University of Illinois Extension

Gardening FUNdamentals

When to Start Planting

Not everybody starts planting all on the same day. If you live in Illinois you might start planting some time in March or April. But if you live in Florida or Southern California you might be able to plant things all year round. So, what guides us in knowing when it's safe to start planting certain plants? The clue is called climate zones and it is based on frost-free dates for the area of the country or state where you live.

There is a frost-free date in the spring that tells you when it's safe to start planting tender vegetables or plants that do not like frost. There is also a first-frost date for fall that tells you when it's going to get too cold for a lot of things to grow well. The number of days between these two is called the growing season.

Some plants really like the cold and do well. Other plants are real warm weather lovers and don't even like a slight chill. With more experience, you'll soon get to know which plants like it cold and which ones like it warm.

Sample USDA Hardiness Zone Map

To find out the frost-free dates for your part of the country or state, visit a library, garden center or Extension office and look up or ask about the frost-free dates in your area. You may also see large maps with bright colors and numbers from 1 - 11 on them. These are hardiness zone maps. You'll see that zone 1 is the coldest (shortest growing season) up to zone 11 (longest growing season).

Another thing to keep in mind is that a date on the calendar does not always give you the green light to start gardening. Don't forget to always get to know your soil up close and personal by giving it the squeeze test. This will tell you when you can work your soil safely.

Alert: Making Pesticide Applications in School/Community Gardens

When to Start Planting
Teacher's GuideShow Me the BasicsGardening FundamentalsPlanning My GardenGarden Gallery
Credits