Buying Before it’s Time

This morning I saw tomato and pepper plants for sale. This morning I also saw frost on the ground at my house, which has a much milder climate than where I saw these plants for sale. What do peppers and tomatoes hate? You guessed it. Frost.

So why in the world would some nurseries be trying to sell frost sensitive plants while there is still frost? Come on now, we live in a capitalist society, we all know the answer there. They don’t care if your tomato plants get ruined, they want to get a jump on selling the most popular vegetable plant around.

Don’t be fooled. Just because the nurseries have it does not mean it’s time to put it in the ground. Even some of the best nurseries can make you fall victim to buying before it’s time. Spring is here, the seed catalogs are out. It’s time to plant!!!!

Hold on a second. What’s your last average frost date? Not yet? Then don’t buy those frost sensitive plants. Actually I wouldn’t even buy them within 3 weeks of the average frost date. Remember, it’s an average, so some years it will be later in the year.  Our last average frost date is supposed to be sometime in February but I’m not buying it. As I said, we had frost last night and I know last year we had frost as late as mid April. Since then I’ve learned that February is NOT our last frost date and I won’t plant until after mid April.

Now, you can very well plant them early if you have season extenders, but mid-March still seems excessively early to even use those. Tomatoes and peppers aren’t just frost sensitive but they LOVE heat and prefer their nights to not go below 55 deg F. Planting them too early can stunt them or just knock them back so they don’t get a good start.

Nurseries do a disservice to gardeners by selling plants before they can safely go in the ground. Beginning gardeners trust nurseries to know when planting times are so if tomatoes are in they think that it’s time to plant them. Then they plant them and the plant dies because it’s still too cold still. And nothing discourages a new gardener like a dead plant when they just start out.


  1. GREAT post! I shared the link on Facebook. So glad I subscribed to your blog!

  2. Hi Rachel,

    Another way to look at those early vegetable starts is – how can we make them work for us, to get our first home grown harvest as soon as possible? Since I consider anything I grow myself to be a victory for self sufficiency, I appreciate being able to buy mature well grown starts early and am happy to do what’s necessary to reap the benefits of an early start to the season. For our tomato plot I start by mowing down a cover crop in late January, then covering the ground with clear plastic to speed residue breakdown and warm the soil. By the end of February I’m seeing 55 deg. plus soil temps 6″ deep in the soil under the plastic, and I start looking for tomato plants if I have not started my own by then.

    This year I set out the first tomatoes on March 5th, covering them with Agribon row covering plus clear plastic. I also added electric heating tape down the rows which I only plugged in on the cooler nights. Now on March 25th those plants have quadrupled in size and are blooming. Two weeks ago I removed the plastic and left only the Agribon. Using this scheme we should harvest our first tomatoes as usual by early June.

    One other thought about frost. The presence of frost does not mean freezing temperatures. A clear night sky allows heat to radiate outward and results in frost even if the air temperature is well above freezing at 40 degrees. Our tomatoes endured several mornings with frost appearing on nearby grass but showed not a bit of distress snuggled inside their row covers.

  3. Max Morgan says:

    I plant my 4″ tomato starts in mid-March and surround them with water teepees. The teepee heats up during the day and keeps the tomato starts warm during the cooler nights. In this manner I’m able to get a jump on the season and usually pick tomatoes 2 -3 weeks earlier than my neighbors. I also use the teepees for bell peppers and eggplant. Here’s a demonstration link:

  4. Darn Right.

    Yet another example where lack of information, proper analysis, or a clear plan leads you to part with hard-earned American Cash Money dollars.

    Friends don’t let friends plant early.

    Thanks for this.

  5. Just found your website and I love this post. I have complained about the same thing on my own blog hoping to reach a few newbies in my neck of the woods. Thanks for posting!

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