What to Do When You Miss Your Planting Date

A big concern for beginner gardeners is what if you miss your planting dates? To those just learning, growing vegetables and herbs successfully does require being mindful of a timetable. Some plants thrive in cooler weather, and other prefer the heat of summer. Some take several months to mature, while others are ready to eat in just 30 days from the time you planted seeds.

Planting dates are always an approximation. For example, everyone says “Plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day,” but the truth is that you have some leeway in all of your planting dates.

In garden planting language, “May 1” really means “the first week of May. Or, for you, it might mean that if you know you aren’t going to be home on May 1 then you can try to plant the seeds or young plants in question on, say, April 27.

And of course, the planting dates change depending on the area of the world where you live, and when the expected frost and thaw dates are for that region.

For these reasons, it’s pretty difficult to go hunting for planting information online and find cohesive answers across the board.

You could Google “when to plant broccoli” and find six different answers because each person who shared the info lived in a different part of the world than the next. Or maybe they conveyed “April 15” as “the second week in April” which of course would confuse anyone who is just learning how to grow garden vegetables.

GardenBedsNJ.com has created a gardening e-guide that contains suggested dates for when to plant certain vegetables in New Jersey Zone 6.

The guide is 95 pages long and includes a calendar from March to November that will remind you which veggies to plant on which dates.

The guide also contains an Encyclopedia of Veggies, Herbs and Companion Flowers, each of which contains the spring, summer, and/or fall dates that you can direct-sow or transplant a specific plant.

So in other words, in our NJ gardening e-guide, you can look up what you need to know by date, or by plant name.

This is pretty handy information to have, and it actually helped me learn a lot as I was researching and writing it.

But people who read the guide, or any garden planting advice, must remember that the planting dates are really just an approximation, meant to give you a general idea.

The first factor to consider when planting, is the ground and whether it has thawed or not.

Suppose you’ve had an unseasonably cold winter? Well, if the instructions say “Plant peas on March 15” but your garden is frozen solid, then guess what? You’re not planting peas until you can get a shovel into the ground.

The next factor to consider is whether you are starting seeds indoors, or if you’re going to transplant small plants that you purchased or grew from seed already.

Here in NJ, a tomato plant that is seeded outdoors, on May 15, will grow… but unfortunately it will not have enough time to mature and bear fruit before the cooler nights of August and September slow the plant’s production.

This means that if you want to sow tomato seeds, you must start the plants indoors probably in February or March. And if you want tomatoes but you failed to put young plants in by May 15, then you’d better get going before the month ends. And you should also choose larger tomato plants that were started earlier, which also have a short amount of days to maturity.

For example, “Early girl” tomato plants might be able to yield some fruits for you even if you don’t get your plants in by the deadline. But a slow-maturing heirloom variety of tomato may not produce anything if the plant is still too young and you haven’t gotten it into the ground by May 15.

(Do you see how complicated gardening can be?)

We do not cover indoor seeding in our NJ Gardening Guide. But we did want to make it a little easier for new gardeners to know when to plant what. So we included dates, which are supposed to be an approximation, for every plant that you intend to either direct-sow in your garden beds, or transplant from pots to outside.

The third factor to keep in mind is your availability. Tiny seedlings that live under grow lights in your basement are going to need you around to water and tend them every day. Direct-sown seeds that are out in the garden have the sun and the rain to rely on, but they still do require you to mind them and keep the seedlings moist. Young transplants, too, should be watched, and watered frequently, until the root systems are well established. All of your plants will require fertilizing from time to time.

Thus, if you know that you’d like to plant some hot-weather veggies like tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and eggplant on May 15 but you also have plans to be out of town that day, then what will you do?

Consider how warm or cool it’s been, and consult the weather forecast. If the temperature has reached the 70s for a few weeks or so, then your garden will probably survive just fine even if you plant on the first week of May and not the second. In fact, we did this last year, and everything went great. If it’s unseasonably cold, and there is frost expected for the next few nights, then wait until the third week of May to get your young plants into the garden beds.

Gardening requires common sense. Imagine everything in nature and how a plant might seed itself. Biology is not going to take place until all the right conditions are met. It also involves taking chances. The weather is unpredictable and the seasons don’t always arrive on time.

Use the provided dates in our Complete Beginner’s Guide to Organic Gardening in NJ Zone 6 as a general guideline. Then be observant, and apply your own judgment. Take action when it makes sense. Get to know each plant.

A great example of learning as you go: some years ago we got Brussels sprouts plants from friends who have a family greenhouse. Excited, I planted them, and over the course of a few months they began to grow quite large and take up a lot of space in the garden. However, we didn’t have a lot of space to spare.

So, I pulled the Brussels sprouts plants. They were sacrificed so that we could grow other things like peppers, that held more appeal for us.

I found out later that Brussels sprouts require many months to mature, and that even if you plant in early spring you won’t get sprouts until the first frost of autumn. This is an example of understanding planting dates, and why it’s necessary to get a certain species into the ground by a certain time.

I also learned that a small family really only needs one Brussels sprout plant. So perhaps we will try our hand at Brussels sprouts again, in a different spot in our yard.

To sum it up: if you miss a planting date, you must assess the situation before deciding to plant anyway, or to grow something else with a later planting date instead.

Consider characteristics of the plant, the date that it is now, the current weather conditions, days to maturity for that specific plant, and of course, whether you’ll be available to plant and then care for the plant as it grows.

Again, it’s all about knowing each plant and what it needs.