30+ Seeds To Direct Sow In The Garden BEFORE Your Last Frost
Good news! You don’t need to wait until after your last frost date to start gardening. In fact, there’s a laundry list of vegetables, herbs and flowers that do best when direct sow’d when the soil is still cold. These seeds are cold resistant, so even if your garden gets an unexpected Spring snowstorm, they’ll do just fine!
This post covers:
- What Does Last Frost Date Mean?
- How To Know The Last Frost Date For My Area?
- What’s The Difference Between A Light Frost And Hard Freeze?
- What Does “as soon as the soil can be worked” Actually Mean?
- 30+ Seeds To Direct Sow In The Garden Before Your Last Frost
- 17 Vegetables To Plant Before Your Last Frost
- 5 Herbs To Plant Before Your Last Frost
- 10 Flowers To Plant Before Your Last Frost
What Does Last Frost Date Mean?
Before you get too excited about planting in the garden, it’s key you know what your last frost date is.
The simple definition of last frost date means the average recorded date for your exact region when there is no more risk of frost during the day or overnight. In other words, it’s the date when it’s officially safe to plant any tender seedlings out in the garden.
Canada is divided into 8 different “grow zones” with further classifications in each based on average seasonal temperatures.
Here in Manitoba, I’m located in a Zone 3b. My last frost date is typically between May 27-June 1.
However, it does change slightly each year based on the amount of snow received over Winter. Plus, climate change has drastically altered the accuracy of these dates. The micro-climate in your yard can alter that date by a few days too.
So while grow zones are an important and useful guide, be sure to also pay attention to what’s going on in your own garden and then go from there!
How To Know The Last Frost Date For My Area
You can find your exact last frost date based on your postal code by using my fav tool, The Farmer’s Almanac Local Frost Date Finder.
I so encourage you to do this! If you’ve read some of my other blogs, you’ve likely already heard me preach the importance of knowing your local frost date. It should be the basis of all your garden planning and seed starting.
If you’re new to the blog (welcome!), you can find a further break down of frost dates in my posts The Ultimate Seed Starting Guide For Canadian Gardeners and How I Plan Out My Zone 3 Veggie Garden.
What’s The Difference Between A Light Frost and Hard Freeze?
These are two other gardening terms that can get confusing. Light frost vs. hard freeze. What does it mean?
Well, a light frost is considered when the temperature drops to 0°C. This typically happens overnight. A light frost isn’t enough to kill plants because the ground stays warm, keeping your plant’s roots protected.
On the other hand, a hard frost is when the temperature drops below freezing for several hours. Again, this usually happens overnight. Hard frosts can definitely kill plants, so be prepared to cover any tender seedlings (things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc..) with a light blanket if you see this in the forecast.
Pro Tip: If frost is in the forecast overnight, heavily water your plants before hand. The moisture in the soil will actually provide insulation for your seedlings’ roots.
What Does “as soon as the soil can be worked” Actually Mean?
Another confusing gardening term! And one you’ll see me use often throughout this post.
Your soil is considered “workable” when you can easily dig into it and turn the layers. You might think your soil is ready to plant into by looking at the top of it. But you need to ensure the frost is out of the soil as far as 2-3ft deep.
Ideally, your soil should clump together in your hand when you squeeze it. It should be able to easily retain moisture. It will definitely be cold to the touch in the early Spring, but should not be freezing.
30+ Seeds To Direct Sow In The Garden BEFORE Your Last Frost
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17 Vegetables To Plant Before Your Last Frost
Direct sow spinach seeds into your garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Depending on what the weather is like, this can be as early as 4 weeks before your last frost date. Spinach does just fine with frosts, even a hard freeze won’t kill spinach.
I like to succession sow spinach every few weeks throughout the entire gardening season since we eat lots of it.
My go-to variety for Spring sowing is Giant Winter Organic Spinach.
You can transplant onion sets or your onion seedlings started indoors before your last frost date.
If transplanting onion seedlings, be sure to harden them off first. I have a complete how-to guide on Transplanting Seedlings Outside that walks through the process.
You can also check out my post Growing Onions — Harvesting, Curing & Storing Over Winter for info on planting onion sets, which I think is the easiest way to grow onions!
I love growing kale because it’s one of the first things I plant in the garden in the Spring, and one of the last things I pull out of the garden in the Fall. Kale is a crop that provides all season long.
You can direct sow kale seeds 1-2 weeks before your last frost. But they will be slow to germinate.
Alternatively, transplant out your kale seedlings started indoors 1-2 weeks before your last frost. Again, be sure to harden them off first!
Direct sow radishes in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. This can be as early as 4 weeks before your last frost date if it’s a nice Spring.
Radishes only take 25-40 days to mature, so you will likely be harvesting them before you even plant the rest of your garden.
There’s so many delicious radish varieties to try. A few I love;
- Wasabi Radish – spicy, just like it sounds!
- Black Spanish Radish – skins are a surprising, dark colour
- Easter Egg Radish – classic variety with a mix of red, white and pink radishes
Like radishes, you can direct sow turnips in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked.
I feel like most gardeners forget about turnips when planning out their gardens. But I really like to grow them because they are fast to mature and have a nice, mild flavour.
Try my fav turnip variety, Tokyo Cross.
Snap peas and snow peas do best when direct sow’d before your last frost date. I usually plant mine about 2-3 weeks before my last frost.
Some gardeners like to soak their pea seeds in water for 24-48 hours before sowing to speed up germination. I personally don’t practice this approach (I find it just adds another step!) and have still always had great pea harvests.
Be sure you provide your peas some sort of support or trellis to grow up as the vines will get very big.
Direct sow your beet seeds 1-2 weeks before your last frost date. Beets will not germinate well if the soil is too cold, so be sure to wait until the frost is mostly gone from the soil.
You can also cover the area where you direct sow your beets with a frost blanket or row cover to keep the soil warm.
Direct sow your carrots 1-2 weeks before your last frost. Carrot seeds are extremely small and can easily get displaced. I suggest placing a small piece of fabric or burlap on top of them as they germinate.
This will not only keep the seeds in place, but it will also keep the soil consistently wet during germination.
Of course, there’s lots of classic-style carrots you can grow, but why not try something a little more unusual? I love the Paris Market Carrots that grow in small spheres.
Direct sow your parsnip seeds 1-2 weeks before your last frost.
Parsnips are known for being difficult to grow (I’ve had big time struggles with germination!). They take a long time to grow and require loose soil in order to develop strong roots.
My best tip is to amend your soil with compost prior to seeding. You can also use the carrot germination trick I mentioned above, placing a piece of fabric on top fo the seeds.
Direct sow or transplant your lettuce seedlings started indoors anywhere from 3-1 weeks before your last frost date.
Most lettuce varieties can withstand a hard freeze, but be sure to harden off any seedlings you transplant from inside.
Here’s some of the lettuces I’ve grown over the years and loved that you should give a shot:
- Dillon Iceberg Lettuce – big and leafy
- Freckles Lettuce – green leaves with purple specks
- Pomegranate Crunch – a cross between romaine and butterhead lettuce but purple
Direct sow arugula seeds into your garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Depending on what the weather is like, this can be as early as 4 weeks before your last frost date. Arugula does just fine with frost.
Arugula is another green I like to succession sow every few weeks throughout the season. But it does bolt in extreme heat, so plant in a shady spot during July and August.
12. Swiss Chard
Direct sow or transplant out your swiss chard 1-2 weeks before your last frost.
While it is cold tolerant, a hard frost can take out a crop of swiss chard. So keep your eye on the forecast, and be sure to harden off seedlings if transplanting.
I’m swiss chard obsessed. It looks so stunning mixed in between other plants and adds great height to a garden bed. Plus, you can harvest from one plant all season long. Grow it in your garden this season, you won’t be disappointed!
Transplant out your cabbage seedlings 1-2 weeks before your last frost date after they’ve been hardened off outside for a week or so.
You can direct sow cabbage, but it will take a long time to germinate and likely mean you won’t be harvesting til’ late in the Summer. I suggest either starting cabbage seedlings indoors in March or purchasing transplants from a garden centre.
Try Lennox Cabbage for Spring or Fall harvests.
Similar to cabbage, it’s best to start broccoli indoors and transplant out seedlings 1-2 weeks before your last frost after they’ve been hardened off.
If your Spring weather has been unpredictable (like it very often is here in Manitoba where I live), try covering your seedlings with a row cover to protect them from any hard freezes or surprise storms.
Transplant out your asparagus crowns 1-2 weeks before your last frost date.
*Note: Do not plant asparagus seeds at this time. Rather transplant asparagus crowns.
Asparagus crowns are a central group of stems surrounded by dangling roots. When planting crowns, you won’t be able to harvest asparagus in your first year, but it will speed things up.
Your soil needs to be easily workable to transplant crowns, so be sure you can easily dig into it.
Direct sow your seed potatoes (tubers) 1-2 weeks before your last frost date. Your soil needs to be workable in order to dig deep into it, so wait until this is possible.
Potatoes do well in cold soil temperatures and can withstand light frosts. You can expect plants to sprout within 2-3 weeks of planting.
Potatoes are extremely easy to grow and rookie friendly! Plant each tuber 3-4inches deep.
17. Asian Greens
Direct sow or transplant out Asian green seedlings as early as 3 weeks before your last frost date.
Asian greens include a variety of delicious plants, such as Pac Choi, Tah Tsai and Choi Sum.
They are very cold tolerant and do better when planted into cool soil temperatures.
5 Herbs To Plant Before Your Last Frost
Direct sow cilantro in your garden as early as 4 weeks before your last frost date. Cilantro is very cold tolerant and will germinate just fine even if it gets covered in snow.
When planting, gently cover seeds with 1inch or so of soil and water so soil is damp. If the air temperature is still quite cold, it may take 2-3 weeks before germination occurs. But once plants establish they grow very quickly.
I much prefer growing cilantro in the Spring as it prevents bolting, which tends to happen quickly with cilantro in the Summer months.
You may be surprised to see chamomile on this list as it looks like a delicate herb. But it is in fact fairly cold tolerant!
Direct sow your chamomile seeds 1 week before your last frost date. Or, transplant seedlings 2-3 weeks before your last frost and cover with a row cover to protect from any hard freezes. While chamomile is hardy, it can be taken out by consistently freezing temperatures.
Mustard (and mustard greens) are fast-growing and cold-tolerant, making them a perfect herb to sow before your last frost date.
Directs sow mustard in the garden 2-3 weeks before your last frost date, or even earlier if you can protect it from frost. Tools like mini hoop houses and poly tunnels would work great for this!
Direct sow parsley seeds in the garden 1-2 weeks before your last frost when the soil can easily be worked.
While parsley is a cool season crop that does best in Spring and Fall, there are actually some varieties that do even better in cold temps and are more reliable.
Dill benefits from being direct sow’d in the right before your last frost date. Wait until 1 week before your last frost to plant your dill seeds.
Dill doesn’t germinate well in really cold soil, so try warming up your soil before planting with a cold frame. You can make a DIY cold frame by placing poly or an old window over a raised bed and letting the sun defrost the space.
10 Flowers To Plant Before Your Last Frost
1. Sweet Peas
If you’re a regular From Soil to Soul blog reader, you already know about my love for sweet peas. They are such a fantastic flower to grow for cut flower bouquets and produce thousands of blooms throughout most of the season.
For best results, direct sow your seed pea seeds 2-3 weeks before your last frost date. Try soaking your seeds 24 hours before planting to speed up germination. I do this and find it helps!
Alternatively you can use sandpaper to loosen the seed coating, which helps with root development.
This season I’m growing Painted Lady Sweet Peas, which have both pink and white petals on each flower. They’re stunning!
You can get your poppies in the ground even if there’s still snow on the garden. In fact, poppies are probably the very first thing you’ll plant in the garden in the Spring!
You can direct sow poppies BEFORE your soil is workable. Yes, before! Simply sprinkle them on the surface of your soil, cover with a thin later of dirt and then water.
Many years, my garden will get covered in snow after I’ve sow’d poppies and they still germinate really well.
Direct sow pansy seeds or transplant seedlings in your garden 1-2 weeks before your last frost when the soil is workable.
If transplanting, be sure to first harden off your pansies. Gradually do so by bringing them outdoors for a few hours at a time over the course of a week.
If direct sowing, note that the seeds are extremely tiny and fine, so be careful to keep them from blowing away by either covering with a piece of fabric or planting in a raised bed. Germination can be very slow for pansies, so have patience!
Direct sow calendula seeds in the garden 1-2 weeks before your last frost date.
While many gardeners, myself included, start calendula indoors in March, it can also be direct sow’d. The reason I prefer to do otherwise is because I find calendula germinates better in darkness, which is easier to do in a controlled, indoor environment.
Calendula can withstand light frosts, which is why it does well direct-sow’d early in Spring. You can also transplant out your indoor calendula seedlings before your last frost. But you’ll need to protect them with a cloche or small hoop house overnight until temperatures are well above freezing.
5. Bachelor Buttons
Again, another flower that can be direct sow’d or started indoors!
If direct sowing, plant just before your last frost, 1 week to a few days before. Bachelor buttons can withstand cold, but not a hard freeze. So be careful with timing.
6. Snap Dragons
Direct sow or transplant out your snap dragons 1-2 weeks before your last frost date.
Some gardeners say direct sowing snap dragons can be a bit unreliable as the seeds take a long time to germinate. So you might prefer starting indoors in March and then transplanting outside just before your last frost date.
Of course, be sure to slowly harden them off before transplanting.
Sunflowers germinate well in cold, damp soil and can be seeded 1-2 weeks before your last frost date.
Ensure your soil is not freezing and there’s no snow on the garden, otherwise seeds will not germinate.
There’s an abundance of beautiful sunflowers you can grow. I love growing a mix of mammoth varieties to add great height to the garden as well as several different cut flower varieties for bouquets.
Direct sow larkspur 2-3 weeks before your last frost date. Larkspur seedlings can withstand light frosts and the seeds will still germinate even after a few hard frosts. So no need to worry!
Plant as soon as your soil is workable in earl Spring.
Rudbeckia or Black Eyed Susan does really well direct sow’d in the garden in early Spring. Because it is a wild flower native to most of Canada, it has no issues with cold temperatures.
Direct sow about 2 weeks before your last frost date.
Sow seeds on the surface of the soil and gently cover with a little bit of soil to keep them in place. Keep soil consistently moist during germination.
You’ll enjoy blooms all season long! Plus, if you garden in a Zone 3 or warmer, you can enjoy rudbeckia as a perennial.
Direct sow stock seeds 1 week before your last frost. However, if you’re experiencing an unusually cold Spring, wait until your last frost date to plant as seeds are sensitive to fluctuation of temperatures.
Stock is actually an edible flower and also belongs to the brassica family. This means it is prone to pest damage from flea beetles. So if you can, protect your plants with a lightweight row cover throughout the season.
And there you have it!
You now have 30+ seeds to direct sow in the garden BEFORE your last frost date.
Remember, you can’t do it all. Grow what you love. Pick and choose a few from this list and start slow. It will make the gardening process that much more enjoyable.
More Organic Gardening Blogs
- How I Plan Out My Zone 3 Veggie Garden
- When To Add And How Much Worm Castings To Use In Your Veggie Garden
- 50+ Seeds To Start Indoors In April
- 10 Of The Easiest Cut Flowers To Grow From Seed For Beginners
If you have any unanswered questions about direct sowing before your last frost date, be sure to comment below. I love hearing from you and answer all comments.