- GrowNYC Education
Spring Planting 101
Are you wondering when you can start planting outside? If you have to start your seeds indoors and when to do that? Or what plants to plant in New York? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions then this is your post!
New York City is in USDA growing zone 7b and the approximate growing season is April 1-November 15. The first thing we need to keep in mind when we start to either purchase plant starters or start to germinate our own seeds is the last frost date. This date is going to be very important for the well being of your plants. If you plant your vegetables or flowers too early you are risking complete decimation of your crops if a hard freeze happens. No one can predict with complete certainty when the last frost date will happen, but in NYC it is usually estimated to occur April 6th to April 21st. After April 21st, there is a slim chance of getting a frost. To be very certain, May 7th is the day where there will 100% not be a frost until October.
Although not all plants can survive a frost, some can. These plants can be purchased and planted in April as long as your soil is not frozen. Decorative plants like Hellebores, Pansies, Hostas, Heucheras, and frost tolerant crops like spinach, kale, beets, peas and carrots, and assorted evergreen trees and shrubs can all be planted a little earlier than the last frost date and will survive. If you see the weather is predicting a hard frost and you've already planted, you can cover the soil around your plants with row cover, plastic sheeting, or burlap to protect them from freezing.
Here's a recap:
April 1-21: The ground is thawed and you can plant very frost tolerant seeds or seedlings such as spinach, kale, peas, cabbage, carrots, beets, shrubs, and very hardy landscaping flowers. Watch the weather reports for frost and protect your plants with row cover at night as needed.
April 21-May 7: Slight chance of frost. You can still plant frost-tolerant plants.
May 7: Danger of frost has passed! You can plant anything.
Garden Bed Prep
We have another post on how to prepare your garden beds for a new spring growing season by replenishing it with compost!
Direct Seed vs. Seedlings
Direct seeding means placing your seeds where you want them outside so they germinate directly in the ground. Direct seeding is common for quick growing plants like leafy greens, radishes, herbs, and flowers and for crops with delicate root systems such as peas, beans, and root vegetables. We have another post about our Teaching Garden doing Direct Seeding.
Seedlings or Plant Starts are plants that have been started from seed indoors in little containers and will be transplanted to another growing location to mature. Plants like tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplants take a long time to mature and produce fruit (over 4 months). They are not frost tolerant and the warm growing season in NYC is too short to start them from seed outdoors in May. They need to be started indoors during March or April and then transplanted outdoors in May so they have a head start on the growing season and have enough time to mature and produce lots of fruit and veggies. You can do your own seed starting or purchase plant starts from a nursery.
Indoor Seed Starting
If you decide to germinate your own seeds indoors, we have a Seed Starting Guide and a Seed Starting Virtual Workshop for more in-depth information. It is important to plan out your growing schedule, or else you might risk your house getting full of semi mature outdoor plants with nowhere to go. If you start your seeds too early, your seeds are going to get too big for their pots and start to get stunted. Some other tips when seed starting indoors is to have good lighting with lots of sun or strong grow lights, warm indoor temperatures (some people purchase warm seed starting mats), and to harden them off for two weeks before planting them outside by acclimating them slowly to the outdoors.
Overall, there are a few things to keep in mind for maximum seed, plant, and garden success during early spring, but the benefits of planning it out are immense.
Below are crop planning calendars you can use to help you plan your growing season in NYC! They have information on which plants can be directly seeded, which plants are frost tolerant or not, and when to plant crops outdoors:
Happy spring growing!