6 Best Vegetables to Plant in Early Spring

Start them early, but enjoy them for weeks

Organic vegetables

 

AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

In early spring, the temperature may seem too chilly, and the ground might be too damp for many vegetables, but there are a handful of hardy performers that can go in the ground. As a bonus, there are fewer insects and diseases around in early spring, so your vegetables should get off to a good start. Take a look at six vegetables that you can plant even before the last frost date has passed.

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 other plants absorb them.

  • 01 of 06

    Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

    Rows of growing Asparagus
    Marie Iannotti

    Seeing the first tender, pencil-sized spears of asparagus poking through in the garden is a rite of spring. You will usually see the first shoots when the soil temperature reaches about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Asparagus is a perennial vegetable. In essence, you can plant it once and harvest it for many years to come. You do have to devote space to them, but you can expect an excellent yield every year for up to 15 years or more. A mature asparagus harvest can last for months. Plant year old crowns 4 - 6 weeks before the last frost date. You can also plant seeds, but seedlings will need an extra year to establish.

    • 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. Romaine and butterhead are the most cold-tolerant varieties. You will get the earliest and longest harvest from the cut-and-come-again varieties. Although heat, drought stress and longer ddays will cause lettuce to bolt, you will probably have time for two to three succession plantings. Plant a new crop every two to three weeks. Choose slow bolt varieties or varieties with different maturation rates for a continous harvest.

    To protect lettuce when a frost is coming, cover the garden with sheets or towels or insulation blankets available at any garden center. These coverings will help in the short term, but if the frost goes on for days, you may lose your crop.

    • 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 some Americans may not be able to take part in that tradition because of the snow covering their vegetable gardens. Even if you do not manage to get out there early, peas planted later in April quickly catch up to peas planted in March. Peas do not like freezing temperatures, and they dislike heat more. Choose your favorites peas—shelling peas, snow peas, or sugar snap peas—and get planting. Use a trellis to support the vines and make harvesting easier. You can make additional plantings in early May or plant varieties with different maturity rates to extend your harvest. Do not miss the window of opportunity.

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

    Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

    Rhubarb stalks

     

    cjp / Getty Images 

    Rhubarb is a vegetable you can prepare like a fruit—think rhubarb pie—and it is the first sweet "fruit" of the season. It is effortless to grow. Once you get your bed established, you can look forward to a rhubarb harvest every spring for decades. Plant dormant crowns in early spring. Remove flower stalks the first year to allow the plant to develop. Harvesting can begin in the second year after the plant is established. Every five years or so, you should dig up the root ball and divide it. Splitting is best done in the early spring as soon as the soil warms up enough to work it and before the emergence of the tender new shoots. This division gives the plant new life.

    • 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. Spinach grows extremely quickly, and you do not have to wait long to enjoy it. To extend the harvest, you can plant new spinach directly into the soil every week or two until the average last frost date. Use slow bolting varieties for later plantings. Keeping plants well watered will help slow bolting. Another great thing about spinach is it can grow in the shade of crops that will be taking off just as your spinach begins to fade.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 9
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-draining, fertile soil with a neutral pH
  • 06 of 06

    Beets (Beta vulgaris)

    Beet plants

     

    Inti St Clair / Getty Images

    In growing zones 3 through 7, you can plant beet seeds about one month before the last frost in spring. Beets are semi-hardy vegetables, which means they can survive repeated light frosts in the 30 to 32 degree Fahrenheit range. Beets grown from seed take about 7 to 10 weeks to mature, but you can start seedlings inside or harvest some of the young greens planted directly in the garden to eat while the roots continue to grow underground. Beets like a lot of sun and consistent moisture. Avoid crowding plants to allow for air circulation.

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

More Info on Vegetable Gardening and Further Research