5 Cool-Season Crops to Plant Now in the Midwest & 6 Mistakes to Avoid

Are you eager to start gardening after a long Midwestern winter? Good news! Even though it’s still early spring, there are many cool-season crops you can begin planting now across the Midwest.

These hardy vegetables thrive in chilly temperatures and can give you a head start on your harvest. However, there are some common mistakes to avoid when planting cool-season crops in the Midwest.

1. Leafy Greens Galore

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Spinach, kale, and lettuce are some of the easiest and most rewarding cool-season crops to grow. These nutrient-packed leafy greens germinate quickly in cool soil and can be ready to harvest in as little as 30 days.

Sow seeds directly in the garden as soon as the ground can be worked, which typically occurs between mid-March and early April in most Midwestern states. Keep the soil consistently moist for best germination.

Other leafy greens to consider include:

  • Swiss chard
  • Collard greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Arugula

Pro Tip: Greens are one of my favorite crops to grow in 5-gallon buckets.

2. Root Vegetables to Relish

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Don’t forget about root vegetables like radishes, carrots, and beets. These crops prefer the cooler temperatures of spring and can be direct seeded in the garden. In the Midwest, root crops can usually be planted from late March to early May. Radishes are particularly fast-growing, with some varieties ready to harvest in just 20-30 days.

Carrots and beets take a bit longer but are well worth the wait. Prepare a loose, well-draining soil for best results and thin seedlings as needed to give them room to grow.

Additional root crops for spring planting:

  • Turnips
  • Parsnips
  • Rutabagas
  • Kohlrabi

3. Brassicas to Beautify Your Plate

Image Credit: Davin Eberhardt

The cabbage family, also known as brassicas, includes favorites like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. While these crops take longer to mature, starting them indoors and transplanting to the garden in early spring can give you a jump on the season.

Cabbage, kohlrabi, and kale are also excellent choices for spring planting. Keep an eye out for cabbage worms and other pests as the weather warms up.

More brassicas to try:

  • Chinese cabbage/Napa cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Collard greens

4. Peas Please!

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Last but not least, don’t forget about peas. These sweet and crunchy legumes are a quintessential cool-season crop that can be planted as soon as the ground thaws. Across the Midwest, peas can typically be planted from mid-March to early April.

Choose from shell peas, snow peas, or sugar snap peas depending on your preference. Plant peas on trellises or supports to make harvesting easier and keep the plants off the ground.

5. Alliums for Flavor

onion planting
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Members of the onion family, known as alliums, are also excellent choices for early spring planting. These include:

  • Onions (seeds or sets)
  • Leeks
  • Scallions/green onions
  • Chives
  • Garlic (best planted in fall but can still be planted in early spring)

Mistakes to Avoid

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  1. Planting too early or too late: Timing is crucial for cool-season crops. Planting when the soil is still too cold can lead to poor germination, while planting too late exposes crops to rising temperatures that can cause bolting or bitterness.
  2. Not providing frost protection: Late frosts can damage young seedlings. Use row covers, cloches, or other protection when needed.
  3. Choosing the wrong varieties: Select varieties well-suited for cool-season growing to avoid disappointment.
  4. Overcrowding plants: Follow proper spacing guidelines to prevent competition for nutrients, water, and light.
  5. Inconsistent moisture: Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy, especially during germination and early growth.
  6. Neglecting pest management: Monitor for common pests like cabbage worms and aphids, and take action quickly to prevent damage.

With a little planning and some well-chosen crops, Midwestern gardeners can enjoy fresh homegrown vegetables in no time.

By avoiding common mistakes and keeping an eye on local frost-free dates, you’ll be well on your way to a bountiful cool-season harvest. Happy planting!

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.