Weatherford Democrat

March 9, 2014

ASK A MASTER GARDENER: Is it too early to start a vegetable garden?

Weatherford Democrat

Here are this week’s gardening questions and answers, provided by Parker County Master Gardeners. To submit a question, send it to For more information about Parker County Master Gardeners, or to become a member, call 817-598-6096 or visit

Is it too early to start a vegetable garden?

Considering our winter temperatures this year, that’s a good question. When it comes to a successful vegetable garden, timing is everything. The goal in Texas is to have most of your vegetable crops mature before the temperatures soar in mid-summer.

A few crops like okra, southern peas, and sweet potatoes need the heat for maturity; but the vast majority of your garden will wilt in the August heat. Because of this, planting time is critical.

Cool-season vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, English peas, onions, and potatoes can go out 6 weeks before the last killing frost, which is projected to be March 17. Beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, radishes and spinach can go out three to four weeks prior to that date.

Cool-season vegetables grow best when temperatures are 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. These vegetables withstand temperatures as low as 40 degrees, and even a light frost. However, if the temperature drops to freezing or below, you will need to cover your plants. Last year, we had freezing temperatures as late as March 26. Texas gardeners need to be vigilant about watching the weather and providing adequate protection for their vegetables.

Warm season vegetables such as beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant, okra, pepper, tomato and squash need warmer weather and warmer soil. The soil temperature should be in the upper 60s or low 70s before planting. Peppers prefer even warmer conditions and do best if transplanted a few weeks later than tomatoes.

If you look at the seed catalogues, you will see that there are dozens, even hundreds of varieties of vegetables. But, what produces bumper crops in New York, Michigan or even Arkansas may not necessarily do well in North Central Texas. Successful vegetable gardeners are careful to choose varieties that are hardy, not only for their zone, but also for their soil condition. What grows well in sandy soil will generally not produce well in clay; and vice versa.

Do yourself a favor: get a soil test, and then find out which varieties are recommended for Parker County. We have extensive lists available on our website, and will answer any specific questions you may have regarding variety.