Get a Start on Spring Gardening with Cool-Season Vegetables

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For a gardener, winter is a season of anticipation – seed catalogs collecting in the mail, sketches and notes for the coming year piling up on the desk, tools cleaned and sharpened in the shed. Outside perennials do their dormant best, resting and soaking up the nutrients thanks to a good layer of fall compost, waiting for the soil and air temperatures to warm so that they can sprout up.

Spring is considered a season of rebirth for good reason, seeing those signs of life popping through the soil, but it also can be frustrating for a gardener. After months of anticipation and patience, the gardener wants to start digging, but some of the most popular crops, such as eggplant, tomatoes and watermelon, shouldn’t be planted until after risk of frost has passed. Fortunately, there are plenty crops that like it cool and need to be planted and harvested before Tennessee’s hot summer.

See more: How to Grow Fresh Herbs in the Winter

Below are suggestions – whether you live in West, Middle or East Tennessee – for specific plants to put in the ground in March and April, so that you can get your hands dirty now. And don’t forget to hang on to this list come fall. Many of these crops can be seeded again before autumn’s first frost, giving you another chance to reap and sow before winter.

Memphis (West Tennessee)

cool-season vegetables

Photo credit: Jill Wellington via Pixabay

Safe planting date*: March 27

Crops: Bell peppers are a good crop to put outside starting in early April, as they have a relatively long growing period, about 90 days. Brussels sprouts can go into the ground as early as Feb. 26, and broccoli is a great option for the month of March.

Nashville (Middle Tennessee)

Photo credit: Jeffrey S. Otto

Safe planting date*: April 12

Crops: Cauliflower and collards seedlings will be happy to start growing their roots and sprouting in March, as will leeks and Swiss chard. Carrots and peas are a few of the vegetables that can be started from seed, as opposed to seedlings, outdoors in early March in this area.

See more: Spring Into Gardening

Knoxville (East Tennessee)

cool-season vegetables

Photo credit: Jeffrey S. Otto

Safe planting date*: April 18

Crops: Get digging in March to sow spinach, onion and parsnips from seeds outdoors in East Tennessee, which runs a little cooler than the rest of the state. Cabbage, lettuce and collards will be ready to transplant from seedlings, too.

Transplanting Tips

  • If you started seeds indoors in January, they are likely good to be transplanted now; if not, seedlings should be available at garden centers and plant sales. Mark your calendar to try seed-starting next winter.
  • If you are planting seedlings, either from a garden store or that you have grown from seed, remember to harden off plants before putting them in the ground. This means getting them used to garden conditions gradually, setting plants outside for a few hours and bringing them back in.
  • Consider low tunnels – temporary sheets of plastic – about 3 feet above plants to trap in the warmth from sunshine and allow cold-season crops to be planted earlier.

See more: In Bloom: See and Taste Early Signs of Spring in the Garden

*Safe planting dates are taken from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which bases its estimates on 30-year NOAA weather data. The date is that after which it is likely to have a 10% chance or less of temperatures lower than 32 degrees. Of course, watching current weather is always essential.

Margaret Littman is a freelance writer and a Master Gardener of Davidson County. For more free advice on gardening in Tennessee, check with the UT Extension office in your county.

2 Comments

  1. Paula C Armstrong

    March 14, 2020 at 7:37 am

    I love these newsy posts! Thanks so much.

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