Spring, I anxiously await its arrival every year. After a long winter season stuck indoors, fighting with frozen water, and trying to keep the flock alive, it’s a welcome relief.
While stuck inside during the cold, winter months I often plan our garden. And, of course, the spring garden is the first of those plans. Some vegetables just grow better during the cool, spring days and don’t do very well in the heat of the summer months. These are the vegetables that I often start indoors this time of year, transplant just when the ground begins thawing and enjoy as some of the first delicious fresh produce from our own backyard.
I also think the spring garden is the best garden because it’s the first time we get to play in the dirt! I love, love the smell of fresh dirt after a spring rain. It’s intoxicating. Going out into the garden just after a nice, soaking rain is one of my favorite things to do. To enjoy the smell of the wet soil and see the beautiful plants sprouting from the earth that my two hands grew… awesome.
These vegetables do best with cooler days and can withstand a nip of frost. That doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean that they can be frozen and still survive. If you have already put your plants outdoors and anticipate a freak cold snap (because we all know those happen), you need to be prepared with something to protect your plants. Frost blankets are a great thing to have on hand for instances like that, an alternative is a sheet. You just need something to keep the extreme cold off a little. Remove the cover in the morning and let them do their thing again. And pray it doesn’t freeze too many days.
Of course, if you are gardening in a warmer zone, these vegetables probably are what you have in your garden right now. Sorry, we northerners just don’t have the growing season you do! But, they’re all easy to grow, cold-hardy, and even taste more flavorful when they get just a bit of frost on them. Let’s get to it.
10 Spring Garden Vegetables You Need to Plant
Lettuce… it’s just not the same at the store. Growing lettuce is easy, but it doesn’t like heat, so lettuce is often at the top of my spring garden checklist. We eat it frequently in the spring for fresh salads, wraps, or to throw in a pan and wilt.
Probably one of the lesser cold-hardy spring veggies, it will need cover if you anticipate any cold snaps. I begin mine indoors about 6 weeks before the last anticipated frost and transplant outdoors as soon as the soil is workable and daytime temps are regularly 60 degrees.
Lettuce doesn’t care much for full-sun, especially in the warmer late spring days, so it can be planted in partial shade (great for us, actually). To get the most out of your harvest, stagger starting and planting by a week or two so that you continue having a fresh crop without wasting and allowing it to bolt.
I love growing peas. I enjoy them fresh from the garden, and their full pods sautéed in a stir fry, or even by themselves. They also have some beautiful flowers, which aren’t plentiful in most spring vegetable garden crops (most are leafy greens).
Everyone always says to direct sow peas, but I don’t. I actually start my peas indoors about 6 weeks before the last anticipated frost. Most varieties are pretty cold-hardy, can handle late snow or two, and temperatures down to 25 degrees upon occasion.
Peas can be transplanted outside fairly early, as long as the soil is workable and temperatures are 40 or above. They enjoy well-drained soil and quite a bit of sun.
In our first house, we had a patch of wild onions that grew like wildfire every single year. Back then, I didn’t garden, but I loved the aroma of the greens if I cut them off. And they tasted absolutely delectable.
Onions are always the first crop I start indoors every single year. Right around the first part of February, I sow seeds in containers and allow them to do their thing indoors for several weeks. I really like getting my hands in the dirt when we have temps forty below zero as we do right now. It’s like therapy.
Whether you start your own, buy sets, or have bulbs you’ll want to put them in the ground as soon as the soil is workable. They can handle the cold. Most of us northern gardeners use long-day varieties, but you can check your seed variety to see where your selection will perform best before purchasing.
4. Swiss Chard
I have a confession. I had no idea what Swiss chard was until well into adulthood. And, well, I was missing out. Reminiscent of spinach, but with a bit more spice to it, Swiss chard is probably one of my favorite spring crops to grow. It provides prolific amounts of delicious leaves that we cut off and allow them to grow back up again. It’s also very pretty. I love sautéing it in just a bit of butter and letting it wilt just a tad. Mmmmmm.
Because I really enjoy starting seeds indoors, I usually start my Swiss chard inside. It does not have to be, however. If you choose to direct sow, you’ll want to plant seeds about 2 to 3 weeks before the last anticipated frost. You can thin the seedlings after they’re a few inches high, and water regularly. If you want to start inside, just four weeks before the last frost is the general consensus. It’s one of the last things I start, but I like watching things sprout in the living room. I’m odd.
It’s super, super easy to grow, and incredibly prolific. Have fun with this one.
I didn’t know what Swiss chard was until adulthood, and my husband swore he hated cabbage until he had mine. Cabbage is another favorite of mine. I’m not a fan of the fact it smells up the house when cooked, but it makes a great side dish, and it makes delicious coleslaw and sauerkraut so, it’s a keeper. If only I could keep the cabbage worms off of the heads.
Cabbage seeds can be started inside about 6 to 8 weeks before the last anticipated frost. You can transplant them out into the garden about 2 weeks before the last anticipated frost.
Cabbage requires quite a bit of nutrient-dense soil, so make sure your soil is healthy and regularly fertilize it using natural, organic methods. They also like the soil to stay fairly moist. Learning about companion planting is helpful in these cases.
I like to go for the red varieties of cabbage because I find the plants more beautiful and like to add some color to the garden, but they will all do well.
Oh, the miniature trees. My kids will eat broccoli as long as it is roasted in the oven with olive oil, sea salt, and garlic. If not, they tend to stick up their noses at it. Meh… they’re missing out. A fresh floret of broccoli dipped in some homemade ranch dip is my kinda treat. But, I digress.
Broccoli is probably the vegetable that gives me the most problems in our garden. It’s a really heavy feeder. But, I try and usually get a bit every year. You can start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last anticipated frost and transplant them outdoors 2 weeks before that date or you can direct sow them about a month before the last anticipated frost.
Broccoli likes it on the warmer side of cool around 65 to 80 degrees. Too cold, it doesn’t grow, too hot, it will bolt. It needs to be fertilized every few weeks with a low-nitrogen organic fertilizer or extra compost or manure since it’s such a heavy feeder.
Kale is one of those things that you either love or you hate. It tastes best when the leaves are tender and grown fairly rapidly. If they grow slowly, they just don’t have a very appetizing flavor.
You can direct sow it in the garden about 4 weeks before the last anticipated frost. It doesn’t withstand hard freezes, so you’ll want to make sure you have frost blankets or something similar available in case of a cold snap while it grows.
Kale will result in the best, tender tasty leaves if it’s grown in very fertile, very well-drained soil. So, plan the spot for it accordingly.
Another veggie I never had until adulthood, but I had at least heard of. I really enjoy pickled beets, and I think their color is stunning. This is a vegetable that you’ll want to be mindful of not only the soil type and drainage, but the fertilizer you put on. Like most root veggies, if you’re not careful, top growth will be prolific and you won’t get much root growth in contrast. While beet greens are fine, I prefer the root.
Beets can be direct sown in sandy, well-drained soil as soon as the soil is workable. Try to keep the soil evenly moist and the weeds to a minimum so they’re not competing for nutrition.
Ahhh… my second favorite root crop. Carrots. I really love the colorful heirloom varieties. I enjoy watching the tops pop up and waiting to harvest a beautiful root. They do require pretty loose, sandy soil in order to produce a good root.
Growing carrots is easy and they can be directly sown outdoors about 2 weeks before the last anticipated frost. Keep them thinned out once the tops start to reach about 2 inches tall and keep around 2 inches between each plant. Keeping the area weed-free and avoiding nitrogen is helpful to growing the best crop as well.
If the tops of carrots are showing, you can cover them with some mulch. This will keep the root from getting a bitter taste.
Last but not least, my favorite root crop. Potatoes. There are so many varieties and so many different ways to enjoy this delicious crop. I wish we could just plant fields upon fields of them.
We grow our potatoes in containers and just pile dirt up on top of them as the tubers grow. Some people put them in gardens and mound them. Whatever works for you. Potatoes are generally planted when the grass begins greening up.
You’ll simply take cut potato pieces that have a couple of eyes each and put them in well-drained, loose fertile soil. As the tubers begin growing, add more soil on top. Easy peasy.
There are tons of vegetables you can put in your spring garden. Celery, cauliflower, and mustard greens are some that come to mind that I didn’t list. We don’t eat much of these crops, so I don’t generally plan them for our garden. But, knowing what you and your family enjoy can help you plan out a beautiful, bountiful spring garden this year. I hope you have fun with it!