Early Spring Vegetables to Grow

Cool season vegetables are those that can thrive during the shorter days and cooler temperatures of spring and fall, In fact, some vegetables such as kohlrabi and kale actually develop better flavor when nipped by frost.  Lettuce, collards, snow peas, cabbage and broccoli are a few examples of cool season vegetables to grow.  Many can be directly seeded into the ground or even containers.  You can purchase many varieties already growing or start your own ‘seedlings’ from seed in your home.



Lettuce is a cool weather crop that performs best when grown before the heat of summer starts coming in.

Head lettuce can be started indoors six weeks before the last frost date and transplanted outdoors three weeks before the last frost date.

Leaf lettuces can be direct-sowed in the garden or a container in early spring or fall.

Try to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.

You can make successive plantings for a prolonged harvest. Most lettuce seedlings can tolerate a light frost.

Head lettuces need a long, cool growing time compared to leaf lettuces. Leaf lettuces can be harvested when the leaves reach about 2 inches and there are varieties that you can cut several times for a prolonged harvest.

When leaves are 4 to 6 inches, the entire plant can be pulled and used in salads before they become bitter and tough.


Spinach seeds can be sown over frozen ground to germinate as the soil thaws. Transplants can be set out 4 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Fertilize when the plants are about 4 inches tall. Spinach prefers very fertile soil to encourage rapid growth and tender leaves. Once the days get long and warm it will bolt, meaning that it grows tall, blooms and becomes bitter tasting.


Peas perform best when temperatures remain below 80°F, but above 25°F. They can tolerate temperatures below 25°F for brief periods, but prolonged exposure can have detrimental effects in later development.

Flowers can drop off and vines can wither if temperatures rise above 80°F.

Direct-sow peas in the garden as they do not perform well when transplanted.

Most pea plants need some type of support. Plant the seeds at a depth of 1 inch and about 6 to 8 inches apart.


Broccoli grows more vigorously in cooler weather and can be planted in spring or fall. It grows best in rich soil with plenty of nitrogen and calcium.

Broccoli can be started indoors and transplanted in the vegetable garden, or direct-sowed about 18 inches apart in the garden.

Grow from seed when the soil is about 40°F or above, or from transplants when the soil reaches 60°F.


Cauliflower can be grown in much the same way as broccoli. Seeds can be sown directly in the garden when soil temperatures reach about 40°F. Seedlings can be transplanted in well-drained, rich soil that receives full sun to slight shade.

Weed very carefully around cauliflower to avoid damaging leaves which can cause under-developing heads (or buttoning).

To protect white cauliflower varieties from sunscald, blanching may be necessary.

Blanch by pulling the longest leaves over the head and hold them in place with twine or soft strips of cloth.

Begin blanching as soon as you see a head and make sure the leaves are dry. Purple and green varieties do not need blanching.

Brussel Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts can be planted by seed 1/2-inch deep and 2 inches apart in an outdoor seed bed about 90 days before the first frost date or seedlings can be transplanted in well-drained, rich soil that receives full sun to slight shade.

They require rich soil with good compost or well-aged composted manure.

Stalks can produce 50 to 100 sprouts at the points where the leaves join the stalk. They can be interplanted with lettuces and spinach.

Use a good organic fertilizer for feeding seedlings and protect them from direct sun until they are well established.


Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last front date or plant transplants in the garden 2 weeks before that date. Direct sow seeds in the garden immediately after the last frost date. Cabbage plants are heavy feeders that require fertile soil rich in organic matter and consistent moisture.

Onion Sets

Onions can be grown from sets, small bulbs, or transplants, which look like scallions and come in a bundle of 60 or so. Either method should be planted in early spring as soon as the soil is workable. Long-day varieties are suitable for Northern gardens and short-day varieties can be planted in the South. Place time release fertilizer in the planting hole so that it is close to the roots. Follow the fertilizer’s label directions.

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard is one the more beautiful vegetables in the garden. Bright Lights and Ruby are favorites for adding color to the garden and the dinner table. Plant or sow seeds 2 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Thin to 6-inches apart when seedlings are 3-inches tall. Water regularly.