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Why is the last frost date important?

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I know this might seem so simple but it took me some time to really understand this concept. There were so many things I learned in my first year gardening that took a while to take root. So I wanted to make sure I share my experiences in case there are more people out there like me! Why is the last frost date so important?

Woman holding green bean harvest

I want to address the fact that I know this is simple stuff, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I’m not sure if maybe I’m older so my brain takes a minute or if this is normal. In any case, I think it’s best to be transparent so I am going to pretend this is like gardening for dummies (not that I think you’re a dummy – but you get the idea!).

The first thing I read about in March 2020 was that I needed to know my last frost date. It’s a simple internet search so that part is easy. Open up the Google or Duck Duck Go if you’re a cool kid and search your zip code + last frost date.

So now that you have this information you can start to think about and plan for the spring planting season. It still seemed like a foreign concept to me that first year. Now that I have a few years under my belt, I realize how important this date is.

What do we do with this important date you ask?

Grab a calendar or planner and write that date on it. If you think you want a planner specifically for gardening, I recommend this one. I am using it this year and it’s very helpful especially if you are new to gardening. She does a great job of packing in a ton of information. There are calendars and all kinds of helpful tips.

The family garden planner cover

Your last frost date will help you plan and decide when to start seeds indoors. It also tells you when to plant seeds outside and when you will have a potential harvest.

For example my last frost date is April 8th. The last frost date can move one way or the other because mother nature is unpredictable. Last year I almost killed my tomato plants because I’m rebellious but more on that later.

April 8th will be my marker to decide when I start some summer crops inside. Generally speaking tomatoes and peppers need to be started inside because they need warm weather to thrive. There isn’t enough days to harvest before the first frost comes in the fall, so we start seeds inside. Usually your seed packet will tell you when to start but with tomatoes. It’s typically 8 weeks before your last frost date. In my case I should plan to start seeds around February 11th. I still have some wiggle room since tomatoes love the warmth so I can even go into the end of February if life gets in the way. I can wait to plant outside into May so they have the best chance of a healthy season.

Close up of dr Wyches tomato
Isn’t this Dr. Wyches tomato gorgeous?

Back to my mistakes, I decided to start seeds inside earlier because I was so excited and just couldn’t help myself. I also started way too many so my front office looked like a pot growing operation with the grow lights! My neighbor asked me why it was all lit up at night.

Tomato seedlings on shelf under grow lights
They were all so strong! I couldn’t believe I grew them from seeds!

There are definitely rules in gardening that can be bent but trust me on this, take the last frost date seriously. I had way too many giant tomato and pepper plants which required a lot of work to keep healthy. This time I will wait to start seeds.

Table of tomato seedlings for sale
I had so many seedlings that I hosted a sale!

I also got impatient (partially because I had so many plants inside) and planted them outside too early. Here in North Carolina it started getting warm during the day, like really warm. I planted my tomatoes almost a week before the last frost date because I know better than all the gardening experts (insert eyeroll here). Things got a little dicey because the temps dipped and I had to cover my babies so they didn’t freeze!

It worked out in the end but I was super worried they were going to freeze and all that time and effort would have been a waste.

Basket of a summer harvest
I had giant harvests like this in July through September

So go get your last frost date and get to planning!

Don’t miss this post about planning and buying seeds!

Do you find this helpful? Is breaking it down like this something that you can come back to?

Let me know in the comments if you want more of these types of posts.

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