Share this post…

ask-ruth-pictureDear Ruth,

Are there any planting guides/books specifically for western North Carolina or the Southern Appalachian region that you know of? Most of the books I have found only pertain to North Carolina as a whole, and not specifically the mountain region. As this will be my first real season gardening in the Asheville area, I am not familiar with when it is ideal to begin seeding and planting certain vegetable crops. I know that there are variations with microclimates, but I am looking for a good general guide that will tell me approximately when to begin planting certain things. I also have a cold frame that I plan to use this spring, so any information about how early I can plant under that as well would be helpful.

Thank you very much.

~ Allison

Dear Allison,

Thanks for writing! There is a wonderful guide published by Buncombe County Cooperative Extension called “Gardeners’ Almanac, A Guide to Environmentally Friendly Gardening in Buncombe County”. This publication has a month-by-month format that includes to-do lists for each month ~ under the headings of Lawns, Ornamentals, Fruits, Vegetables, and Other ~ and is specific to Buncombe County. There are useful articles throughout AND a super-helpful WNC vegetable planting guide. The veggie-planting guide lists the recommended planting dates for seeds and transplants, spacing between plants, planting depth, and days to maturity. I refer to it all the time.

This guide is a real bargain since the “The Gardeners’ Almanac” is only $5. It is available at the Buncombe County Cooperative Extension office, at 94 Cox Avenue in downtown Asheville, 828-255-5522. According to Linda Blue, one of our fabulous Extension agents… “Gardeners’ Almanacs are [also] available…wherever you find an “Ask A Gardener” information table. We’re at the City Tailgate on the first Saturdays of the month, and at the Herb Festival, Days in the Garden, special events at the Nature Center, and Mountain State Fair, etc.” Additionally, the Asheville City Market table has great handouts on composting, soil-test boxes, and other cool stuff.

A note about NC Cooperative Extension: Extension is an incredible, mostly free, resource for gardeners and farmers alike. The state of North Carolina is considering huge budget cuts for Extension of at least 10% (or more) across the board ~ which might mean that your favorite Extension agent looses their job. Some counties in other states have lost their agents completely. Be vocal in letting your Representatives and Senators know how important NC Cooperative Extension is to farmers, gardeners, kids (4-H), and consumers ~ so that all of us can continue to utilize their expertise.

If you live in WNC and use either of the guides (links) in this paragraph, you will need to adapt the planting times to WNC by delaying planting 10 to 20 days in spring, and by planting 10 to 20 days earlier in fall. Scroll down into this Extension article to see NC planting times and how much seed to plant per person in your household.

If you are growing your own transplants, it is time to start your cool season transplants now. By the end of February you can direct sow peas, kale, collards, spinach, carrots, turnips, onions, & radishes, and transplant cabbage into your garden. By mid- March you can safely plant Irish potatoes, cabbage, mustard, lettuce, and broccoli, etc. By April 1 ~ start your tomatoes and peppers inside, and transplant or sow any remaining cool season crops. The frost date for most of Western North Carolina is Mother’s Day (around May 10); is May 15 for Madison and Yancey County, and possibly a week later for Mitchell, Avery, and northern mountain counties. Some say to beware of a frost occurring near the full moon in May. Wait to plant all heat-loving crops ~ like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil & okra ~ in your garden until after the frost date.

As far as your cold frame is concerned, next year try planting lettuce and spinach in your cold frame in late August/early September so you can enjoy salads greens all winter long. You can sow a spring crop of cool season veggies or start transplants in your cold frame right now. Remember to keep an eye on the daily projected temperatures. The air inside your coldframe can heat up dramatically when the sun peeps out, so be prepared to ventilate your coldframe during the day to keep your seedlings from getting fried. They would rather be a little cold than burnt to a crisp.

If you are interested in constructing a cold frame or a hoop house, go to the Organic Growers School – Spring Conference
Library and click on Practical Solutions in the Garden (2008), Jeff Ashton, (scroll down for directions on building a cold frame), or Off-season Vegetable Production: Discovering your Winter Niche (2008), Gred Gross, (directions for building a hoop house).

Thanks for your question and happy gardening!


Ask Ruth © 2013 Ruth Gonzalez & Organic Growers School

Gardeners: Got a question for Ruth? Email it to us at

Ruth Gonzalez

Author: Ruth Gonzalez

Ruth Gonzalez is a former market farmer, gardener, and local food advocate who wants to see organic farms proliferate and organic gardens in every yard. She serves on the Organic Growers School Board of Directors, and in her job at Reems Creek Nursery, Ruth offers advice on all sorts of gardening questions, and benefits daily from the wisdom of local gardeners.

Share this post…