Friends often ask me when to plant what. It is springtime in the Ozarks and there are a lot of things that can be started. This is sometimes a tricky thing, and it is good to be aware of plants that can take a frost, and plants that cannot. The last frost date in your area is important to consider. I see an amazing difference between where we live and just 50 miles south into Arkansas. In the spring I notice that their Bradford Pears bloom a week earlier than ours! So, observe how perennials and trees are coming out, and don't plant tomatoes just because they are selling them at the nursery!
Generally if you want a spring garden it is good to focus on plants that can take a chill. Some spring veggies do not tolerate heat, so it is good to get them out as soon as you can. The earliest things that can be planted as seeds is peas, lettuce, radish and spinach. The old rule is to plant lettuce on Valentine's Day. Sometimes there is snow on the ground then, but anytime after that is worth a shot. It is also good to start cabbage family plants in a cold frame from mid February thru March. Parsnips, brussel sprouts and leeks need to be started now as well; they have to have the entire growing season to do well.
Onions and potatoes can be planted together. The traditional plant date for potatoes is St. Patrick's Day, but it seems like the ground is usually still very cold then. We just put out about 700 onion plants last week, and are going to be getting potatoes out this week as well. My mom and I market garden, so our garden is large. Rows of spinach, lettuce and beets will be going in soon as well, and I cannot wait to have a fresh spinach salad!
There are so many variables this time of year that can affect germination. The ground being too cold, hard rain packing the ground or washing the seeds away, and not having enough moisture. In the spring it is very common for us to replant beets, spinach or other seeds that did not come up with a good stand. It is frustrating, but a common gardening complaint. I believe even if you have a small garden it is good to have a variety of produce because each year some things will grow good, and others will not. Something I have learned from being a farmer is to be tolerant of things you cannot control and if you have variety success will be greater.
I usually play it safe and do not get out frost-tender plants too early. Some people take risks with early tomatoes or peppers and some years that will pay off, and other years it will not. Here our last frost date is April 20, but it can frost until May 10. One year we had a bout of beautiful 80 degree weather in March that got everything up and going early. Unfortunately in mid April we had two nights of low 20 degree freezes. This kind of freeze not only affected fruit crops for that year, but actually killed young trees and shrubs. I lost every one of my roses, and many flowers did not bloom that year at all! It has been a cool March for us here this year, so the freezes we are getting now aren't causing so much damage. My peach trees are starting to bloom, though – please cross your fingers that they won't all get nipped and that we may enjoy some tree-ripened heaven this summer. Enjoy the birds and blooms that are all around and have fun in the dirt!