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Use the Frost Table for Vegetable Garden Planning

When you're growing vegetables, one of the most important factors to consider is the weather. Some vegetables grow well during cool weather, while others need warmth and will just sit in the garden — not growing, but not dying — without high enough temperatures. Some edibles, such as lettuce, broccoli and cabbage, can withstand a light or a heavy frost, while others immediately turn to mush.

The weather affects when you can plant vegetables from seed outdoors, or if you need to start seeds indoors so the plants can grow large enough before being planted outside. In most areas of the country, you need to plant transplants (which means starting seeds indoors) in order to get a substantial harvest before the first frost in fall. So how do you decide what to plant when, indoors or out? You need to consult a frost table.

What Is the Frost Table?

The U.S. government maintains an extensive network of climate data collection sites across the country. Based on historical data, the frost table lists the average date of the last frost in spring, the average date of the first frost in fall, and the number of frost-free growing days in between. (It's also called the "frost/freeze table" because the average dates for different levels of temperature, such as hard freeze, are collected in addition to frost dates.) The numbers in these charts areaverages, and frosts can occur several weeks before and after the "frost free" date of the average last frost in spring. A frost is when the temperatures dip below 32 degrees.

The First and Last Frost Date for Select Cities in the United States

City State Growing Days Last Frost First Frost
Mobile AL 272 Feb. 27 Nov. 26
Juneau AK 133 May 16 Sept. 26
Phoenix AZ 308 Feb. 5 Dec. 15
Tucson AZ 273 Feb. 28 Nov. 29
Pine Bluff AR 234 Mar. 19 Nov. 8
Eureka CA 324 Jan. 30 Dec. 15
Sacramento CA 289 Feb. 14 Dec. 1
San Francisco CA * * *
Denver CO 157 3-May Oct. 8
Hartford CT 167 Apr. 25 Oct. 10
Wilmington DE 198 Apr. 13 Oct. 29
Miami FL * * *
Tampa FL 338 Jan. 28 Jan. 3
Athens GA 224 Mar. 28 Nov. 8
Savannah GA 250 Mar. 10 Nov. 15
Boise ID 153 8-May Oct. 9
Chicago IL 187 Apr. 22 Oct. 26
Springfield IL 185 Apr. 17 Oct. 19
Indianapolis IN 180 Apr. 22 Oct. 20
South Bend IN 169 1-May Oct. 18
Atlantic IA 141 9-May Sept. 28
Cedar Rapids IA 161 Apr. 29 Oct. 7
Topeka KS 175 Apr. 21 Oct. 14
Lexington KY 190 Apr. 17 Oct. 25
Monroe LA 242 Mar. 9 Nov. 7
New Orleans LA 288 Feb. 20 Dec. 5
Portland ME 143 10-May Sept. 30
Baltimore MD 231 Mar. 26 Nov. 13
Worcester MA 172 Apr. 27 Oct. 17
Lansing MI 140 13-May Sept. 30
Marquette MI 159 12-May Oct. 19
Duluth MN 122 21-May Sept. 21
Willmar MN 152 4-May Oct. 4
Columbus MS 215 Mar. 27 Oct. 29
Vicksburg MS 250 Mar. 13 Nov. 18
Jefferson City MO 173 Apr. 26 Oct. 16
Fort Peck MT 146 5-May Sept. 28
Helena MT 122 18-May Sept. 18
Blair NE 165 Apr. 27 Oct. 10
North Platte NE 136 11-May Sept. 24
Las Vegas NV 259 Mar. 7 Nov. 21
Concord NH 121 23-May Sept. 22
Newark NJ 219 Apr. 4 Nov. 10
Carlsbad NM 223 Mar. 29 Nov. 7
Los Alamos NM 157 8-May Oct. 13
Albany NY 144 7-May Sept. 29
Syracuse NY 170 Apr. 28 Oct. 16
Fayetteville NC 212 Apr. 2 Oct. 31
Bismarck ND 129 14-May Sept. 20
Akron OH 168 3-May Oct. 18
Cincinnati OH 195 Apr. 14 Oct. 27
Lawton OK 217 Apr. 1 Nov. 5
Tulsa OK 218 Mar. 30 Nov. 4
Pendleton OR 188 Apr. 15 Oct. 21
Portland OR 217 Apr. 3 Nov. 7
Carlisle PA 182 Apr. 20 Oct. 20
Williamsport PA 168 Apr. 29 Oct. 15
Kingston RI 144 May 8 Sept. 30
Charleston SC 253 Mar. 11 Nov. 20
Columbia SC 211 Apr. 4 Nov. 2
Rapid City SD 145 May 7 Sept. 29
Memphis TN 228 Mar. 23 Nov. 7
Nashville TN 207 Apr. 5 Oct. 29
Amarillo TX 197 Apr. 14 Oct. 29
Denton TX 231 Mar. 25 Nov. 12
San Antonio TX 265 Mar. 3 Nov. 24
Cedar City UT 134 May 20 Oct. 2
Spanish Fork UT 156 May 8 Oct. 12
Burlington VT 142 May 11 Oct. 1
Norfolk VA 239 Mar. 23 Nov. 17
Richmond VA 198 Apr. 10 Oct. 26
Seattle WA 232 Mar. 24 Nov. 11
Spokane WA 153 May 4 Oct. 5
Parkersburg WV 175 Apr. 25 Oct. 18
Green Bay WI 143 May 12 Oct. 2
Janesville WI 164 Apr. 28 Oct. 10
Casper WY 123 May 22 Sept. 22
*No annual frost data
** 50% chance of frost after last date
Source: National Climatic Center

How to Use the Frost Table

Frost tables are useful garden-planning tools for several reasons.

  • Deciding when to start seeds indoors: Plants that need to be planted as transplants outside after the danger of frost has passed (such as tomatoes, peppers and other warm-weather vegetables) need to be started inside eight to twelve weeks before the last frost. Plants that like cool weather and that should be planted while it is still cold outside should be planted eight to twelve weeks before the last frost in spring.
  • Deciding when to plant seeds outdoors: Some warm-weather seeds don't transplant well—particularly those in the squash family, such as pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchini. You'll need to wait until three to four weeks after the average last frost date to plant these seeds directly into the garden outside.
  • Deciding when to plant transplants outdoors: Frost-tender plants and those that like warm weather can be planted two to three weeks after the average last frost. Consult the frost table for planning your garden. That way you can make sure to plant and harvest cool-weather vegetables in time to plant the warm-weather types.

Using the frost table for garden planning will help you decide what to plant when, and where.