6 Plants You Can Plant in the Early Spring

6 Plants You Can Plant in the Early Spring

It's hard to believe it's officially spring, y'all! And in my world, this is when things really start to pick up! I'm planning my garden, doubling checking that I have all the seeds AND making sure I get them started ON TIME! 

Then there's the garden prep, maintaining seedlings, and getting those Cool Season plant babies outside to the garden when they're ready. And THAT my friend, is exactly what I'm talking about today....

For me, planting out early means freeing up space inside! I have 100s of plants growing, and I have a lot more I need to start for the warm/hot season. So, I need to get some of these cool season babies outside to make room for the next round of seedlings.

Additionally, since we have a shorter growing season up here in SW Michigan AND we have a super short spring, I want to maximize our cooler weather. 

If I wait too long to get some of these plants in the ground, they'll bolt (or flower and go to seed) the minute they sense the "hot" weather coming. There are some plants that are super susceptible to bolting, and I'll mention those below.

BUT, before I launch into those plants, let's define a few terms and parameters (the fun part, right?)

1. Know Your Local Temps

Clearly gardening is a very local activity - meaning, your specific locale will determine when exactly you start your plants indoors (if you choose to do so) and when you'll transplant or sow them outdoors.

AND what's suggested in one area of your state (or even your city) might not be suggested for YOUR area. This is where gardening becomes very nuanced and only time, practice, and experience will teach you what works (and what doesn't).

But, for the sake of being general, I'm talking about the plants you can generally plant outdoors BEFORE YOUR LAST FROST DATE. If you don't know what your last frost date is and why you should care... head over to this post and I'll give you all the details!

So, here's something interesting to note about how the cold affects these "frost tolerant" or "cold-hardy" plants I'm about to list out for you. The cold weather doesn't actually kill them, but simply stunts their growth.

According to Oregon State University, "for every rise of 18 degrees, growth rate doubles" WITHIN 40° to 98° Fahrenheit. So, when temperatures are below 40°, your plants will remain dormant (but not dead!) When temperatures rise about 40°, they'll wake up and start growing.

REGARDLESS, you should still have a general understanding of which plants are "frost-tolerant" and which are "cold-hardy". So, let's define these terms real quick.

2. Know Your Terms

In each of the six categories I list below, I'll differentiate which of the early spring plants (or fall, really) are considered "cold-hardy" and which are "semi-hardy". These terms ARE really important to know because not all "cool season" plants are the same. 

They may all handle being planted before your last frost date, BUT they have limits to what they can withstand (which is why we don't typically garden in the dead of winter).

"Cold-Hardy" Plants. These are plants that can withstand temperatures BELOW 28° Fahrenheit! That's cold!

"Semi-Hardy" Plants. Semi-hardy or "frost-tolerant" plants can withstand light frost and temperatures BETWEEN 28° and 32° Fahrenheit. For beets, spring market carrots and parsnips, the tops will die but the roots will tolerate lower temperatures.

3. Prepare & Defend

If you plant these cold- and semi-hardy plants out while there's still a risk of temperatures dipping below their tolerance level, there are some things you can do to give them a better chance of growing.

Layering. Adding layers of decomposing organic matter like compost, wet or moldy leaves, straw/hay, or even wood chips will insulate the soil surface and, therefore, the roots of your cold-hardy plants. This will also add more nutrients to the soil as these materials decompose further. Ideally, this is done in the fall or over the winter, but you can add layers to your gardens at any point before you plant into them.

Be sure and check out my videos on Building Your Soil and Lasagna Gardening to learn more about this type of layering system.

Defensive Measures. If some extra chilly days or nights occur, these defensive measures will prolong the life of your plants - and by "extra chilly", I mean temperatures below freezing.

  1. Keep the soil wet. Give your soil a good water right before the cold temps set in.
  2. Cover it. Pick up some frost cloths or even use an old bed sheet to cover your garden beds (and weigh it down). Protecting leaves from direct contact with frost will help extend their life and keep them warm-ER.
  3. Add extra mulch. If you have straw, wood chips, leaves, cardboard, black & white newspaper, or even an extra bag of soil sitting around, add some extra around your plants for insulation and protection.

All in all, these plants will generally do just fine in colder temps, but if an unexpected hard freeze sets in, having these measures in place can help.

OKAY, ARE YOU READY FOR THE LIST??? Let's dig into it....


Brassicas, or "Crucifers", include arugula, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustards, radishes, rutabaga, and turnips. Now some of these obviously fall in the ROOT category as well, so just be aware of that when they're mentioned later.

I consider this group of plants the 'HEAVY WEIGHTS" of the spring or cool season garden, especially your bigger plants like cabbage, cauliflower, collards, mustards, Brussels, Kale, and Broccoli. 

These plants will take up one foot of square space or more in your garden and generally need to be started indoors at least 3 to 4 weeks BEFORE planting them out in the garden. This will give them plenty of time to mature AND a better chance of surviving a hard frost.

Your "cold-hardy" Brassicas include arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, mustards, radishes, rutabaga, and turnips.

Your "semi-hardy" Brassicas include beets, chard, Chinese cabbage, and cauliflower. Note that for beets, the tops will die but the roots will tolerate lower temperatures. 

2. Roots

Roots range through a couple plant families including Brassicaceae, Apiaceae, Amaryllidaceae, and Solanaceace. Pretty much any plant whose roots you eat, fall in this category.

Almost all roots can handle the cold, but you still want to note the differences between the cold-hardy and semi-hardy plants.

Your "cold-hardy" roots include garlic, kohlrabi, leeks, radishes, rutabaga, turnips, and Walla Walla sweet onions. 

Your "semi-hardy" roots include beets, spring market carrots and parsnips. Note that for beets and spring market carrots, the tops will die but the roots will tolerate lower temperatures.

NOTE: Potatoes and onions can be planted before your last frost date, but prefer a bit warmer temperatures than the above root crops. So, let's break those down.

  • Onion seeds germinate at temperatures above 40°F with the optimum soil temperature being 75°Fahrenheit. If seeds are planted too early, cooler air and soil temperatures will delay germination and emergence, causing seedling growth to slow. 
    • I do not recommend directly seeding onions outside!  I recommend either starting onion seeds indoors in a bunching method OR buying onion sets and putting those directly into the ground once temperatures are above 25° Fahrenheit. They can survive temperatures as low as 20 degrees, but only for ~4 hours or less.
  • Potatoes are a cool season crop and ideal temperatures for crop growth are 65 to 80 during the day and 55 to 65 at night. You can plant potatoes when soil temperatures are above 45 F, which would be late March to early April up here in SW Michigan. AGAIN... they won't die if you plant them too early - their growth will just be stunted until it warms up to their liking.

3. Leafy Greens

In my book, leafy greens are just that - "leafy" and "green" 😉. These can include kales, chard, lettuces, spinach, arugula, and more. Obviously, there is a cross-over here among the categories I've listed, but it bears repeating.

Most of these greens, especially kale, can handle a light frost, which would put them in the semi-hardy list, but you would be surprised how many can handle the colder temps. In the case of kale, the frost can actually sweeten its flavor a bit. So don't be afraid to get your kales out early!

I have also had particular success with Buttercrunch lettuce varieties. I've got outside after a really heavy snow and found my uncovered Buttercrunch plants looking quite perfect! 

When in doubt though, throw a frost cover or a sheet over your greens if you have them.

Your "cold-hardy" leafy greens include spinach, kale, chard, mustards, collards, and chicory.

Your "semi-hardy" leafy greens include endive, lettuces (particularly romaine and butterhead varieties), and radicchio.

4. Legumes

Legumes include beans and peas, but not all legumes are tolerant of cold weather. In fact, with the exception of the fava bean, you do not want to plant your beans when there is any sign of frost! They are very tender plants and very much affected by cold temperatures.

Peas, on the other hand, like the cool weather and thrive with cooler temperatures. Peas are also some of the first seeds you can plant once the snow melts away! But again, there are only a few that can withstand a "hard freeze".

A few light frosts, or even a blanket of snow — which can actually protect the plants — will not damage pea plants. A hard freeze, however, can kill the seedlings and flower buds.

Your "cold-hardy" legumes include fava beans and Austrian winter peas.

Your "semi-hardy" legumes include most other pea varieties. 

5. Frost-Tolerant Herbs

Believe it or not, there are some herbs you can plant in the early spring! Actually, most of these herbs overwinter quite well and will show up in the spring once the temperatures begin to rise.

Planting new herbs in the spring is a bit different than overwintering herbs, whose roots are quite established. With the exception of parsley, chives and cilantro, I do suggest waiting to plant herb seedlings until the temperatures are above 40° Fahrenheit or until they become a more-established plant.

6. "Other" Plants

There are a few other plants that do quite well in the early spring, and that is asparagus, celery and rhubarb. Asparagus and rhubarb can pretty much be planted once the ground is workable in the spring and will emerge once they're ready.

Celery can be a bit finicky as seed, but will transplant nicely into the early spring garden bed as a seedling. I still recommend covering your celery seedlings with a frost cloth when there is a chance of frost, but the cold temperatures should not affect them negatively, unless they are weak and undernourished.


Can you believe there are so many options for planting BEFORE your last frost date??? 

This is why I created the Early Spring Garden Guidebook - Eat Fresh Food from Your Garden in One Month! I wanted to inspire you to get out there and start growing your own food ASAP, because it's totally worth it!

And what's even more amazing about the early spring garden is that most of these plants are ready within 30-50 days! Which means, you can be eating from your garden in ONE MONTH! How amazing is that???

So, if you're curious and you really want too give this a go, I HIGHLY recommend you purchasing my Early Spring Garden Guidebook!

It will walk you step-by-step through everything you need to do to get your garden beds ready and which plants you can successfully grow. Plus, there are some fun early spring recipes in there for you to try once your harvests come in!

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