Yes! You Can Start Your Garden in the Late Spring

Is it too late to start a garden now? Can you start a garden in June? 

The good news is that you can start a garden (almost) any time! 

The bad news is that you can't grow absolutely every crop if you're starting now.

If you only recently decided you want to garden, here's how you can get it going for a good harvest this year! And by all means, yes, start your garden! 

How Much Growing Time Remains?

You need to know your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. Then you need data for your zone to determine the date of the first freeze (also called "first frost") in the fall. Probably the easiest way to find your your first freeze date is to look it up online. This one is great! 

Calculate How Many Days You Have to Grow

Ask your digital assistant (a.k.a. Siri) or put in a query in Google to determine how many days from your planting date to your first frost date.

For me, for Zone 6a, let's say I can plant this weekend on June 4 and 5. My first freeze date is October 23 and the number of days from June 5 to October 23 is 140 days

This means I can grow crops from seed that take 140 days or fewer until harvest.

Do a similar calculation for your zone.  Now you know how many growing days you have left. Whatever you choose to grow must mature in that many days, or less. 

Realistically, put a bit of "time cushion" in the schedule. What if you can't plant everything right away? What if the frost comes early this year? The shorter days later in the season slows down growth, meaning crops will probably take longer to grow than the "days to harvest" on the seed packet. 

Not all of the suggested crops below will work for every zone because some have longer time to maturity, and the northern zones won't have enough time. These are suggestions and guidance. Select for your specific growing location. 

It's Too Late For These Spring Crops

Some crops only grow well in the spring and just won't tolerate the heat of the summer. Here are some of these crops:

  • Carrots*
  • Cilantro
  • Lettuce*
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes*
  • Spinach*

Crops with an * can be grown in the fall when the temperature is cooler. These crops also mature fairly quickly or they can tolerate a light freeze; they should be planted a little bit later to avoid the summer heat. They will still come to harvest in the fall.

Onions need to be planted early in the spring because their ability to form the onion bulb depends on the length of daylight. The longest days are coming up too quickly for onion transplants to mature properly. Save onions for next year, or plant the transplants and harvest them young, as scallions/green onions. 

Plant These Heat-Loving Crops Now

These crops love the heat of summer and it's actually just about the right time to get these crops in the ground. Some you can start from seed, some from transplants. 

  • Basil
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Dill
  • Eggplant
  • Okra
  • Peppers
  • Summer Squash
  • Sweet Potato
  • Tomato
  • Winter Squash (although some varieties may take too long time to mature - check the seed packet) 

Use Transplants to Get a Head Start

Transplants, or starter plants, are a great way to optimize your time when planting later than ideal. The following crops grow well when started from transplants:

  • Basil
  • Eggplants
  • Parsley (and other herbs) 
  • Peppers
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Tomatoes

You might also be able to find transplants for squash plants like yellow squash, zucchini, cucumber, and melons.

Don't delay! Garden centers don't keep a lot of vegetable transplants in stock, and sometimes the transplants that arrived in the early spring are looking half dead by now. You may not be able to find many different varieties of transplants, so you'll have to be flexible. 

Plant These Crops From Seed

Some crops do better when planted from seed. You can still plant these crops now, in late spring, and enjoy a good harvest in late summer to early fall.

  • Beans (bush beans or pole beans)
  • Cucumbers
  • Melons (although some melon varieties take a long time to mature - check your seed packet)
  • Summer Squash (zucchini, patty pan, yellow squash)
  • Winter squash (some varieties)

Crops That Grow All Season

A few crops grow no matter when they are planted - they can tolerate the heat of summer and can survive the cool of spring and fall. They make good choices for the late-spring garden:

  • Beets
  • Bunching Onions (green onions, from seed)
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Swiss Chard
  • Turnip

Don't Forget About Flowers!

Maybe you don't like the suggested crops above. Or maybe the transplants are too expensive. 

You can always put in some flowers! Many flowers bloom quickly and do well in the hot weather and full sun. Not only will you have beautiful bouquets, you will provide a food source for pollinator insects. 

You can start these from transplants or from seed. Here are some suggestions:

  • Borage (which is also an herb)
  • Calendula
  • Celosia
  • Cosmos
  • Globe Amaranth
  • Marigold
  • Nasturtium (which are also edible)
  • Sunflower (there are large and small varieties)
  • Zinnia

Even if you can't plant your ideal garden this year, I urge you to get started and grow a garden. Just do it!

A vegetable garden returns so much more than a harvest - it enhances quality of life and it provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction unrivaled by many other pursuits.

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