For those of you outside North Central Texas please bear with me for a couple of sentences, there is something in here for you – I promise!
Here in the DFW area over the past couple of weeks, although some of our nights have been very cool, our daytime temperatures have been comfortable and balmy and “spring fever” is in full force. Perhaps you’ve even been tempted to buy and plant some of those 4inch pots with tomatoes and other warm weather plants that seem to be popping up everywhere? However, as my fellow gardener and blogger over at Texas Triffid Ranch reminded me this morning, this road can lead folly and ruin, heartache and despair.
So how do you know what to plant and when? Have you looked at the back of your seed packet and seen something like “When to sow outdoors: 2 weeks after last frost” but wondered what that meant? Well the place to start is with your last average frost date/frost probability data. (Bearing in mind that for those of you in colder climates you will also need to know when your soil is warm enough to “work” and for your seeds to germinate – ‘cause if it’s too cold for them to germinate you don’t need to worry about a frost getting your seedlings.)
For example here in the DFW area the probability that we will have a freeze episode up to March 10th is 90%, by March 26th it’s 50% and by April 11th it’s 10%. You can find freeze probability data for your area on the NOAA website. Does that mean you have to wait until your last frost date to plant/transplant? No, but you have to ask yourself how much you want to risk. If you’re buying a tomato plant for $3.00 and want to take a gamble on getting some super early tomatoes knowing you’ll likely lose the bet –hey, what the heck. However if your spending big money on a specimen landscape plant that’s likely to be damaged by frost and you don’t have any way of protecting it, or you’re on a limited budget (and that can be time, money or energy) and you need to maximize your potential success, you may want to wait until the odds are more in your favor. It’s a basic cost/benefit analysis.
If, for whatever reason, juggling seed packets/seed catalogs and average frost is just a little bit too much and you just want to know “what do I plant when?” never fear your local extension office and/or state land grant university can help you out (at least for common crops/plants) – and most of this info is available at the touch of your fingertips.
The links below are examples of this information; offering suggested vegetable varieties to be used and when they should be planted: (Make sure to look at the document to see if they are referring to transplants or sowing seeds)