We’ve had a very mild, somewhat wet winter this year, but gardeners shouldn’t rush out to plant their vegetable gardens just yet.

The temptation to put plants in the ground before March is sometimes overwhelming, so anxious are we to begin our spring garden. Late unexpected frosts around the end of February can lead to disaster for tender seedlings, even if they have been hardened off.

According to the USDA cold hardiness zone map, the last frost date in Zone 8, is between February 22 to March 30.  Much of the upper Gulf Coast is in Zone 8, but in the southern part of that zone. For those of us who live in Zone 9, the average last frost date is between January 20 to February 28. Use your own judgement, but I would not plant any spring crop before March 1 and would probably wait until March 5 or, just to be sure.

Now, what to plant. You can see the chart above which has dates for planting. The information from this chart is taken from Texas Agrilife Extension Service and applies to Zones 8 and 9, and it provides windows in which to plant various spring vegetables.

Of course, tomatoes are the very first concern for most of us. Second probably comes peppers. Tomatoes should be planted after the last spring frost. Take the info above about last frost date and do with it as you wish. I will plant my tomato seedlings the first week of March, and barring any problems, I should have delicious tomatoes by April.

As for peppers, I have a friend who has a chili pequin TREE that he’s kept alive for decades. It’s still bearing fruit. I’ve kept a mucho nacho jalapeno alive for three years, but I’m sure some of you have done better than three years. Don’t know anyone except my friend who’s kept one alive that long.

Gardeners can plant vegetables, like eggplant, cantaloupe, okra, southern peas, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and watermelon far into the summer.

Note that different varieties of the same vegetable may have differing ripening times. For instance, Early Girl tomatoes have a fruit maturity time of 55 days, while Celebrity tomatoes mature in 70 days. Most store-bought plants have maturity dates on the pots and seed packets do as well.

Remember too that many hybrid varieties of plants are resistant to different viruses and bacterial diseases. If you’re an organic gardener, note that hybrids are not GMOs.

Access these websites for more information about suggested varieties for the Gulf Coast area and days-to-harvest for each variety.

Aggie Horticulture Vegetable Varieties for the Gulf Coast

LSU Ag Center

Mississippi State Agriculture

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