What to Grow When: Cool Season Versus Warm Season Plants

Do you know which fruits and vegetables grow when? These days we can purchase most fruits and vegetables all year long at the grocery store which certainly makes it harder to know what to plant during which season.

When I first started gardening, I didn’t research which crops grow best during certain times of the year. I planted seeds of fruits and vegetables I enjoy eating. For example, I ate lots of salads in the summer, so I planted lettuce in the summer. I didn’t pay attention to the variety. I just grabbed seeds that looked tasty. When I bit into bitter lettuce later that season, I started doing some research.

Radish, Lemons, Brussel Sprouts, Potatoes, Squash and Wine on a Picnic Blanket

For those of you starting a garden, learning cool season versus warm season crops is the perfect place to start. It’s the foundation you need before deciding what to grow.

So, what is the difference?

To put it as simply as possible, cool season crops are grown during cool weather, and warm season (yep, you guessed it!) are grown during warm weather.

Depending on your climate, you might be able to grow cool season crops in both spring and fall. Warm season crops typically have a longer growing season and are grown in the summer. Winter gardening can seem a bit more advanced, but it really just depends on the climate of your area. We will get into that more later on.

So, who belongs to which group? The most popular warm season fruits and vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, okra, both summer and winter squash, pumpkin, cucumber, corn, sweet potatoes and beans. None of these will survive a frost.

Tomatoes Ripening on Vine

Popular cool season crops include most greens such as arugula, lettuce, kale, cabbage, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Swiss chard and mustard greens. Cauliflower, beets, carrots, potatoes, peas, radish, garlic and onion are all cool season crops, too.

There are exceptions, of course. For example, in some climates, Swiss chard, kale and collard greens will survive through summer despite being cool season crops. After one season of growing you will know why they are cool season greens – all three have a much better flavor when grown in cool temperatures.

up close picture of lettuce

If you only want to garden in the spring, summer and fall, then this is a great starting point. But before you go straight to your favorite seed company’s website or your local garden store to stock up, you need to know one more thing.

Variety is super important when it comes to seeds! Be sure to read over the seed packet so you know specific information about the variety you are considering purchasing. For example, not all lettuce is created equal. The range of days to maturity for lettuce is as short as 40 days and all the way up to 80 days. Some varieties resist bolting in heat and others tolerate frost. Be sure you know what you are getting and make sure it matches the time of year you are planting. This will help you to have the best harvest possible!

Now that you have those basics down for spring, summer and fall, it’s important to take it a step further if you want to garden through the winter. You need to know that the plants in the cool season group have different tolerance levels when it comes to frost. Head over to this article to read more about which crops are frost tolerant and what that means for your winter garden. Here’s a sneak peek for now.

Chart Showing Frost Tolerance in Vegetables

I wish I knew this information when I first started gardening. My hope is that it will help save you some time and, ultimately, experience more gardening success!

Oakleaf Lettuce with Frost

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