Texas Living

Can I Plant Before the Last-freeze Date?

By Leslie Finical Halleck 3.21.13

As a gardener, you may be well acquainted with your first and last freeze dates in your region of Texas. Question is do you really know what these dates mean for your garden?

Truth is there is no simple answer. It’s a good idea to know your first and last freeze dates so you can plan your garden plantings ahead of time; just know there is room to play on either side of those dates. Also know that your best-laid plants, and plans, can still get fouled up by a late Texas freeze or snow … even in April.

Find your last-freeze date

If you don’t know your last average freeze date, the National Climatic Data Center provides a great chart for Texas cities. You’ll notice the numbers 90/50/10 at the top of the date column: These are the dates where there is a 90%, 50%, or 10% chance of hitting the selected temperature.

Also note that not all freezes are alike. There is a pretty big difference between a last frost of say 32 F degrees and one at 26 F degrees. Your plants will feel the difference.

Personally, I’m a bit of a rule breaker. Pushing the boundaries by planting early can help maximize your garden’s bounty and extend the bloom season. The biggest spring gardening mistake I see people make is waiting until after the last freeze date to plant anything.

Research plant requirements

Problem is it may just be too late to plant your desired crop. Tomatoes, for example, should be planted early even though they are not frost hardy. If you wait much longer than your last freeze date to plant them, you could miss the window for proper fruit set. Experienced tomato growers often plant out a week or two before the last freeze date and keep frost cloth on hand to protect plants if needed.

That said you should also consider your budget, willingness to replant, and the needs of the crop. Peppers, for example, need warm soil, so there’s just no point trying to plant them early. However, hardy shrubs and trees can be planted all winter in Texas, so no need to wait until the last freeze to plant your new shade tree.