Gardening Tips: Planting the Spring Vegetable Garden

— Written By and last updated by Chrissy Poole

Between all of the rain and snow, it’s been quite a wet winter. There may yet be more rain in the forecast, but thankfully the temperatures are slowly creeping upward. If your garden soil is dry enough to work, then you might want to start thinking about heading outdoors to plant some spring vegetables.

            Last week, the Roanoke Valley Master Gardeners and I did just that. In our Square Foot Gardens outside my office, we planted four different types of potatoes (yellow, white, red, and purple), two types of onions, lettuce, kale, peas, broccoli, and cauliflower.

With spring vegetables, decide what types you want to plant, and then determine whether you need to start them as seeds or plant transplants. Carrots, garden peas, snap peas, radish, turnips, beets, lettuce and other greens all do well when planted by seed sown directly into the garden. These should be started by mid March in order to have plenty of time to grow before the weather gets hot. Broccoli, cabbage, and kale should all be set out as young plants anytime between mid February and mid March. Onions can either be planted as plants or as “sets”, which are basically just small bulbs. Potatoes should be planted by setting seed potatoes, small potatoes with multiple eyes on them. Larger seed potatoes can be cut into smaller sections and planted, provided you leave at least 3 or 4 eyes in each section.

            These crops all tolerate the cold weather and will suffer when the weather turns hot. Planting now allows them the time needed to develop prior to summer. Make sure that any transplants have a few days of adjustment before going into the garden, particularly if they are coming from indoors or a greenhouse. Place the pots or flats on a porch or near the house where they are exposed to some cold while having a little bit of protection from the harshest cold and wind. This will allow them to adapt nicely when planted in the garden.

            It is still much too early for summer vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and watermelons, but some of these can be started indoors in preparation for outdoor planning sometime after the last frost. Start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting outdoors. Squash, cucumbers, melons, and zucchini can be started indoors 2-3 weeks before transplanting or may be sown directly into the garden after frost. Corn, okra, beans, and southern peas are best sown directly into the garden after the last frost. In Halifax County, the threat of frost has usually passed by April 15th, though some gardeners feel safer waiting until May 1st.

            Just a reminder, if you’d like to attend one of our upcoming pruning demonstrations, there are two more chances. On Saturday March 1, we’ll be pruning blueberries at Happy Acres Farm at 208 Wright Rd in Roanoke Rapids from 9 a.m. to noon, and on Tuesday March 4 at 2 p.m., we’ll be pruning fruit trees and grapevines at Wayne Short’s Farm at 5123 Wright Rd in Littleton. There is no charge, but please register in advance by calling the number below.

Matthew Stevens is the horticulture extension agent for Halifax County Cooperative Extension. If you have any questions about this article or other aspects of your home gardening, please contact Matthew at 583-5161 or