What You Need to Know to Get Planting Right Now

March 16, 2018

Warmer weather is fast approaching. I swear, just this week I saw a small green bud poking up between the concrete. It was later smothered by snow, but no matter—the season of plants is upon us! Or at least it will be quite soon. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a newbie vowing to grow at home for the first time, it’s never a bad idea to stay ahead of the curve. Some of you may even live in warmer climates where you’ve already got your fingers in the dirt, and have for some weeks now. Regardless, we thought it high time to get the ball rolling and the conversation started on all things green. We reached out to our friends at The Sill with a few questions. Here’s what they had to say:

Spring is right around the corner. What can people start doing now to bring more green into their lives?

Whether you live in the countryside or a big city, there’s a way to embrace the greenery that spring brings! Indoors, your options are limited only by the quality of light that you get. Outdoors, your options expand as the season progresses. For most of the U.S., from March on is bulb season (except for those lucky ducks in the South and Florida!). Hardy outdoor annuals and perennials can be planted outdoors. Tulips, crocuses, snowdrops, and other bulbs can be planted now and can even be seen poking up already in some places. Hardy annuals like cabbage, beets, and even some mustard greens like arugula can be planted outdoors. If you don’t have outdoor space, fear not, there is still plenty you can do. If you’re into growing your own food, now is the time to cultivate your indoor herb garden. If you’ve never grown herbs indoors, or have tried and failed in the past, follow these tips:

  • Herbs are full-sun plants—no exceptions. That means blasting them with as much direct sun for as long as possible. Southern windows are best.
  • They need all that light energy to synthesize essential oils! They get leggy and unproductive if getting less-than-ideal light.
  • You may choose to supplement with a high-lumen CFL bulb if you don’t get enough direct light. For herbs, use as many bulbs as you can without burning the plants. Artificial light is less intense than the sun.
  • Try easy herbs like dill, basil, and parsley. Hold off on the harder ones like rosemary and thyme.  
  • Fertilize once the plant is about six inches tall, and fertilize every two weeks. With regards to foliage plants, now is the time to clean out your collection and prepare for new plants. Give away plants that haven’t done well and groom plants that have naturally lost a few leaves during the winter. That fiddle-leaf fig should be starting to grow new leaves in response to the longer days, as well as all of your other plants.

What plants should we be paying particular attention to right now?

Any foliage plant should start to grow new leaves in response to the lengthening days. Orchids should be blooming or already spent, except for Phalaenopsis, which doesn’t play by the rules and blooms whenever it wants.

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  • Hyacinths
  • Daffodils
  • Crocuses
  • Tulips


  • Herbs
  • Tropical foliage plants
  • Orchids
  • Start your tomatoes/peppers!

Outdoors, bulbs should already be bursting or being planted. Indoors, trim and groom your foliage plants. Also start your indoor herb garden. Seed and start your veggies indoors around mid-March for most zones (especially zone 7, for NJ/NYC and friends) in the U.S. for peppers and tomatoes. Yes, you can grow tomatoes and peppers easily in cities on balconies and such. Just be sure to guard from the wind. Also create shade for them in the summer (or when temps rise above 80° F) so they don’t bake to death in the city summer sun!

How does a spring plant routine differ from a winter one?

As spring approaches, we’re getting more light, the sun is swinging higher in the sky, and the weather is getting warmer. You may need to water more often as the temperatures outdoors get hotter and the sun pokes out more, both indoors and out. The fail-safe is to feel the soil! Water only if the soil is dry. Your indoor plants, like the aforementioned fiddle-leaf fig, will be showing new growth. Show them some love by beginning to fertilize once a month for indoor fast-growers and large plants. Slower growers like cacti/succulents should be fertilized twice a year or so—once in spring and once in summer. Really, the secret sauce is to pay attention and not neglect your plants. It’s tempting to finally do outdoor things, but set reminders to check on your plants!

Weather right now is so inconsistent. How do you accommodate that?

The plants do such a good job adapting, they got it all covered! Hardy crops like bulbs and cole crops can be planted outdoors now because they’ve adapted to the cold. They actually wither in the summer heat. Sensitive crops like tomatoes and peppers can be planted outside only after last frost. Every year, that’s a little bit of a guess. Old Farmer’s Almanac and the National Gardening Association have last frost date calculators for every zip code. For the NJ/NYC area, generally last frosts are around the end of April, and absolute last frost is May 15th. Remember, in the gardening world, we care more about nighttime temperatures than daytime temperatures in spring. That’s because the night is the coldest part of the day, and light frosts usually sneak in at night. For example, a nighttime temperature may be 36° F, but on north-facing slopes and perpetually shaded or windy places, that will creep down into 32° F, the freezing point, whereas other spots may be 38° F (nighttime temp is an average). Generally, plant sensitive crops like tomatoes after nighttime temps are above 55° F. Although 40° F won’t freeze the tomato plant, they are cold-sensitive, and you may damage the plant. Bottom line: check the weather lows!

What’s your must-have advice for someone planting at home in March?

Outdoors advice: Beware of low temps! Plant sensitive plants outside when night temps are above 55° F consistently. 
Indoors advice: Be aware of increasing light and heat by the windows. Many plants will like this and start growing. You may be watering more often. Begin fertilizing. Older plants whose soil has been exhausted from the year before will thank you!

Feel free to add in anything else you’d like us to know!

Spring is a new beginning. Many cultures around the world have set their new year to begin at the onset of spring. Try new things. Try new plants. Learn from the mistakes of last year. Don’t just give up because a plant you had has died—find out why it died and figure out how not to do that again. Did you leave a plant outside and forget to water it? Did it bake to death on the fire escape or bricks? Did you love an indoor plant too much and water it too much? Did you look too closely at a plant and overcare for every little thing the plant did? Did you neglect it completely? Remember, outdoor plants need constant supervision, whereas indoor plants generally do well from benign neglect. Planting is a learning experience. We are humans, and like it or not, we are a part of nature. The further we separate ourselves from it, the more we get lost in our own worlds and forget that we all share a planet together. Plant one for you. Plant one for me.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“For any indoor plant, light is an issue- southern and western exposures will provide the most light intensity, but it can get very hot behind windows this time of year, when eaves often aren't keeping out the direct sun. Few plants appreciate temperatures of more than 90 degrees or so, and things like spider mites and root mealies can easily become serious problems.”
— Smaug

What are you planting this spring? Tell us your plan(t)s in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • BerryBaby
  • Mickey
  • Smaug
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


BerryBaby March 17, 2018
With today being St. Patrick’s Day, it’s considered good luck to plant potatoes. Using a big pot (from a tree I planted) I add a bottom layer of soil and cover potato seedlings with soil. As buds appear over the next months, more soil is added to cover leaves. This procedure continues for months until the plants are above the rim of the pot. Come August or September, if you can wait that long, dig in and find those potatoes🥔! You’ll feel like a kid again, feeling the soil for treasure!
Smaug March 19, 2018
Do you really grow from seed, or do you mean seed potatoes (as opposed to potato seeds)?
Mickey March 16, 2018
Snow is still on the ground here in Michigan. Soon I will get out my seed starting kits of three trays of forty cells consisting of two inches each. This system takes up very little indoor space. One tray of Wave Petunias of different varieties in the hopes the will be ready by Mother’s Day. One tray of tomatoes of different varieties for the vegetable garden. One tray of marigolds of different varieties. I will plant most of my seeds directly into the ground for the vegetable garden. My three indoor seed trays will each have a heated grow mat, grow lights and each with a mini circulating fan. In May I will repot into three inch pots and hopefully it will be warm enough outside to transition the plants outside. My covered front porch will look like a jungle with around 120 plants. When nighttime temps reach 50°F and past last frost, in the ground they go. Hanging Pots for the petunias.
Smaug March 16, 2018
Well, hard to give national advice. Here in Northern California bulbs have been blooming for over a month, my tomato seedlings have been spending nights outdoors for a week, and I have most of my spring repotting done (a big chore, I keep hundreds of plants in containers). I understand they're having blizzards on the east coast, in Northern states spring is just a distant dream.
I don't know in what world parsley,dill and basil are easier than rosemary and thyme. The former are annuals (or technically biennials) and will come faster from seed; the latter are shrubby perennials and, like most perennial herbs, are among the easiest plants to grow. It is best to grow perennials from cuttings rather than seed, they will vary in culinary quality quite a bit from plant to plant and it's best to stick with a good clone. They are deep rooted and won't be happy long in tiny pots (neither will basil et al either, really) and will resent overfeeding, but are very forgiving in general.
For any indoor plant, light is an issue- southern and western exposures will provide the most light intensity, but it can get very hot behind windows this time of year, when eaves often aren't keeping out the direct sun. Few plants appreciate temperatures of more than 90 degrees or so, and things like spider mites and root mealies can easily become serious problems.