Spring garden planning

Spring garden planning includes flipping through seed catalogs, choosing which plants you’d like to grow, ordering seedlings, mapping out a garden layout, creating a planting schedule for your outdoor gardens, and planning how to prepare your garden beds for early spring planting.

Spring garden planning basics

Spring garden planning is one of my favorite annual gardening tasks. This is the time to dream about all the plants you’d like to grow and where you’d like to plant them. Spring garden planning is often mainly about the vegetable garden, but you can also add in some herbs, flowers, fruits, perennials, and trees/shrubs if you like!

Spring garden planning - vegetable gardening for beginners

Planning your garden

Start your spring garden planning by making a list of all the plants you’d like to grow this year. If possible, sort them into categories like vegetables, flowers, herbs, et cetera. Then you can start shopping around for different varieties of each vegetable (or whatever else you’re growing). Make sure you’re planting varieties that are well-suited to your local climate. For annual plants, this means waiting until the weather is warm enough to plant outdoors. For overwintering plants, check that the plant is winter-hardy in your local growing zone.

Once you have an understanding of the plants you’d like to grow, it’s time to map them out into a garden layout and create a schedule for when everything will be planted. You can download my Free Garden Planner to help you write out your crops, map them into a layout plan, and schedule out planting and harvesting. If you’d like a done-for-you plan with pre-selected crops and a pre-planned layout, check out my Spring Vegetable Garden Plan.

Preparing your garden

Spring garden planning also includes preparing your garden beds for planting. Get out your shovels, rakes, spades, and pruners, and clean up your garden space! This usually involves removing leaves and composting any other leftover debris from last season. Spring is also a good time to get a soil test.

Rake the soil flat and remove any stones or bits of roots that turn up. Once the soil is flat, I like to mix in some slow-release organic fertilizer using a handheld cultivator rake. Then I apply a top-dressing of 1″ of organic compost from the compost pile on top of the garden’s soil surface. If you don’t already have garden beds, I recommend building raised beds.

For perennial garden beds, take some time in early spring to remove overwintered plant debris and add it to the compost bin. Look for signs of new growth appearing from the base of perennial plants, and also for green sprouts coming up from any flowering spring bulbs in the area. Early spring is also the perfect time to prune most shrubs and trees in and around the garden.

Lastly, consider adding heavy-duty garden hoops over the soil if you’re planting seeds in early spring. These hoops can be used to cover the garden with a protective fabric called “frost cover” in the early spring. In the summertime, they can be used to hold up insect netting to keep out pests.

Spring garden planning tips

What to grow in a spring garden

Spring is the perfect time to plant cool-season crops in the vegetable garden. You can also plant flower seeds, perennials, and woody plants like trees and shrubs. These plants tend to develop roots quickly in the springtime. Good root development from early spring planting also helps long-lived plants to survive their first summer (especially if conditions are overly hot and dry).

While almost all potted perennial plants that are winter-hardy in your local climate can be planted in early spring, only certain types of seeds will germinate in cool spring temperatures. These seeds include “cool-season” vegetables, as well as select herb seeds and flower seeds. Some common garden plants like tomatoes and peppers aren’t generally planted outdoors until late spring.

Spring garden planning - cool season veggies

What to grow in early spring

Early spring in the garden typically begins as the soil thaws and ends once the threat of late spring frost has passed. Daily temperatures are generally above freezing, but there are still some frosty nights and potentially a cold snap or two. In some areas, this period of the year can start in January-February, while in more temperate spots early spring may occur in March-April and even into May. Fortunately, there are quite a few plants that don’t mind this cold weather (and may even thrive in it).

My favorite crops to plant in early spring include lettuce, carrots, peas, onion, cabbage, spinach, parsley, cilantro, and cosmos. Here is a list of early spring vegetables to consider planting in your garden. These plants have seeds that can germinate in soil that is just above freezing (although they germinate much more quickly as the soil warms up in the spring). Many of these cool-loving seeds can even be planted in freezing temperatures using a process called Winter Sowing.

1. Lettuce

Lettuce seeds can be planted in the early spring as soon as soil thaws and can be worked with a handheld trowel. Loose-leaf lettuces like Salad Bowl Lettuce or Black-Seeded Simpson Lettuce are great options as they can be harvested very soon after planting. If you’re using a soil thermometer (which is highly recommended for early spring gardening), the optimal soil temperature range is 60°-75°F  (16°-24°C). Continue seeding lettuce outdoors every 2-3 weeks for a continuous harvest.

2. Carrots

Carrots can be direct seeded in the garden as soon as soil thaws. The seeds can germinate in soil temperatures from 40°-95°F (4°-35°C), although they germinate most quickly when soil is 65°-85°F (18°-29°C). I tend to plant my carrots outdoors about 4 weeks before the last frost date. Check out these different types of carrots to grow in your spring garden this year!

3. Peas

Pea seeds germinate when soil is between 40°-85°F (4°-29°C) but germinate most quickly in the range of 65°-75°F (18°-24°C). Pea plants thrive in the spring and don’t grow well in hot summer weather.

4. Radish

Radish seeds grow quickly into harvestable roots (especially if you choose early varieties like Cherry Belle or French Breakfast Radish. Seeds germinate between 40°-95°F (4°-35°C) with an optimal soil temperature range of 65°-85°F (18°-29°C).

Vegetables to plant in late spring

What to grow in late spring

Late spring in the garden begins when all threat of frost has passed. While this is usually determined by checking your local last frost date, always look at this year’s weather forecast for the upcoming 1-2 weeks just to be sure there isn’t a cold snap on the horizon. This is usually around the time that early spring vegetables are starting to be harvested from the garden.

By late spring, temperatures have usually warmed up enough to plant heat-loving vegetables. Warm-season crops include tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, potatoes, and nasturtiums. These plants are typically killed by frost and are planted after the last spring frost. While many of these plants can technically survive near-freezing temperatures, most will be stunted and certainly won’t thrive in cool outdoor air. I usually wait until daily nighttime lows are above about 50°F (10°C) before planting my tomatoes and other warm-loving crops outdoors.

1. Tomatoes

Tomato seedlings are typically started indoors and are only transplanted outdoors once the soil has warmed and when daily temperature lows are above 50°F (10°C). When planting tomatoes add either a tomato stake or a tomato cage to support the plant. Most heirloom tomato plants are indeterminate tomatoes that will produce tomatoes until frost, while compact determinate tomatoes tend to produce all their tomatoes in one big batch in late summer.

2. Pumpkins

Pumpkin seedlings are very sensitive to cold temperatures and should also wait until warm weather before being planted outdoors. You can either plant the seeds directly in the garden or purchase seedlings from a local plant nursery. I prefer to sow pumpkins and squash seeds directly into the garden as transplanting can be somewhat disruptive to the roots of these plants. Be sure to follow the planting instructions on the package!

3. Peppers

Pepper plants have similar temperature requirements to tomatoes as they like warm weather. Wait until all threat of frost has passed before planting them outside (and preferably until nighttime lows are above 50°F (10°C)).

4. Potatoes

Potato plants are very cold-sensitive. While they can typically be planted outdoors a few weeks before tomatoes, they won’t thrive until spring temperatures are warm. Usually, the leaves will not start to sprout and thrive until air temperatures are above 50°F (10°C).

Spring garden planning - growing cool season vegetables
Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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  1. Thanks for also talking about how I should also consider the kinds of temperatures to work with when planning to incorporate new plants in my property. I’m interested in looking for a good flower planting service because I’m thinking about finding a good way to make my lawn a lot more colorful.