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Where to Start - Gardening Basics

I was recently talking to a friend looking to start a vegetable garden for the first time. I started talking about gardening zones and frost dates and totally lost them. Before you start gardening - flower or vegetable - you need to know your garden zone and frost dates. This will determine when you can safely plant and what you can plant. 

Use the USDA map HERE to find your gardening zone. For example my gardening zone is 7a. When I purchase any plants I can look on the label and see if my zone is listed.
For things like summer vegetable gardens this is less important since these items are generally annuals (live only one year) and are replanted the next year. But for plants that return every year on their own (perennials) this is very important. If they don't thrive in that zone then cold winters and/or hot dry summers can kill the plants. 

You also need to know the frost dates in your area. Those can be found HERE. Some plants can survive a frost. But things like tomatoes and squash cannot. These either need to be started indoors and transplanted or purchased from a nursery and planted outside after the fear of frost has passed.

Using those two sites can help you find a lot of essential information to help you succeed when gardening.

For example using those 2 sites and my zipcode I now know-
My last spring frost date: May 1st
My first fall frost date: Oct 3rd
Gardening Zone: 7a
Growing season length: 154 days

Using this information combined with the info on a seed packet you can confidently plan out your garden.

You can use create a gardening log to help you keep all the information straight. Since my growing season is longer than any of my plants require to mature I could actually start them all from seed straight in the garden if I would like.

Having this information ahead of time lets you visually see what you can grow and what you would need to start ahead of time. It also helps you calculate how much area you will need to grow the varieties of plants and flowers you are interested in.


 You want to make sure there is enough time before the fall freeze to harvest your garden. For me the items that take the longest to mature are pumpkins. As long as they were started right after the last spring frost I would be fine to start them by seed directly in the garden. They take 110 days to mature and I have on average a 154 day growing season.

I know for me I tend to be itching to grow anything green after a long winter and love to give my plants a little head start by starting them indoors about a month before I can transplant them to the garden. This allows me to have a longer growing season and I can start a second crop directly in the garden a few weeks after my freeze date to make sure I have a continual harvest all summer.

You can easily start a lot of seeds indoors. As a general rule of thumb however you want to avoid starting any root crops indoors - carrots, potatoes, peas, radishes - these are easily disturbed during transplanting.

During these crazy times of Covid-19 I like to look for a silver lining. One of my gardening groups on Facebook yesterday reported that they had over 700 new members! That is over 700 people taking a moment to think about slowing their lives down during this times of social distancing and getting a little more in touch with nature. Getting their hands in some dirt and planting some tiny seeds.


If you want to try growing something even if it is just in a small pot or bucket on your patio or in a windowsill I encourage you to try it! Two seed companies that I love also have great resources on their sites that I will link here.

Johnny's Select Seeds Growers Library

Gurney's Seed and Nursery Blog

I hope this helps! If you have a question drop it below!

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