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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

HOMEGROWN Life: Buyer Beware, Don't Plant Those Seedlings Just Yet

This morning I saw tomato and pepper plants for sale. I also saw frost on the ground at my house. What do peppers and tomatoes hate? You guessed it. Frost.

So why in the world would a nursery be trying to sell frost-sensitive seedlings while there’s still frost outside? Come on now! We live in a capitalist society. We all know the answer to that one. The nursery doesn’t care if your tomato plants fail. They want to get a jump on selling the most popular vegetables around.


Don’t be fooled. Just because a nursery is selling it does not mean it’s time to put it in the ground! Even some of the best nurseries can make you fall victim to buying before it’s time: Spring is here! Seed catalogs are out! It’s time to plant!

Hold on a second. What’s your last average frost date? Not yet? Then don’t buy those frost-sensitive plants. Actually, I wouldn’t even buy them within three weeks of the average frost date. Remember, it’s an average, so some years it will be later. Our last average frost date is supposed to be sometime in February, but I’m not buying it. As I said, we had frost last night, and last year we had frost as late as mid-April. Let’s just say I learned the hard way not to plant before mid-April.

Now, you can very well plant tomatoes and peppers early if you have season extenders, but mid-March still seems excessively early to use even those. Tomatoes and peppers aren’t just delicate around frost; they LIVE for heat and prefer nights above 55F. Planting them too early can stunt them or, at best, knock them back so they don’t get a good start.

Nurseries do a disservice to gardeners by selling veggies before plants can safely go in the ground. Nothing discourages a beginning gardener like a dead plant.

More Homegrown Help

• Want to learn more about season extenders? Check out Urban Overalls’ Cold Frame 101.
• Find your area’s frost dates and more helpful hints in the Garden Planning 101.
• When it is time to get those seedlings in the ground, don’t miss the Transplanting 101.
• And get lots more gardening pointers in the Raised Beds 101 and Container Gardening 101.

Rachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

Photos by Rachel Hoff

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