- Author: Margaret J O'Neill
Vegetables are grouped into warm and cool season varieties and there are a number of factors that decide if a plant is a cool or warm season type. Cool season vegetables are ones that do well with cooler soil temperatures and shorter, cooler days. The parts of the plant that we eat during the cool season are leaves, stems, roots, and immature flower heads. These parts of the plants are full of vitamins and minerals and are often more nutritious than warm season vegetables. The plants we put in our summer veggie garden (warm season vegetables) enjoy warmer soil temperatures, and like or at least tolerate the long hot days of summer. Most of the things we harvest from our edible garden at that time of year are fruits and are super delicious, but not quite as nutritious as our winter harvest (a great reason to try both a warm and cool season garden in Southern California where the climate is great for growing year round in the valleys and even some parts of the desert and mountains).
Timing your summer, or warm season, edibles can be a little tricky because we never know if we are going to have a cool or hot spring….or like this year both all in the same day! As gardeners, we follow local planting guides, and then we also just have to be prepared to provide frost protection for our fragile warm season vegetables if it gets too cold, or shade cloth if the temperatures get too high for your new transplants. Here are a few other tips for planning your warm season garden:
1) When planting seeds, work backwards! Think about what time of the year is best for those plants to go into the ground, and then figure out how long it will take them to sprout and then grow another 4 to 6 weeks. That will let you know when it's a good time to plant your seeds.
2) If you are trying to get another cool season crop in this spring then you should do some quick calculating! Figure out how long it's going to be from planting to harvesting and then work backwards. So, for example, if you want to harvest broccoli, and it will start bolting (going to flower) when it gets too warm, you want to plant it with enough time to grow and mature before our warm season comes (which is a little hard to predict, but generally is around May). With that in mind, usually a second broccoli crop needs to be planted around February. Another example is lettuce, which will also bolt if it gets too warm. Lettuce can be grown a little later in the season if we have a cool spring, and some early harvest varieties can be ready in 4 to 6 weeks. So, the last lettuce crop can usually be planted around the beginning or middle of April and can be harvested before the heat arrives. If you'd like to try to fit in more than one cool season crop a season, look for early harvest varieties so that they can mature before it gets too warm. That idea can also be used for summer crops if you live in an area with reallllly hot summers. You can look for an early harvest variety of your warm season crop, like tomatoes, so that you can harvest before it's too hot.
3) While nature throws us lots of variable weather if you are prepared with frost protection ideas ( or shade cloth) you can provide some protection to your fruits and vegetables during spring and fall when we are in our transition seasons.
4) Planted seeds to early? First, take note for next year, so you can adjust your planting….and two….that's just part of gardening and learning your area…..so don't give up! Sometimes we plant at the right time, but we get a late frost or early heat and it affects our planting plans. If you have tomatoes that are too tall, plant them a little deep, and for your other vegetables you can reach out to the Master Gardener helpline with photos and we can help you make the best of your plantings.
Growing vegetables can be a frustrating and exciting adventure!! There are lots of challenges, but remember it's done literally every day of the year around the world….and you can do it too!! If your out in your garden and facing challenges or have questions don't forget that the Master Gardener helpline is here for you day or night, so send your emails with your photos and we can help you troubleshoot all aspects of gardening, from planting to watering to fertilizing and harvesting….and the only silly question is the one you don't ask!!