Gardening 101

Ask Hillary #1- Is it too late to start a garden?

Hello friends!

In the days since I’ve started this blog, I’ve received plenty of texts from friends and family asking questions about gardening. They’ve ranged from “WHAT THE HECK IS THIS?!” to “Is it dead? I think it’s dead.” to “How. Just…how?”

But a text from a friend yesterday, suggesting that I start an “Ask Hillary” column made me realize that if one person is asking questions about their garden, plenty of other people probably have the same questions! And so today begins Ask Hillary here at HomegrownHillary. Here’s today’s two part question from Kelsey:

My neighbor is really into gardening and she puts me to shame! (But also really motivates me!) I have a teeny tiny raised bed that I grew in last year but only cleaned up this year and just let whatever sprung up stay. But my neighbor encouraged me to still make use of it…. So my question for you: a) what can I still plant that’s not too late for the season? and b) suggestions on where to get good hardy seedlings without spending too much $? 

Great question, Kelsey! Lucky for you, the answer is A LOT!

Theres a term in the gardening world called “succession planting.” This means there’s a window of time in which you can plant a species, and if you plant a few seeds each week for successive weeks in that window, you can spread out your harvest. The alternative, which a lot of people mistake as the only way, is to plant all your, say, beans at the same time, and then have beans coming out of your ears by the middle of July.

You’ll be happy to know that there are still MANY plants that have their windows open for planting. You may not have planted things at the beginning of that window, but you can still get plenty of food! In fact, if you are careful, you can plant new seeds/seedlings from now until the first week of September and harvest the whole time! Here are some handy charts, courtesy of the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension:

To break this down, let’s look at the bottom chart with “carrots” at the top. There are two bold, vertical lines marked with a zero. These are the two benchmarks of the growing season, your frost dates (which I’ve talked about here if you need a refresher).

The little oval shape indicates when you can plant that as a seed, the little picture of a plant indicates if/when you need to plant your transplant (seedlings) outside, and the picture of a basket indicates when you can harvest. So with carrots, you can start planting seeds directly outside starting three weeks before your last spring frost and continue planting until 11 weeks before the first fall frost. Around this part of the country, our last spring frost date is about May 11th and the first fall frost is about October 1st. Currently, we’re on the six week mark after the last spring frost.

If the chart is making your eyes a little buggy, here’s a list of all the plants you can still grow at some point this year (but check the chart to see if you can plant them now or if you should wait a while longer and plant them for a fall harvest):

  • carrots
  • bush beans
  • cucumber
  • leaf lettuce
  • radishes
  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • beets
  • peas
  • summer squash

As to the second part of your question, where to buy good seedlings on the cheap, you’ve got a couple options. Your first option (and by far the cheapest) is to find a friend who got overexcited about buying plants and didn’t have enough room for all their seedlings. Offer some help weeding their veggie beds and they might call it even. 🙂

Realistically, you’ll likely have the best luck at a local nursery, farm, or farmer’s market. These guys know their stuff, grow veggies for a living, and likely live and give back to your community. Anything in the agriculture business is lots of work for little profit and requires lots of overhead, so if you can, find a company that’s been in the business a long time. It’s likely because they are really good at what they do, and their seedlings will start growing in your garden the first time you plant them. This is unlike other companies *cough* Walmart *cough* where I’ve found the seedlings are weak and die easily.

I’m not saying buying plants from big box stores will make you want to take bad, melancholic stock photos with their dead, plant corpses…
…but I’m not saying you won’t either.

Another route is to find seed or plant swaps. In this instance, you’re not as guaranteed to get quality plants, but they’ll definitely be cheap! I’m a member of several gardening groups on Facebook and see these types of swaps advertised regularly. Gardeners tend to be a very generous bunch too, so even if you’re not finding any swaps, you could start your own! I’m sure someone would love to take your iris bulbs, leftover pea seeds, or the onion set you bought by mistake in exchange for some of their plants.

Also, it’s too late now, but keep an eye out in the month of May for local plant sales (especially those put on by master gardener organizations) as these are also great places to get excellent seedlings.

Finally, if buying a six pack of cucumber seedlings at the local nursery isn’t in the budget, you can always focus on buying a whole pack of seeds and getting a lot more bang for your late-season buck. And realistically, when you look at the above charts and see what you can still plant this year, most of the veggies aren’t planted as transplants, but seeds!

So there you go! Ask Hillary #1 over and done. I hope that answered your questions, Kelsey!

What questions do YOU still have about gardening? You never know, it might show up as its own Ask Hillary someday!

One thought on “Ask Hillary #1- Is it too late to start a garden?

  1. I think gardeners old and young should learn how to use the USDA plant hardness zone chart on seed packages to know what can be planted and the time frame(s) to plant crops in your USDA hardness zone.
    University web sites and the US department of agricultural are also great places to get accurate and time planting, growing and harvesting hints and tips.
    Happy Gardening


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