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Spring frost free dates

Map of spring frost free dates

The runner-up question, after "When should I plant my first spring vegetables?" is always "What is my frost free date?"  I have to admit that frost free dates are unimaginably vague, and if you ask three different people, you'll probably get three different answers.  For goodness sake, I asked two different extension agents (supposedly your best bet for local information) and got two different answers.

Officially, you can use the frost-free map reproduced above (which seems to think we're frost free somewhere between April 1 and April 30) or city tables like this one (if you happen to have a city in your vicinity, which we don't.)  No matter where you find your local frost-free date, you should be aware that microclimate effects mean everything in the changeable spring.  If you live on a north-facing slope, you may really be one zone colder than if you lived on the south-facing slope across the valley.  If you live near a large body of water or in an asphalt-laden city, you may be one zone warmer than if you lived just a few miles away.  Higher elevations, of course, will also be colder than lower elevations (although many mountains have frost lines with apple orchards safely protected at the higher elevations from late spring frosts.)

The best way to know your frost-free date for sure, of course, is to start keeping a weather journal.  Last year, we had a frost on May 18, so I'm sticking with my May 15 prediction and ignoring folks who think we're frost free any earlier.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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When i lived there my last observed frost was May 21.
Comment by Errol Mon Mar 15 09:09:10 2010
That sounds right to me. I couldn't believe it when an extension agent told me the frost free date was April 15!
Comment by anna Mon Mar 15 12:43:57 2010
What do you do if you don't get frost at all in your region? I assume you just pick a date to work from, but how do you choose that date? Perhaps just use January 1, the earliest frost-free date on the above chart?
Comment by Darren (Green Change) Mon Mar 15 18:05:37 2010
If you don't get frost, you'd be on a completely different schedule and would need to find a different chart. I've heard folks who garden in Texas tell me that their fallow period is the heat of summer, and you might be the same. In that case, I'd plant my fall/spring type crops (peas, greens, lettuce, etc.) just as the summer heat ends. But that's just a guess! Do you really not get any frost at all? How do you plan your garden?
Comment by anna Mon Mar 15 19:44:14 2010
My husband's uncle has been on our land for almost 56 years now and spring is officially here when the pecan buds are swelling. Although the plants themselves can get a bit confused by the wonky weather habits, I think it's a good idea to find a few "timekeepers" that will let you know. I know that at least this year it seems the pecans were right. We've had fabulous weather since the day the buds emerged and our veggie gardens are planted.
Comment by Sara Tue Mar 16 13:46:57 2010

Anna, this is a note to your comment that I just read. I notice a lot of gardeners take the middle of the summer off in Louisiana as well. Then we get a SECOND spring-type planting opportunity between Aug-Dec. I grew tomatoes last year and had fresh cherry tomatoes up until the end of November when our first frost hit. We put our fall/winter veggies in the ground in September and we still have remnants of those left while we start our spring gardens in hopes that the weather doesn't get too hot before things are ready to harvest.

The native plant society takes the summer off here, but then the gardening groups will work steadily all through the winter. It's quite different from Virginia, for sure.

Comment by Sara Tue Mar 16 13:51:06 2010

Sara --- does that mean you're past your frost free date, or just that you're planting your more cold hardy spring garden? It sounds like the pecan buds are serving you well!

Your gardening year sounds complicated! Of course, ours probably would too, if I wasn't so used to it. But getting two springs per year is odd... :-)

Comment by anna Tue Mar 16 16:27:49 2010
Thought you might be interested in the interactive Hardiness Zone and First/Frost zone maps at
Comment by Plant Maps Fri May 20 08:37:21 2011
I love the interactive map, but the average last frost date listed there is clearly not the same thing as a real frost free date, so I hope gardeners don't rely on it. It lists our average last frost date as April 21 to April 31, and we regularly have frosts up until early to mid May.
Comment by anna Fri May 20 16:32:07 2011

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