Our abnormal spring temperatures have many folks antsy to begin gardening, but remember that we could still get freezing temperatures. How early you can plant depends upon the hardiness of the vegetables and the date of our last spring frost. Our average frost-free date is April 22 with the actual frost-free date varies 2 weeks or more in either direction.
Vegetables are classified as very hardy, frost-tolerant, tender, and warm loving, according to their ability to withstand freezes, cold temperatures, or heat. We usually put vegetables into two main groups: cool-season and warm-season.
Very hardy and frost-tolerant vegetables are considered cool-season vegetables. These are for early spring planting and are usually already planted by now. Very hardy vegetables withstand freezing temperatures and hard frosts without injury and are usually planted between March 25 and April 10. Very hardy vegetables include onions, peas, potato, turnip, broccoli, and rhubarb. Frost-tolerant vegetables are typically planted from April 10 –25 and can withstand light frosts. These include beet, carrot, radish, and cauliflower.
Warm-season vegetables are for late spring planting and are either tender or warm loving. Tender vegetables are typically planted between April 25 and May 10. They are injured or killed by frost, and their seeds do not germinate well in cold soil. These vegetables include snap beans, sweet corn, squash, and tomato. Warm-loving vegetables are intolerant of frost and cold and are typically planted between May 10 and June 1. These include lima beans, cucumber, muskmelon, okra, pumpkin, watermelon, squash, eggplant, and pepper.
University of Illinois Extension has many resources available to help you garden. Our vegetable gardening website is found at http://extension.illinois.edu/veggies/. The Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest publication discusses how to grow more than 40 vegetables and 35 herbs and is available at your local Extension office or at https://pubsplus.illinois.edu.
Or, you can view our Four Seasons Gardening webinar Growing Vegetables for Beginners, in which Horticulture Educator Jennifer Fishburn shares tips for successfully growing vegetables in a small space. The program is presented live for live home viewing on April 18 at 1:30 p.m. and again on April 20 at 6:30 p.m. Following the session, a taped version is available on YouTube. Registration and YouTube information are found at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hmrs/4seasons.
Whether you have a large garden or just a couple tomato plants, be sure to share it with the whole family. Some of my fondest childhood memories include feeling the cool soil between bare toes while I helped my dad plant our garden. Gardening provides healthy outdoor exercise in addition to good food.