6 Best Vegetables to Plant in Early Spring

Start them early, but enjoy them for weeks

Organic vegetables

 

AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

Spring is a hectic time for gardeners, but planting a spring vegetable garden will pay off big dividends. Freshly picked vegetables are never more welcome than after a long gray winter. Spring temperatures are a bit too chilly, and the ground is still too damp for many vegetables to be planted, but there are a handful of hardy performers that can go in the garden, even before the last frost date has passed. As a bonus, there are fewer insects and disease pests around in early spring, so your vegetables should get off to a good start.

Warning

The leafy portion of rhubarb is toxic to humans and other animals. You can still compost rhubarb leaves, even though they are slightly toxic if ingested. The oxalic acid crystals dissipate in the soil long before they are absorbed by other plants.

  • 01 of 06

    Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

    Rows of growing Asparagus
    Marie Iannotti

    There are many perennial vegetables—vegetables you can plant once and harvest for many years to come. You do have to devote space to them, sometimes for decades, but it is worth it. Asparagus plants get more productive every year, and a mature asparagus harvest can last for months. Looking forward to the first tender, pencil-sized spears of asparagus poking through in the garden is a rite of spring. If you think you do not like asparagus, then you have not tried it freshly picked.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Sandy, loamy
  • 02 of 06

    Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

    Rows of growing lettuce
    Carol Sharp Corbis/ Documentary/ Getty Images

    The cool, wet weather of spring is the perfect time to grow lettuce, and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. Lettuce may need a little protection to get it going in the early spring, but, it never tastes better than when it is grown in the crisp spring air. You will get the earliest and longest harvest from the cut-and-come-again varieties. Lettuce may require a little frost protection in spring, but it will not bolt, and you will probably have time for two to three succession plantings.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, amended soil
  • 03 of 06

    Peas (Pisum sativum)

    A vast pile of snow peas
    Emmanuelle Grimaud / Getty Images

    There is a tradition of planting the first peas on St. Patrick’s Day, though many Americans may not be able to take part in that tradition because of the snow covering their vegetable gardens. However, even in years when you cannot manage to get out there early, the peas planted later in April will quickly catch up to the peas planted in March. Peas do not like freezing temperatures, but they dislike heat more. So do not miss the window of opportunity. Get out there and plant a crop of your favorites, whether it is shelling peas, snow peas, or sugar snap peas.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11 depending on variety
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Varies depending on variety
  • 04 of 06

    Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

    Rhubarb stalks

     

    cjp / Getty Images 

    Rhubarb is a vegetable you can prepare like a fruit, and it is the first sweet "fruit" of the season. It really is a shame rhubarb is so underused in cooking, because it is very easy to grow. Once you get your bed established, you can look forward to a rhubarb harvest every spring. A word of advice: The rhubarb crown quickly turns into a very dense brick that is hard to divide. If you need to move your rhubarb or want to divide the plant, do it while the plant is young before it has time to develop strong roots.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich amended soil
    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)

    A vast pile of spinach
    Tracy Packer Photography / Getty Images

    Spinach must be grown in cool weather, or it will quickly bolt to seed. There are varieties that claim to be bolt-resistant, but sooner or later, (usually sooner), they all go to seed. Luckily it also grows extremely quickly, which means you do not have to wait long to enjoy it, but you will also have to keep planting new spinach to extend the harvest. Getting spinach to grow is easy. Keeping your spinach growing takes some extra care, but it is worth it. Fresh spinach is crisper, tangier, and more tender than any you will find in a cellophane bag. And it can grow in the shade of crops that will be taking off just as your spinach fades.

    • USDA Growing Zones: Annual
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: well-draining, rich soil with a neutral pH
  • 06 of 06

    Beets (Beta vulgaris)

    Beet plants

     

    Inti St Clair / Getty Images

    Beets grown from seed take about 7 to 10 weeks to mature, but you can harvest some of the young greens to eat while the roots continue to grow underground. In growing zones 3 through 7, you can plant beet seeds about one month before the last frost in spring. Prepare the soil with manure to up the potassium, which beets need. Plant the seeds about 1/2 inch deep and 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. They should germinate in a week to 10 days. Thin the sprouts as needed to create 3-to 4-inch spacing. Keep watering throughout the growing season. Beets like a lot of sun and consistent moisture.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Light, sandy loam, well-drained

Tips

Take advantage of the cool, wet weather of spring to put in multiple crops of peas and lettuce. Spring is also a great time to get started on your perennial vegetables, like asparagus and rhubarb.