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Know Your Garden Growing Season

Onions, lettuce, and tomatoes in late spring

Once you have decided on a site for your garden, it will be time to decide what to grow. Every garden is situated in a climate and more specifically a microclimate. Where you live will play it big part in what you grow and when you grow it. Not all vegetables do well in every region or in every garden.

How to know your growing season

Learn about the climate and weather in your area including the temperature highs and lows throughout the year. How many days of frost or freezing weather do you get each year where you live? What are the average date of the last frost in spring and the first frost in autumn? Between the last frost in spring and the first frost in autumn, each year fall the number of frost-free growing days—also called the growing season. See also: Average Date of the Last Frost and Days in the Growing Season.

Spring, summer, and fall

In most regions of the temperate—not tropical—world, the growing season starts with cool weather in spring which turns to warm and hot weather during the summer, and then returns to cool weather again in fall.

You can start the growing season with cool-weather crops in spring. Follow spring cool-weather crops with summer warm-weather crops. In mid to late summer, you can plant cool-weather crops again for harvest in autumn before winter arrives.

Beds with vegetables in the garden.

Reverse season growing

In some regions winters are not cold—they are mild. In mild and warm winter regions, many vegetables grow best during the winter because the summers are too hot. These regions—much of Florida, southern California, and parts of the Gulf Coast and Southwest–are sometimes called reverse season climates. You can grow vegetables outdoors in the winter in reverse season climates.

Cooperative extension and weather service

You can get more specific information for your location by contacting the weather service or state college cooperative agricultural extension near you. They can tell you the average date of the last frost in spring and the average date of the first frost in autumn. Mark each date on your calendar. The number of days in between is the growing season where you live.

Cucumbers in the garden
Cucumbers grow in the early summer garden.

A few growing season examples

Here are a few examples of average last and first frost dates and growing season length in the United States:

East Coast:

CityAverage last frostAverage first frostDays in season
Jackman, MaineMay 29Sep 19112
Providence, RIApr 19Oct 19182
Charlotte, NCApr 11Oct 28199
Jacksonville, FLFeb 17Dec 10295

West Coast:

CityAverage last frostAverage first frostDays in season
Spokane, WAMay 10Oct 4146
Portland, ORMar 11Nov 22255
Sacramento, CAFeb 21Nov 26277
San Diegoinfrequentinfrequent365

Mid-Southern:

CityAverage last frostAverage first frostDays in season
Atlanta, GAMar 29Nov 13228
Shreveport, LAMar 16Nov 14242
Dallas, TXMar 12Nov 22254
Roswell, NMApr 10Oct 29201

Mid-Northern

CityAverage last frostAverage first frostDays in season
Fort Wayne, INMay 1Oct 9160
Cairo, ILApr 10Oct 26198
Omaha, NEApr 27Oct 5160
Denver, COMay 4Oct 5153
Plastic tunnel in garden
Extend the growing season in spring and autumn with a plastic tunnel.

Extending your growing season

Mother Nature does not have to have the final word on your growing season. You can extend the growing season where you live by growing vegetables under plastic tunnels, in greenhouses, or in the house. Even in the coldest regions, you can grow vegetables all year long.

Ready to grow

Once you become familiar with the number of days in your growing season and when to expect the last frost in spring and the first frost in fall, you will be able to plan when to plant and when to harvest. With the number of days to maturity required by each crop, you will be able to plan how many plantings and harvests you can fit into your natural growing season. And if you decide you want to be a year-round vegetable gardener you will be able to plan when to protect your winter crops.

See our next posts for warm-season and cool-season crop lists.

Related Articles Include:

Starting Your Organic Vegetable Garden

What Every Vegetable Garden Needs

How Big Should Your Vegetable Garden Be?

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

How To Grow Tips

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How To Grow Peppers

How To Grow Broccoli

How To Grow Carrots

How To Grow Beans

How To Grow Corn

How To Grow Peas

How To Grow Lettuce

How To Grow Cucumbers

How To Grow Zucchini and Summer Squash

How To Grow Onions

How To Grow Potatoes

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How Big Should Your Vegetable Garden Be?

Cool-season butterhead lettuce

Planting Cool-Season Crops