The answer? It depends.
Vegetables plants are all different. Some — like cabbage, onion and lettuce — are cool season vegetables. They grow and mature during Alabama’s cooler months in late fall, winter and early spring. Others — like peppers, okra and tomatoes — are warm season vegetables. They grow and produce in the warmer parts of the year.
Even though vegetable plants can be somewhat divided into these two broad categories, there are differences between the vegetables within these categories. For example, we usually think of tomatoes and peppers as growing together. Both should be planted when the soil has properly warmed and there is no threat of frost. I do not plant these vegetables at the same time. I usually wait about two weeks after my first set of tomato plants are planted before I begin to plant peppers. Peppers planted in cooler soils become stunted and take a while to start growing.
Now for okra and sweet potatoes, I wait a little bit longer — until after peppers are planted. These guys do well in hot weather, not cool.
When I plant corn, I plant it earlier than the tomatoes. It can withstand lower temperatures than tomatoes, and sometimes an early planting can mature before insects begin to destroy the precious ears.
If you noticed, I mentioned before that I planted my first set of tomatoes; I plant them multiple times. Planting in mid to late summer means tomatoes can be harvested up until a true winter frost comes along. Sometimes that means Christmas; this past year it meant Thanksgiving.
The same is true for a lot of beans and squash. Multiple harvests stretch your bounty over a longer season.
What about cool season vegetables? Luckily we are harvesting a lot of winter goodies now — cabbages, greens, spinach and cool season herbs like cilantro. But like most vegetable plants in Alabama, the time is coming to plant them again.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Valentine’s potatoes bring Mother’s Day French fries?” If you haven’t, it is pretty close to correct. Another week or so and it will be time to plant Irish potatoes, and true to the saying, they can be harvested sometime in May.
There is a wealth of vegetables that can be grown now. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has a planting calendar that can help you get on track. Visit www.aces.edu and search “Alabama Vegetable Garden Planting Chart.”
So back to the original question: When is a good time to plant your vegetable garden? Good Friday is correct. After the pecan trees leaf out is correct. The first week of April is correct. And this weekend is correct.
We are lucky in Alabama. We can have a vegetable garden 12 months out of the year. I know most are waiting to plant the warmer season vegetables, but I promise you fresh French fried potatoes are hard to beat.