Planting spring vegetables is a task many gardeners in Charlotte relish. After spending a long winter indoors, gardeners are anxious to step outside and get their hands in the dirt.
But, early spring veggies don’t just offer an opportunity to exercise green thumbs, they’re also among the most delectable treats the garden has to offer.
Here are five vegetables that thrive in the cool weather of early spring, going from seed to harvest well before the summer temperatures soar.
- Snow Peas
Like their shell and sugar snap cousins, snow peas are cold-weather veggies best planted the moment the soil can be worked every spring. They germinate best when soil temperatures are between 50 and 60 degrees F, and the plants shrug off spring frosts like a champ.
To grow snow peas, sow the seeds directly into the garden four to six weeks before the last expected spring frost. Applying a granular beneficial soil bacteria known as pea inoculant to the seed rows when planting helps the plants acquire nitrogen and typically results in improved yields. Seeds are sown a half inch deep and one to two inches apart.
Because many snow pea varieties grow tall, erect a fence, trellis, or garden netting for the vines to climb. If shorter plants are desired, select a bush variety of snow peas, such as ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ or ‘Short N’ Sweet’. Most varieties are ready to harvest just 60 days after planting
Snow peas should be picked young, when the pods are still flat and the peas inside have just started to swell.
Lettuce is among the easiest early spring veggie to plant. While you can purchase starter plants from your local nursery and transplant them into the garden, it’s far less expensive – and easier – to start your own plants from seed.
There are thousands of different varieties of lettuce, each offering a subtly different flavor, leaf color, texture, and shape. But, no matter which varieties you choose to plant, seeds can be sown directly into the garden as early as eight weeks before the last expected spring frost. For a continual crop of lettuce, sow more seeds every two to four weeks until summer temperatures arrive.
Space lettuce seeds approximately a half-inch apart, at a depth of a quarter inch. If full-sized lettuce heads are desired, thin the seedlings to six inches when they form their first true leaves. If you plan to harvest baby lettuce greens, there’s no need to thin the resulting seedlings; simply snip off the young leaves as you need them.
For more abundant lettuce try starting your seeds in the Big Bag Bed Mini or 7 Gallon Smart Pot. Not only will you grow more lettuce, you’ll find the process simple and easy to do.
Often called a “superfood” for its nutritional punch, kale is a great early spring vegetable to plant. It isn’t the least bit bothered by the cold temperatures of spring and will produce edible leaves just a month after planting.
To grow kale as a spring vegetable, sow seeds directly into the garden as soon as the soil temperature reaches 40 degrees F. Bury the seeds one-half inch deep, and space them an inch apart. Unless you plan to harvest only the baby greens, thin the seedlings to six to eight inches apart.
Kale leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in stir fries and soups. Try some fun-colored or frilly-leaved varieties to bring a unique touch of color and texture to the kitchen.
This is another spring vegetable well worth growing, especially because store-bought radishes pale in comparison to homegrown roots in the flavor department. With their spicy flavor and crisp texture, radishes come in a surprisingly diverse array of colors and shapes.
For good root formation, radish must be planted in the very early spring or late in the fall, when temperatures are cool. Ready to harvest in just three to five weeks, radishes seldom disappoint. For continuous production, plant a row of radish every two weeks throughout the spring and harvest the roots while they’re still small.
Sow seeds a half-inch deep and one inch apart. Thin the seedlings to two inches as crowded plants do not result in superior roots. Do not apply nitrogen-rich fertilizers to areas where radish or other root crops are planted as the plants will produce excessive green growth at the expense of high-quality roots.
Like many other members of the cabbage family, including cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts, broccoli is an excellent early spring veggie. While you can grow broccoli by directly sowing the seeds into the garden, the plants require more time to mature than some other spring vegetables and may not produce quality heads before hot weather arrives. To accommodate for this, broccoli is best grown from starter plants purchased at your local nursery, or by starting the seeds indoors, under grow lights, about four to six weeks before they’re ready to be transplanted outside.
Regardless of whether you grow your own plants or purchase them from a nursery, young broccoli seedlings can go out into the garden four to six weeks before the last expected spring frost. Space plants one to two feet apart for maximum head size.
Broccoli grows best when temperatures are in the 60s; hot temperatures can promote premature bolting (flowering) and a slightly bitter flavor. The plants are tolerant of frosts, and if you live south of USDA Zone 7, fall-grown broccoli plants will often survive the winter and produce a secondary crop.
Planting early spring vegetables brings both sanity to the winter-weary gardener and homegrown goodness to the kitchen.
Check out North Carolina State University's tips for planting in the Carolinas here.