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Planning Makes Perfect

Don’t wait until the first nice day of spring to decide where things should go in your garden. Now is the time to get your garden plan down on paper. Having a well thought out plan ensures you don’t make mistakes. This allows you to make the best use of your space and get two crops in one season from some plots.  Plus, it gives you a chance to move plantings around on paper, so you don’t have the same crop in the same location as last year, which helps manage diseases.

Items to include in your plan:

  • Vegetables you want
  • Target planting date
  • Harvest date
  • Spacing
  • Number of plants/seeds needed

By paying attention to spacing and numbers, you won’t buy more than you need.  One of the biggest mistakes I see gardeners make is planting things too close.  For example, zucchini will need a minimum of two feet between plants, tomatoes about the same.  If you pack the plants in, they compete with each other and  yield and quality are lessened. Use the table, Planting Recommendations for New York Vegetable Gardens, to help guide your planning.

pea plant
Peas are a cool-season crop

Another good place to start is the Cornell Garden-Based Learning website.  Here you can find variety recommendations for New York along with fact sheets on growing dozens of vegetables. First decide which plants you want in your vegetable garden.  What do you and your family like, what’s easy to grow, what will fit in your garden space?  As far as easy to grow vegetables for first-time gardeners, I recommend, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, summer squash, cucumbers, snap beans, peas, spinach, and radishes.

As you plan the garden, you need to know the average date of the last frost in the spring for your location.  This is important because there are some vegetables that can take a light frost and others that will be killed.  For most of this region, the last frost is typically around May 20, a little later if further from Lake Ontario or a Finger Lake. But if you are feeling lucky,  about half the time, the last frost is about April 28.  You can always cover sensitive plants with sheets or plastic if there is a late-season frost.

Cool-season crops

Vegetables are classified as either cool-season or warm-season crops.  Cool-season crops are able to take light frost and may be planted before the last frost date, as early as April 15.  These crops include beets, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, spinach and radish.  Some of the cool-season crops can also be planted in the late summer to mature in the autumn.

Steve Reiners, Professor and Chair, Horticulture Section, Cornell University, Cornell AgriTech
April 10, 2020