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It's Not Time To Plant Your Summer Garden Yet, Says Horticulture Expert

Lilly Knoepp
Despite spring flowers blooming across the mountains, Western North Carolina isn't past the "frost-free" date yet.

Despite this week’s summer temperatures, the weather will chill across the mountains this weekend. Here are tips from a horticulture expert on when you should start planting for summer.


Don’t be fooled by the flowers and tomato plants on sale across the region, says Christy Bredenkamp Horticulture Extension Agent for NC State. We aren’t past the “frost-free” date just yet: “So the Internet says the end of April is the last frost date and May 4th or 5th and May 10 and May 15th. I’ve seen all those dates - so which one is right?”


“Frost-free” is the last day that the temperature will reach below 32 degrees. That date isn’t exact and changes from year-to-year. This date tells you when it is okay to plant warm weather vegetables.


“The warm season vegetables like tomatoes, the cucurbits like cucumbers, squash and peppers, potatoes those get hit really hard when the frost comes around 32 degrees,”  says Bredenkamp. “So those are the ones you need to be more careful with. It’s really probably too early to put those out.”


Bredenkamp works in Jackson and Swain County. She teaches classes in gardening and farming for a range of experience levels. Here are the cool weather vegetables she says you can plant now:


“Your crucifiers like broccoli, cauliflower and greens like kale, mustard greens and spinach those can all be sown now or put transplants out now,”saysBredenkamp.


The frost-free date for Western North Carolina ranges from mid-to-late May depending on the year.


“That’s sort of the date that mountain folks go with May 10th - 15th. That’s the day I’ve come up with through my own polling of living here for 24 years,” saysBredenkamp, who also recommends checking the USDA website.


Bredenkamp says based on climate data 8 out of 10 years you will be safe from low temperatures in Western North Carolina. One of the most common questions she gets is to how to keep veggies safe if you do put them in too early.


“That’s when you use your tricks to put your buckets and your blankets over to help them survive,” saysBredenkamp.


This will only keep the plants a few degrees warmer. She says many commercial tomato farmers wait until June to plant so there is zero risk of freezing temperatures.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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