There is so much advice out there for when to plant. If you plant too early in spring, you risk a late frost killing your seedlings. If you plant too late, you might end up with a very late harvest. If there is an early frost in fall, your late harvest of fruits and veggies could be lost. Timing is everything when it comes to Hedgewitch gardening!
Most perennials aren’t damaged by frost, but if you’re planting vegetables and some fruits, you'll need to become very familiar with these dates. Many vegetables and annual flowers cannot tolerate even a light frost. On the back of every seed packet, you’ll find "plant after last frost date," or “start seeds 8 weeks before the last frost date.” What does that even mean? And how do you find these dates?
As part of your Hedgewitch Permaculture garden planning, and before you plant, find the frost dates for your region, meaning when the last frost will occur in the spring and when the first frost will happen in the fall or winter. A frost can damage new or established plants. But first, you need to understand exactly what the frost dates mean. What are frost dates?
Temperatures between 32°F (0°C) and 28°F (-2°C) is considered a light frost. A hard frost is temperatures below 28°F (-2°C). Most leafy vegetables, peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leeks handle hard frosts fairly well. Plant these crops earlier in the spring and fall without the risk of damage by frost.
Knowing where your first and last frost dates fall is essential to your gardening success. Most gardeners are a bit of a weather junkie, including me! Being attuned to weather reports in your area and even keeping records yourself, helps avoid damage to or losing your fruits, veggies, and tender plants.
Frost dates are defined as a day in which there is a 50 percent chance of being frost-free, which means there is also a 50 percent chance there could be frost. So if you want to ensure the safety of your plants, adjust these dates to your specific area—two weeks forward for spring, and two weeks backward for fall/winter. Choose this date to begin planting with the understanding that you may need to protect your plants from a frost.
These dates also show how long or short your growing season is. If your last frost date is June 10 and your first frost date is September 10, then your growing season is approximately 3 months. With this information, you can determine which plants will grow best within a 90-day window. Find your Frost Dates here.
What is a Hardiness Zone?
Knowing the last and first frost dates is useful in planning your Hedgewitch garden, but it doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. It is also helpful to know your Plant Hardiness Zone. These zones are based on minimum cold temperatures in a given area. They help determine which plants will do well for you.
The Plant Hardiness Zone Map (PHZM) shows which planting zone you live in and guides you to find the plants that grow best in your area based on what will survive in that temperature range.
The zone map is also broken down so that each zone number has an "a" and "b" zone, as in zones 7a and 7b. There are also new zones for Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Keep in mind
Most gardens have microclimates. These are small areas that are warmer or colder than the surrounding area. Warmer microclimates may be found near the house or a concrete patio. Southern exposures stay warmer than Northern ones. Observe your yard and garden and make notes each year about your microclimates.
What if I have a short growing season?
If you have a short growing season or are in Plant Hardiness Zones 7 and lower, you may need season extenders to grow some fruits and veggies. Welcome to my gardening world!
Start seeds indoors
Frost blanket and covers
Straw Bale Gardening
What if I have a long growing season?
You are a lucky gardener and Hedge Witch! You won’t need to extend your season, but work with the seasons by succession planting. In your planning process, make sure to include multiple sowings and have fruits and veggies that are ready to harvest throughout the season instead of all at once. Biodiversity for Mother Earth and an abundance harvest for all life, including you!
Reversing the growing season
In some warmer climates, like 10 through 13, colder season crops will need to be grown during the coldest months. If the summer’s get too hot for growing plants, you may need to reverse your growing season to grow in Fall, Winter, and Spring instead.
No matter what climate, frost date or zone, be sure to plant with biodiversity in mind. Once you know and understand your planting dates, microclimates, and plant hardiness zone information, you can work with Mother Earth to successfully grow a bounty of nutrient-rich and magical fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers.