Spring Garden Growing Guide

If you’re looking for tips to help you grow a spring organic garden, you’ve come to the right place. This guide includes information on soil preparation, planting, watering, feeding and harvesting. Scroll down for tips on particular vegetables and flowers for spring.

Transitioning between seasons

Cool-season crops will begin to bolt in early spring as the days lengthen and temperatures rise. You can use shade cloth to protect plants and extend the season a bit, or you can harvest cool weather vegetables and make room for warm weather annuals. Many warm-season crops planted in late spring will grow until the first fall frosts. In late summer, begin planting cool-season crops for the fall garden. 


Air, water, minerals, and organic matter (living and non-living) are the basic ingredients of all soils. They occur in many combinations. The relative proportions of these ingredients affect how a soil behaves, what kinds of plants will grow in it, and how well they grow.

Whether you’re growing vegetables, herbs and flowers in a clay-based in-ground bed, a raised bed, or in a container, your plants will benefit from the addition of organic matter — COMPOST. If your soil contains too much sand, it will be too fine and drain too fast. Compost will help with that. If your soil contains too much clay, it will be heavy and drain too slowly. Compost will help with that, too. Somewhere in the middle — crumbly, well drained soil — is your goal.


Sow seeds no deeper than 2 times the diameter of the seed, or in the case of oblong seeds, no deeper than 1 to 2 times the length of the seed. (Seeds planted too deep may not germinate.) Fine seed (like carrots) should be sown on the soil surface and then very lightly covered with soil. After sowing, keep the soil consistently moist until seeds germinate and seedlings are well established. 

Note: Large seeds (like green bean seeds) will germinate faster if soaked a few hours in water or a diluted solution of seaweed before planting.


Be careful not to plant transplants too deep or too shallow. Planting too deep can slow or stop root growth. A too shallow planting may cause roots to dry out. Try to plant so that the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Soak the soil around new seedlings immediately after transplanting to settle the roots and ensure that they’re making contact with moist soil.

Light, water and air

Light: Most warm weather crops (beans, corn, squash, field peas, melons, tomatoes, eggplant, and okra) need at least 6 hours a day of sunlight to thrive and be productive. A few, however, will do ok in part sun (4-5 hours a day), including amaranth, lamb’s quarters, peppers, and basil. During the hottest months in Central Texas, many warm weather crops, especially tomatoes and basil, appreciate a little bit of shade during the hottest part of the day. Watch the patterns of the sun and shade around your garden space before you choose where to plant.

Water: Consistently moist soil will produce the best results. Apply enough water to wet the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. For best crop production, most gardens require at least 1 inch of rain or irrigation per week. During the hottest months — July, August and September — more water will be needed. Check the moisture of the soil by poking your fingers into the soil. If the top 1 to 2 inches is dry, you need to water. Two to three inches of mulch — straw, leaf mold or chopped leaves, shredded wood or pine needles — will help maintain a more even soil moisture. 

Air: Although GCP is a big fan of small space, bio-intensive gardening, we try not to space plants too close together. Leaves that are just barely overlapping is good. Plants with whole branches and fruits that are overlapping is too close. Plants growing to close together restricts airflow, which can create conditions that cause fungal problems.


Top all bare soil with mulch — straw, partially decomposed leaves, shredded wood, or pine needles. Note that if you use straw, ask about the grower before purchasing (refer to our “Killer Compost” article). Mulch helps soil hold moisture longer, nourishes soil microbes and keeps the soil a little cooler during the hot summer months. Wait until seeds are up or transplants are established before mulching. Do not apply mulch too close to plant stems — leave an inch or two of open space around the stems. Mulch applied too close to stems can create fungal problems. 

Does sheet mulching with cardboard harm the earthworms and microbes in the soil? It depends on who you ask. According to The Garden Professors (“The cardboard controversy”), yes, it does cause harm because it blocks the flow of air that worms and beneficial microorganisms need to survive. However, according to research by ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture Program, cardboard’s impact on the biology of the soil and the plants grown in the soil is minimal and is therefore not a cause for concern (“Can I use cardboard and newspaper as mulch on my organic farm?)


In addition to adequate light and moisture, your vegetable plants need nutrients to grow and thrive. Nutrients can come from fertilizers, compost or composted manure.

All parts of a plant need nitrogen for growth—the roots, leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. Nitrogen gives plants their green color. A lack of nitrogen causes the lower leaves to turn yellow and the whole plant to turn pale green. On the other hand, too much nitrogen can kill plants. When vegetable plants look like they are suffering, a little extra nitrogen is often what they need. Compost that includes manure will add nitrogen. Also, fish emulsion and cottonseed.

Phosphorus is needed to help form roots, flowers and fruit. Phosphorus deficiency causes stunted growth and poor flowering and fruiting.

Potassium is needed for overall health of the plant. A potassium shortage shows up in various ways, but stunted growth and yellowish lower leaves are common symptoms.

Note: Before adding commercial fertilizer, it’s a good idea to have your soil tested. A soil test will show the levels of nutrients present in the soil and will suggest the amounts of each nutrient to add. If plants are not growing well, fertilizing them will help only if a lack of nutrients is the cause of the problem. For example, plants grown in poorly drained soils or in excessive shade will not be helped by an application of fertilizer. If you need to purchase a fertilizer, GCP recommends that you choose an organic, slow-release fertilizer that’s higher in nitrogen than in phosphorus or potassium, like Microlife 6-2-4.

Extreme heat waves

Although the weeds, insects, diseases and critters don’t seem to have any trouble thriving in the high heat of a Texas summer, some vegetable crops struggle to remain productive. Tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and beans often stop setting new fruit when daytime temperatures are above 95. All you can do at times like this is to add shade cloth and keep plants well watered until temperatures drop. Shade cloth (40 percent) helps to keep the soil a little cooler, which can reduce the need for water. When more favorable conditions return, most plants will resume normal fruit set.

When to harvest

After a plant has produced mature fruit, it quits putting energy into making more flowers and more fruit.  If fruit is removed before it fully matures, the plant will try again, producing more fruit. Some plants produce so quickly that they need to be harvested every couple of days, including okra, green beans, cucumbers, summer squash, and tomatoes.

Spring veggies from A-(maranth) to Z-(ucchini)

These are some of the vegetables, herbs and flowers Green Corn gardeners have the most experience with, but please note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. It’s also a list we are continually editing and adding to, so check back from time to time for updates. For a detailed vegetable planting schedule, the best reference is the Texas A&M Vegetable Planting Guide, which you can find here.

Amaranth: Amaranth is a great warm season green (it’s not frost tolerant) with few pests. It does well in raised beds or in the ground, and it needs plenty of sun. The soil should be well-drained, and plants should be fertilized only 1-2 times throughout the season. Amaranth is easy to direct sow, and it can also be propagated from cuttings. If it’s allowed to go to seed at the end of the season, it will reseed itself for spring. Plants can grow to several feet tall, so they may need cages or stakes for support. There are many edible varieties, and it can be prepared similar to spinach, so if you haven’t already, give amaranth a try!

Beans: Beans are both quick-growing and easy to grow, and there are many, many varieties to choose from. Varieties can be divided into two main types: pole beans and bush beans. Both do well in Central Texas. Pole beans are vining and need some kind of tall trellis or support to grow on because they can grow over 5 feet tall. Bush beans don’t need any support and grow as their name suggests – in 1-2 feet tall bushes. They should be planted with at least 6-8 inches between them.

All types of beans should be planted two weeks after the last frost is expected, which is about mid-March in Central Texas. They do best in moist, but well-drained soil in full sun.  They don’t require a lot of fertilization, but compost will encourage a bigger harvest. They should be directly sown and can be planted in the ground or in containers. Beans will produce until the heat of the summer, and you can replant again near the beginning of September for a later fall harvest.

Corn:  Corn is wind-pollinated, so plant in blocks, not rows, so that the wind can spread pollen from the tassels to the silks. A 4×4 foot planting block usually works fine.  Sweet corn plants are heavy feeders, so plan to add slow-release fertilizer as soon as the tassels begin to form. When silks turn brown, ears are usually ready to harvest. To protect against corn worms, after silks emerge, try closing the end of husks so the worms can’t crawl in. Use stretchy landscape tape or rubber bands. 

Cucumbers: Cucumbers like warm soil, so don’t rush to plant seeds too early. Mounding the seed planting area helps to raise the temperature and improve germination. Most varieties require pollination to produce fruit. The exception are the parthenocarpic (seedless) varieties. Bush type cucumbers take up less space, but they also produce fewer cucumbers. Vining types do well in small space gardens when grown on trellises. Cucumbers produce best when soil is consistently moist, a hard thing to accomplish in the searing heat of a Texas summer. By mid to late summer your plants may benefit from shade cloth. Or after they stop producing, just keep the plants alive until October, when the milder weather will spur them to start blooming and producing again. 

Cantaloupe: Cantaloupes grown in your own garden often taste much better than those purchased at a store, and happily, many varieties grow well in Central Texas. Cantaloupes, which are a type of muskmelon, do best in well-drained, consistently moist, but not over-watered soil, and it’s important to water the base of the plant, and not the leaves. They do well when directly sown, but you can also do transplants. They should be planted in full sun, and only when overnight temperatures are above 50 degrees, or the soil temperature is over 70 degrees. You can let them vine along the ground, but if space is a concern, cantaloupes (especially the smaller varieties) can also be grown vertically on trellises or strong cages. Some varieties even do well in containers.

Eggplant:  Eggplant like warm soil, so they should be planted a few weeks after the last frost, which is usually in the middle of March. They can be direct seeded, but they are more easily and most often planted as transplants. They can be planted either in the ground or in containers, but wherever you plant them, make sure they have full sun and enough space. Eggplant plants can grow several feet high and get quite busy.  Regular fertilizer is a good idea for eggplant, and they appreciate a heavy watering 1-2 times per week, which will help them to establish deep roots.

Many eggplant varieties do well in our area, so you’ll have many sizes, shapes and colors to choose from. And one of the best things about eggplant is that unlike most things grown in Central Texas gardens, they actually love the heat! With sufficient water, they will produce throughout the summer although the fruit may be smaller during the hottest weeks. Eggplant are not frost tolerant, and they will stop producing when temperatures drop.

Peppers: There are many varieties of sweet and hot peppers, and everything in between, that do well in Central Texas. Peppers are usually planted as transplants after our last expected frost and will produce through fall though production will significantly drop during the hottest part of summer. Peppers prefer well-drained soil, have few pest problems, and appreciate a little shade (especially from the late afternoon, west sun and from the summer heat.)

Squash: Traditional summer squash varieties like zucchini and yellow squash are very susceptible to the squash vine borer and since there are few defenses, many Central Texas gardeners have given up on these crops. Some squash varieties like Butternut and Tatume have shown some ability to succeed against the SVB.

Tomatoes: Homegrown tomatoes are the reason many people start gardening, but after some trial and error, many of us learn that they’re not the easiest vegetable to grow. With these tips we think you can have a successful season, and for more details, please visit our blog post, “Tomato Growing Guidelines”. You can grow tomatoes from seed or transplants. If you start from seeds, you’ll need to sow them indoors six to eight weeks prior to planting out in the garden. Transplants should be planted after the last frost, which in our region is usually early to mid-March. Keep an eye on the extended forecast prior to planting and be prepared to protect them if we have an unexpected freeze.

Tomatoes are one of the few plants that can (and should) be planted deeper in the ground than they were in their container. Pinch off their lower leaves and plant them deep, they’ll grow roots along the stem resulting in a more vigorous root system, and ultimately a stronger plant.

Mulching around the plant and keeping lower limbs pruned will avoid leaves coming in contact with the soil which can lead to soil born diseases. Also, inspect your plants regularly and remove any insects like, stinkbugs, leaf-footed bugs, and tomato hornworms.

If you have problems with birds or squirrels nibbling on your ripe fruit, you can harvest tomatoes when they have the slightest blush toward ripening and bring them indoors to fully ripen.

Spring herbs

Basil: If you’re new to gardening, growing basil is a great way to get started because it has many uses and it’s easy to grow. There are a huge number of varieties that do well in Central Texas, and basil can be grown in containers of just about any size. Of course, you can put it in the ground, too. It likes our hot summers, and it’s happiest in full sun or in partial shade in the hottest part of the summer (which is a good reason to grow it in containers, so it can be moved). Basil is incredibly easy to start from seed, but you can also buy transplants. It takes well to being rooted from cuttings, so you can add to your garden that way as well. It’s a fast-growing herb allowing you to begin harvesting not long after planting, no matter what method you choose.

Other things to know about basil are that it prefers well-drained soil and lots of water, but it doesn’t like temperatures below 45 degrees. Basil should be regularly pruned (which in this case, just means harvested!), which will encourage it to grow side shoots and become bushy. And don’t just trim off the flowers; you can prune up to ¼ of the plant. The best place to prune basil is right above where a new set of leaves is forming, or just above two side shoots. If you leave some flowers at the end of the season, many basil varieties will reseed themselves, so you’ll already have some of your planting done for next spring.

Spring flowers

Calendula: Calendula is an edible, annual flower that comes in various shades of yellow and orange.  It likes to be planted in well-drained soil and does best with full sun or partial sun in the hottest part of the year (it can be planted and easily moved). The plants are small – usually about 18 inches tall – and will bloom throughout the spring, summer, and fall. They do well as transplants, but they also easily reseed themselves. Calendula blooms are lovely and attract pollinators, but they are also grown for their culinary uses or medicinal benefits. The flowers can be used as a garnish, and the leaves, while slightly bitter, can be eaten in salads. Calendula are known to have anti-inflammatory benefits and contain antioxidants, and so the petals of the flowers are often made into teas, ointments and compresses to treat skin inflammation, rashes, and minor burns and cuts.

Cosmos: Cosmos is an annual (there are actually more than a dozen varieties and multiple colors) that is drought tolerant and loves the heat, so it’s a perfect choice for our Central Texas gardens. It’s so drought tolerant in fact, that you need to be careful not to overwater.  It needs full sun (up to 8-10 hours each day), and it prefers looser soils with very little if any fertilization.  Cosmos is easily grown from seed, and seeds can be planted any time throughout the spring and summer. When planting, keep in mind that many varieties of cosmos can grow several feet tall.  It will bloom up until the first frost and attract a variety of pollinators to your garden. You can cut back the plants after they’ve bloomed to encourage regrowth and new blooms. You can also leave the seed pods, and cosmos will reseed and come up again in the spring.

Poppies: Poppies are an easy flower to grow in Central Texas gardens. There are many varieties – both native and non-native – in a range of colors and petal types; flowers can be single, double, and have petals with either smooth or frilly edges. Poppy seeds should be planted in the fall, from the end of October through the end of November for spring gardens. The seeds are very small, so they don’t need to be planted.  Just broadcast them over the soil, and then rake them in. You can also mix them with some spoil and then spread the soil in your garden. Poppies do well in full sun to partial shade, depending on the variety, and most like well-drained soil that is not overwatered. Fertilization is not necessary. Many varieties of poppies will reseed themselves, but if you want to be sure of having them in your garden again, you can collect the seedheads when they are brown and crispy. If you’d rather have more flowers than seeds, deadhead the seedheads, which will encourage the plants to produce more flowers.