flats of basil and lettuce seedlings
Image by Sandy Repp

Flats of basil and lettuce seedlings

Veggie Planting Q&A

By Pat Curran, Horticulture Educator,

Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension

Question: Is it safe to plant my veggie garden yet?

Answer: It's getting closer! Our average last frost date in Tompkins County is May 14. This year, who can predict what's going to happen? I've known Memorial Day frosts as recently as 2 or 3 years ago.

But if you garden in the city, or near the lake, you probably will not experience another frost this spring. Out in the country, planting tender veggies like tomatoes and peppers is still a gamble until the end of the month. If you don't have any out-of-town trips planned, and you have a supply of emergency plant covers on hand (such as old sheets, towels, curtains, cardboard boxes, laundry baskets), go ahead and plant. Then listen to the weather predictions every day and be ready to rush out and cover them up.

Of course, some veggies are more cold-tolerant than others. Lettuce, spinach, carrots, onions, parsley, and leeks will take some light frosts, unlike tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, which will succumb to frost. Other veggies are sensitive even to cold temperatures above freezing. Melons, cucumbers, basil, and okra may be permanently stunted by temps in the thirties. For a complete list of veggies in each category, either contact the GrowLine horticultural hotline at Tompkins County Cornell Cooperative Extension at (607) 272-2292 or growline1@gmail.com [or visit http://ccetompkins.org/garden/food-gardening on this website, where you can print out a two page factsheet of first and last planting dates]

Some veggies prefer cool temperatures and either will not thrive when it gets hot, or else may bolt (flower) and go to seed. Lettuce is one example. This spring was particularly problematic with the fluctuating temperatures. There are ways to try and extend the season, by planting in light shade, or on the shady side of taller veggies like tomatoes. Consult the website above and plan a late summer garden as well. With careful planning and fast-growing crops, it is possible to grow more than one crop in the same space, even with our short growing season.

Just getting started and looking for veggie plants? Come to the 2012 Garden Fair Plant Sale this Saturday, May 19, 9am-1 pm at the NYS Armory, 1765 Hanshaw Rd. off Rt. 13 N, Ithaca, sponsored by the CCE-Tompkins Master Gardeners (see Calendar for this year's date and location). Over 40 area specialty plant growers and 15 garden groups will have veggies, some organically grown, as well as perennials, trees, flowering shrubs, rock garden plants, herbs, and uncommon annuals. Find out about area garden tours this summer. There is always free admission to this biggest regional gardening event of the year!

Last updated January 29, 2021