Early Seeding Directly Outdoors

The most common question that I hear at this time of year is: "When is it safe to plant outside?" And the answer is... "It depends."

The first thing to understand is that plants vary in their susceptibility to cold and freezing temperatures. Our hardy trees, shrubs and perennials are, obviously, very cold tolerant—otherwise we would have nothing but something akin to a moonscape in our yards.

So it’s really the bedding plants that most people are concerned about for a safe planting date. But within this category, there is a tremendous variation in cold and frost tolerance.

For example, pansies and parsnips can easily tolerate frost and sub-zero temperatures but watermelon and sweet potatoes are so frost and cold sensitive that they will be damaged if they see you carrying a frosty drink to your deck chair!

On the farm, we usually had our first round of vegetables sown in our fields by the 2nd or 3rd week of April provided the soil was not to wet to work. The first round of vegetables included: peas, beets, lettuce, parsnips, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onions and a few potatoes. If it snowed after we sowed we knew that we would have fabulous, even germination as the snow slowly and gently melted into the soil.

Today, I always sow my carrots, beets and other frost tolerant vegetables into my containers in April so that I am eating them in June.

As my mother always said,"For a few dollars-worth of seed, take a chance, sow early and live dangerously!"