its sulfur rate and nutrient level.

As previously mentioned, frost can render garden soil unworkable. The same holds true for drier regions. If you live in a part of the country where soil is alkaline, you will need to acidify it. You can add organic compost to your soil to neutralize its pH and make it more nutritious for plants. Pine needles have good acidity, so save some from your discarded Christmas tree in time for spring gardening. As a rule of (green) thumb, mulching in general can keep soil healthy, weed-free, and protected from extreme weather changes.

When Frost Dates Matter More Than Zones

Because of climate upheavals, there are longer periods of drought and frost which could render a climate zone map unreliable (or at the very least, unpredictable). The map above estimates the first date of frost in the fall and the last date of frost in spring in every region. While many gardening almanacs give an estimate on when the ground for every region would be soft enough to work with, the best recourse is still to test it on your own using a soil thermometer.

Of course, observing your plants for any sign of drought stress or frost means you have to customize your watering schedule specifically around it. Knowing the types of plants and their developmental stages can also help you reduce watering in increments. For instance, squash, melons, cucumbers, and other vine crops only need ample watering during their flowering and fruiting stages. Peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants do not need a lot of watering as they love the heat, and tend to bear more fruit in warmer weather.

With droughts come concerns of water shortage and how not to waste it. Garden soil needs mulch so water doesn’t evaporate as quickly in very hot weather. Two to three inches of mulch can act as protective layer from weeds and pests, while allowing water and fertilizer to seep through and stay in the soil and roots where they’re needed. It also prevents the sun from baking the soil underneath.

 

Climate change has a huge impact on our seasons. This has never been more apparent than in the last few years, when drought and flooding have been wreaking havoc on crops and gardens in quick succession. Other variables come into play with huge environmental changes. Seasonal vegetables, plants, and flowers can refuse to grow within their expected “seasons”, while pests, weeds, fungi, and other gardening nemesis can pop up without warning during prolonged summers.

Some practical suggestions in anticipation of wildly-changing weather and fluctuating temperatures would be to consider rooftop gardening, and seeking out drought-resistant produce. To start with, you can go for okra, peppers, collard greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, legumes like chickpea, lima beans and cow beans, mature rhubarb, chiles, cantaloupe, and herbs such as rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, and lavender.

In a drought, it’s no longer practical to plant in rows. It makes better sense to do block and grouped planting. The logic behind this is that the plants provide much-needed shade and nutrients for each other without competing for moisture and nourishment. A water-efficient garden layout can have blocks of similar-needs produce like cucumbers, squash, and zucchini - these vegetables require the same amount of watering. It may be tempting to add some cauliflower or broccoli into the mix, but as they need more room and are thirsty plants, they will create a problem with watering and nourishment.

If you really want to conserve water by not using sprinklers or a garden hose, harvest rainwater or collect water left over from boiling vegetables instead. Not only are you recycling a much-needed resource, you’re also introducing added nutrients to nourish your growing plants.

 

If you want a really rough guide on how to grow plants in your area, here’s a quick-reference chart listing all the states with their growing seasons, average number of frost-free days, and plants that are ideal for gardening at specific times.

State Growing season (on average) Ideal plants (and when to plant them)
Alabama Frost-free growing season starts Mar 19 and ends Nov 8, totalling 234 days; Start planting lettuce and spinach indoors around January 9 and then transplant them into the garden around February 28
Alaska *Northern climate requires special gardening needs Incorporate local materials like peat moss and seaweed for composting
Arizona Frost-free growing season starts May 27 and ends Oct 11, totalling 137 days Start summer plants like beans, cowpeas, corn, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, gourds and sunflowers indoors around May 7. Transplant seedlings out after the danger of frost is past
Arkansas Frost-free growing season starts Apr 11 and ends Oct 21, totalling 193 days Plant beans, cowpeas, corn, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, gourds and sunflowers seeds directly into the ground around April 11
California Frost-free growing season starts Feb 4 and ends Dec 3, totalling 303 days Start lettuce and spinach indoors around November 26 and then transplant them into the garden around January 15
Colorado Frost-free growing season starts July 8 and ends Aug 28, totalling 51 days Due to the very short growing season, most warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers require at least 2 months of frost free weather in order to grow and produce fruit
Connecticut Frost-free growing season starts May 14 and ends Sep 27, totalling 136 days Broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can be direct seeded into your garden around April 2, assuming the ground isn’t frozen
Delaware Frost-free growing season starts Apr 19 and ends Oct 15, totalling 179 days Around April 15 you should start watching the weather forecast and, as soon as no frost is forecast, go ahead and transplant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants outdoors
Florida Frost-free growing season starts Feb 22 and ends Dec 17, totalling 299 days Plant onion starts and potatoes around December 24
Georgia Frost-free growing season starts Mar 23 and ends Nov 8, totalling 230 days Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants require around 100 days to harvest, so transplant them into the ground around July 31
Hawaii Frost-free growing season starts May 21 and ends Oct 28, totalling 160 days Beans, cowpeas, corn, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, gourds and sunflowers seeds should be planted directly into the ground around July 15
Idaho On average has approximately 145 days between the last and first frost Plant lettuce and spinach in the ground early March, and as soon as the 3rd week rolls around, add potatoes, leeks, and onions
Illinois Frost-free growing season starts Apr 19 and ends Oct 14, totalling 178 days Get your crops mature and harvested before the winter frosts begin, around October 14
Indiana Frost-free growing season starts Apr 28 and ends Oct 8, totalling 163 days Sow peas directly into the ground around July 25
Iowa Frost-free growing season starts Apr 28 and ends Oct 1, totalling 156 days Plant the seeds of corn, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, gourds and sunflowers directly into the ground around June 18
Kansas Frost-free growing season starts Apr 21 and ends Oct 15, totalling 177 days If you want kale for your sandwiches and salads, make sure to sow seeds indoors between May 21 to July 5 before transplanting them outdoors from the first week of July until August 16
Kentucky Frost-free growing season starts Apr 23 and ends Oct 12, totalling 172 days Direct-sow seeds of gourds, squash, and pumpkins between May 30 - June 29
Louisiana Frost-free growing season starts Mar 6 and ends Nov 19, totalling 258 days Lettuce and spinach should be started indoors around December 27
Maine Frost-free growing season starts May 26 and ends Sep 15, totalling 112 days Sow broccoli and cabbage indoors between April 21 to June 5
Maryland Frost-free growing season starts Apr 11 and ends Oct 29, totalling 201 days Transplant collard green seedlings into the garden between July 31 - September 14
Massachusetts Frost-free growing season starts May 8 and ends Sep 29, totalling 144 days Like okra? You can direct-sow them from May 17 to June 15
Michigan Frost-free growing season starts June 13 and ends Sep 1, totalling 80 days Sow lettuce seeds indoors between June 3 and July 3
Minnesota Frost-free growing season starts May 18 and ends Sep 19, totalling 124 days Transplant tomatoes, peppers and eggplants into the ground around June 11
Mississippi Frost-free growing season starts Apr 10 and ends Oct 23, totalling 196 days Cabbage seedlings need to be transplanted outdoors between July 10 - August 24
Missouri Frost-free growing season starts Apr 8 and ends Oct 27, totalling 202 days Transplant spinach into the garden between August 13 - September 27
Montana Frost-free growing season starts May 31 and ends Sep 16, totalling 108 days Fall is the time to plant garlic. Around August 2, take your cloves apart and plant the toes about 3 to 4 inches deep
Nebraska Frost-free growing season starts May 19 and ends Sep 17, totalling 121 days Sow seeds of brussel sprouts indoors from April 23 to June 7
Nevada Frost-free growing season starts June 30 and ends Aug 31, totalling 62 days It’s best to transplant broccoli outdoors between May 18 - July 2
New Hampshire Frost-free growing season starts May 20 and ends Sep 21, totalling 124 days Tender vegetables like okra, corn, beans, and cucumber need warm weather to thrive so so direct-sow them outside by June 8
New Jersey Frost-free growing season starts May 3 and ends Oct 9, totalling 159 days Sow seeds of peppers indoors between May 5-20
New Mexico Frost-free growing season starts May 13 and ends Sep 30, totalling 140 days Cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can be direct seeded into your garden around July 22
New York Frost-free growing season starts Apr 1 and ends Nov 15, totalling 228 days Transplant brussel sprout seedlings outdoors from August 2 to September 16
North Carolina Frost-free growing season starts Apr 20 and ends Oct 31, totalling 194 days Direct-sow seeds of gourd, squash, and pumpkin between June 18 and July 18
North Dakota Frost-free growing season starts May 23 and ends Sep 13, totalling 113 days Come spring, start planting onion starts and potatoes around March 24
Ohio Frost-free growing season starts May 6 and ends Oct 1, totalling 148 days Beans can be directly sown outdoors by June 18 through July 18
Oklahoma Frost-free growing season starts Apr 14 and ends Oct 17, totalling 186 days You can include watermelon in your fall garden! Direct-sow seeds between June 4 and July 4
Oregon Frost-free growing season is around 157 days, from May 20 through September 21 Plant seed flats of cole crops (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts) indoors or in a greenhouse
Pennsylvania Frost-free growing season starts Apr 30 and ends Oct 15, totalling 168 days Start transplanting lettuce seedlings outdoors by August 16 up until September 15
Rhode Island Frost-free growing season starts May 17 and ends Sep 25, totalling 131 days Start lettuce and spinach indoors around May 28 and then transplant them into the garden around July 7
South Carolina Frost-free growing season starts Apr 1 and ends Nov 1, totalling 214 days Potatoes are best transplanted outside from August 3 to September 2
South Dakota Frost-free growing season starts May 17 and ends Sep 17, totalling 123 days Summer vegetables like beans, cowpeas, corn, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, gourds and sunflowers can be planted directly in the ground come May 17
Tennessee Frost-free growing season starts Apr 13 and ends Oct 21, totalling 191 days Starting April 13 - April 27, transplant pepper seedlings into your outdoor garden
Texas Frost-free growing season starts Mar 26 and ends Nov 11, totalling 230 days Plant garlic cloves apart around September 27, with the toes about 3 to 4 inches deep
Utah Frost-free growing season starts June 3 and ends Sep 14, totalling 103 days Like radishes in your fall garden? Direct-sow their seeds outside from July 16 - August 15
Vermont Frost-free growing season starts May 20 and ends Sep 23, totalling 126 days Plant onion starts and potatoes around March 21
Virginia Frost-free growing season starts Apr 25 and ends Oct 12, totalling 170 days Direct-sow seeds of lettuce between August 13 and September 12
Washington Frost-free growing season starts Mar 29 and ends Nov 15, totalling 231 days Corn and cucumbers can be direct-sown between August 2 through 17
West Virginia Frost-free growing season starts May 4 and ends Oct 12, totalling 161 days Plant garlic towards the end of August (or when the soil temperature is 60°) at a depth of 4 inches
Wisconsin Frost-free growing season starts May 1 and ends Oct 8, totalling 160 days Start growing tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants indoors around February 21 before transplanting them in the ground outside around April 27
Wyoming Frost-free growing season starts May 30 and ends Sep 13, totalling 106 days Summer vegetable seeds like beans, cowpeas, corn, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, gourds and sunflowers, should be planted directly into the ground around May 30, or once the soil is near 60° F