Warm Season Crops: What Are They?


Warm weather for many means more time outside, water sports, and summers spent swimming... but for gardeners, warm weather signals the time to plant, and makes us dream of the future bounties that come from warm season gardening. Many annual plants, like those grown in most gardens, need warm weather to thrive and are killed, damaged, or stunted by frosty, cold weather. Warm weather plants should be planted after the last spring frost but long enough before the first frost in late fall or winter so that the plant can still mature into fruition. Nothing is sadder than a ripening tomato plant being taken out by an early fall frost!


Bring On The Heat!

Warm weather crops include many summer favorites:

  • Tomatoes

  • Summer squashes: zucchini, crookneck, pattypan, etc.

  • Cucumbers

  • Peppers

  • Eggplants

  • Beans, pole beans and bush beans

  • Melons

  • Corn

  • Winter Squash, despite the name, are planted in summer and the mature fruits can be stored and enjoyed through the winter.


Keep It Cool:

Cool weather crops include (but not limited to):

  • Lettuces

  • Mustards

  • Broccoli, Cauliflower

  • Root vegetables: beets, radishes, carrots, turnips

  • Peas

  • Kale and chard, these can grow through multiple seasons in milder climates

  • Artichoke

  • Fava beans

Some plants that grow for more than one season (biennials and perennials) don’t fit as neatly into warm or cool season crop categories. This includes: garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, strawberries, sorrel, asparagus, artichoke and more.


Head Start: Seed Start

When planning for your warm season garden, you can get a head start by starting your own seeds indoors. Summer squash, cucumbers, and peppers are fairly simple to start from seed. Most garden guides advise you to start seeds or plant starts a certain number of weeks before (or after) the last frost with few resources that give estimations of first and last frost dates. These estimations are based on averages and often calculated by county, but frosts can be unpredictable and often affect nearby areas differently based on factors like exposure, topography, and altitude. In general, start your summer seeds indoors about 4-6 weeks before your last estimated frost date to stay on the safe side. When daytime and nighttime temperatures begin staying in the 50s you can harden off your seedlings: get your seedlings accustomed to the outdoors by setting them out for a few hours at a time, increasing their time outside until they are ready to be planted outside permanently. Once hardened off, you’re ready to plant!

Warm weather crops are often grown for their fruits (think tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, and peppers) while many cool weather crops are grown for their leaves, roots, and immature flowers (think leafy greens, root veggies and broccoli). Fruiting plants like our summer favorites will need additional fertilizing throughout the growing season and should be harvested promptly and regularly to keep them from losing steam. Summer bounties can often be a feast (or famine), so make sure you make the most of your produce by processing excess harvest as pickles, preserves or jams. It won’t be long until you don't know what to do with all of that summer produce--zucchini bread anyone?!

Sierra Marinos