Cool-weather-loving picks to plant in your garden now

Use string or twine to plant in straight rows.
Randy Mayor

Branch out beyond the traditional Southern gardener's collard greens and try Swiss chard, beets, and spinach. These nutritious, colorful options are quick growers that thrive in February's cool temperatures. Plant them now so you can reap their rewards through the middle of April.

The Plant Selection

Because the cool-weather window in the South can be short and unpredictable this time of year, it's okay to take a shortcut by choosing transplants (also known as starter plants) instead of growing from seeds. Once the temperatures climb, greens will begin to bolt (bloom). You can buy transplants in packs of six at garden centers. If you have more time and patience, sow seeds. You'll find some of the best options online at southernexposure.com and johnnyseeds.com. "Summer Perfection" and "Tyee" are two spinach selections that are well suited to our region's warm locales. To bring more color to your garden, choose "Red Kitten" spinach or "Bull's Blood" beets. "Bright Lights" Swiss chard features stalks in a kaleidoscope of colors (like purple, gold, pink, orange, and red).

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The Growing Proces

Set out transplants or sow seeds four to six weeks before the season's last frost. Don't know your local frost dates? Visit almanac.com to find estimates of the last spring frost dates by zip code. A bright spot in your garden that receives at least a half day of sunlight is ideal. Space Swiss chard in rows 12 inches apart, spinach 8 inches apart, and beets 3 inches apart. If using seeds, follow individual packet instructions. Leafy vegetables flourish with a high-nitrogen fertilizer such as FoxFarm Grow Big (6-4-4).

Randy Mayor

Light

Choose a location that gets full sun to part shade.

Soil

Plant in fertile, well-drained soil that has been amended with compost. In containers, use quality potting soil.

Care

Water plants regularly, and mulch to keep soil moist and cool. Apply a high-nitrogen fertili