The sun’s shining, the ground is warm and wet from spring’s rain, and it’s time to plant! Local expert and Sow True Seed Community Coordinator Chris Smith guides us through the seasons.
In Western North Carolina the mountains can give us variable spring weather, but don’t get tricked into thinking the cold times are over!
Early in March
- Start eggplant and pepper seeds indoors if you can provide sufficient heat and light (otherwise wait until May and buy transplants). They can be slow to germinate, so a full 8 weeks before planting outside gives you a good head start. Tomato seeds can be started a couple of weeks later.
- March is a great time to establish some perennial veggies! Rhubarb, asparagus and horseradish can all be planted this month.
- It’s not too late to sow wildflowers for natural winter stratification (the breaking of seed dormancy with cold and damp conditions).
Later in March:
- St. Patrick’s Day is the local marker for perfect potato planting time; you can plant earlier and later, but potatoes prefer the cooler weather.
- Local wisdom says to direct sow carrot seeds (and other root crops) when the dandelions bloom. Direct seed peas (trellis depending on variety).
- Brassica transplants will be available for crops like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower (I like to start my seeds indoors in February, but you could get away with them in early March too).
Experienced gardeners will risk early plantings in April, using row covers, floating mulch and low tunnels to extend the season. But beware the late April snow and know that we’re not safe from frost until May.
Early in April:
- It’s actually not too late to start tomato seeds; you can have success with 4 week transplants. Tomatoes show tenacity in “catching up” with the season!
- Direct sow greens and bunching onions with confidence.
- Direct sow root crops. Small sowings at 10 day intervals will give a continuous harvest into early summer.
Later in April:
- As your potatoes grow, hill them! Hilling increases yield because the upper parts of the plant, once buried, can produce more tubers.
- It can be worth small early sowings of summer squash and bush beans. Be prepared to protect them on cooler nights, or lose them. But the risk of a few seeds can be worth the reward of an early harvest.
- You should be harvesting young kales, collards and spinach by the end of April, if not before!
Safe from frost, the growing season can begin in earnest. Mother’s Day is considered the absolute safe outside planting date for any frost sensitive annuals.
Early in May:
- Begin hardening off your frost sensitive transplants (tomatoes, eggplant and peppers). Gradually expose them to sunlight, cooler temperatures and less watering to toughen them up for life outside.
- Direct seed beans and squash (summer and winter).
- Keep successive plantings of lettuce and greens, but switch to slow-bolt varieties of lettuce like Jericho or Parris Island Romaine.
Later in May:
- Sweet potatoes! They love it when the soil has had a good chance to warm up. While you can plant all the way through to Independence Day, it’s good to give these guys a long, hot season.
- Direct seed okra, watermelons, melons, cucumbers and corn. They all enjoy the heat, but make sure they stay well watered as young seedlings.
- Try peanuts this year. Sow True Seed has the Carolina African Runner peanut, which we are very excited about.
The heat of summer can arrive quickly, and with it bugs in the garden. Some of them are beneficials and some of them eat things we’d prefer they didn’t. Educate yourself before reaching for chemical solutions.
Early in June:
- Harvest garlic and early potatoes. Keep an eye on any garlic crops; as the green leaves die back, you’ll be approaching harvest.
- Fill the gaps with successive plantings of squash and beans or a summer cover crop.
- Your cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower should be ready to harvest (if not before), make sure you get it before the bugs do!
Later in June:
- Beans and summer squash should start producing.
- Maintenance will include deep watering, bug patrol and fertilizer as required depending on your soil quality (if you haven’t done so before, get a soil test done, it’s free in North Carolina).
- The garden should be looking pretty good by late June. You can continue to sow new summer plants throughout June as gaps open up. Start thinking about your harvest and preservation schedule, which will ramp up in July.